ONE = Mary Lloyd: “The Australian artist who captured the horror of 9/11 on film,” 11 September 2017
Chris Hopewell heard the sound of the first plane collide with the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, but it was his cats running in circles that tipped him off that something disastrous had happened. After the Australian artist opened his curtains and went onto the balcony of his Williamsburg apartment, he saw the damage that had been done to the tower, but had no idea what had caused it.
At his wife’s urging, he set his video camera on a tripod, framed it up and started rolling, expecting to film the flames being extinguished and nothing more. What he captured is now one of the most well-known videos of the horrific events of that New York autumn morning.
“The second plane came in and that was captured and that was horrific,” he said.
Hopewell kept his camera running for six hours, and ultimately captured both towers collapsing. But it was the vision of United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower that was played around the globe again and again over the coming weeks and months as the world took in the significance of what had happened.
If you listen to the original recording from the day, you can hear the horror in the voices of people gathered on the balcony taking in what they are seeing. As the second plane hits, a woman can be heard crying out: “Oh my God. They did this on purpose.”
Sixteen years later, Hopewell believes he is still processing what he saw that day. “It’s very hard to describe because it’s like falling off a building or something. Your stomach gives way,” he said.
Although he avoids making a connection between his art and 9/11, it was Hopewell’s art that took him to New York and led to his being in a location on that morning that allowed him to record the historic moment. Hopewell had moved to the US in 1987 as a budding artist fascinated with the early abstract expressionism movement that had sprung up in New York after World War II.
When he first arrived, he lived in a squat while getting started in the film industry as a production designer and art director, then saw an opportunity to convert a derelict building into studios for artists. “That’s the building that was across from the Twin Towers where we saw it all,” he said.
Hopewell is now based in Fremantle in Western Australia. His paintings continue to be inspired by his time in New York. A series of paintings he recently exhibited at the Sydney Contemporary art fair show his fascination with layered, abstract textures that hark back to the graffitied billboards he would see in the subways.
“I ended up ripping off a lot of the billboard posters and taking them home and applying them to my painting and working over the top of those,” he said.
Once more he is part of a large group of artists, but whereas developing the art studios in New York was a financial move, this time his involvement is motivated by wanting to support his local creative community.
Art Collective WA was born when the Perth art market started to decline and several prominent galleries closed down around 2012 and 2013, leaving a number of artists without a home for their work. Hopewell says the not-for-profit group has turned out to be a successful model that has help artists survive a slump in the market. He does not think the attack directly influenced his art, but says that what he witnessed that day has stayed with him ever since. “Subconsciously a lot of things were brought into question, I guess, like your mortality, how fragile anything can be,” he said.
TWO = Ron Sutton: for SBS
It’s easy to dismiss the September 11 attack as an American tragedy. But when the attacks came, people from close to a hundred countries died, including Australia. One mother talked to SBS about her desperate loneliness at having no-one around who has experienced what she has and can understand. Another talked of how she will always miss her son but then immediately adds how she mourns for the others, too, and, indeed, for the loss of innocence around the world.
A brother said he thinks of his late twin when shafts of sunlight hit the road to his work, because it reminds him of the moment the sun broke through and lit his brother’s coffin.
All come from among the 10 Australian families who lost a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a mum, a dad, a grandparent or grandchild in the September 11 attacks of 2001.
And all are part of something, says Stuart Knox, that is unlike even the loss of loved ones that other people endure in life. “You get the constant reminders. You obviously get them on the anniversary, but we get it from images that relate to any form of terrorism. You also have the images of the World Trade Centre buildings being hit,” Knox told SBS.
“And I guess that, over the 10 years, it has been one of the hardest things, because of the fact that you’re looking at the fact that, if a loved one died in a car crash, nobody has filmed it, nobody plays it for you repeatedly. But, for something like September 11, you have images of the, um … of the time that your loved one was killed”.
Stuart Knox’s twin brother Andrew was 29 years old on September the 11th, 2001. An Adelaide man, he was working as an environmental architect on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Centre’s North Tower when the first of four hijacked planes struck. The American Airlines jet smashed into the tower just below him, between floors 93 and 99.
Stuart Knox was alerted his brother was there and had him on a speaker phone for a while as he huddled near a ledge, saying he could not breathe. Andrew Knox’s mobile phone dropped out after that, but his brother lives with some relief that he apparently died minutes before the tower collapsed, sparing him that horror.
Last Sunday, Stuart Knox and the families of the other Australian victims remembered their loved ones at an official tree-planting ceremony in Sydney. Someone asked Stuart Knox afterwards if the ceremony, as well as this Sunday’s upcoming 10th-anniversary observances in New York, would give him closure.
“I hate the word closure, because I don’t actually ever think that you do get closure. But, I think, in a lot of ways, I’ve said that 10 years, for me, will be a point where I can actually say I know that we won’t get the the media contacting us every year and at every significant point, such as when (Osama) bin Laden was killed or when something else happens that relates to terrorism,” Knox said.
“So I guess, for us, this is important for our grieving, in the fact that this is an anniversary and that’s always important. So, probably not closure but, again, moving forward”.
The first Australian victim on September 11 was a 66-year-old grandfather, Alberto “Pocho” Dominguez, a former Spanish-language broadcaster with SBS Radio. The Uruguayan-born Mr Dominguez, due to retire soon after that as a Qantas baggage handler, had gone to the United States with his wife to visit and help her ailing sister.
He had planned to return home to Lidcombe, New South Wales, on September the 10th, but decided to delay it and stay an extra night. That put him on Flight 11 out of Boston the next morning, the first flight that would be hijacked, then flown into the tower.
In that North Tower, 37-year-old Craig Gibson, from Sydney’s suburban Randwick, was working with the insurers Marsh and McLennan on the 94th floor.
Elisa Ferraina, 27, formerly from Sydney, was on the 106th floor, near the top, at a financial-technology conference of the Risk Waters Group she worked with.
Steve Tompsett, a 39-year-old I-T expert from Sydney’s suburban Merrylands, was attending a conference at the same Windows of the World restaurant.
Lesley Anne Thomas, 40, a broker and trader with Cantor Fitzgerald from New South Wales’ Central Coast, was one floor below.
And Kevin Dennis, 43, another broker with Cantor Fitzgerald from Queensland’s Gold Coast, was on the 101st floor, two floors below Andrew Knox.
They all died.
It was Ms Thomas’s mother Jacqueline who expressed her loneliness at the tree-planting ceremony in Sydney. It was Mr Tompsett’s mother Rae who politely declined to talk recently, but, before going, offered how she mourned the loss of innocence for everyone.
When the second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Centre, between floors 77 and 85, two more Australians would pay with their lives.
Leanne Whiteside, a 31-year-old lawyer from the Melbourne suburb of Prahran, (pruh-RAN) had just begun working for AON Insurance, on the 98th to 105th floors.
Peter Gyulavary, 44, from Geelong in Victoria and the other twin to die, was an environmental architect for Washington Group International on the 91st floor. He was seen in the stairwell of the 78th floor, trying to make his way to the ground, but he never made it alive. It was his casket the shaft of sunlight would hit at his funeral — after his body was found buried in the rubble of the collapsed tower 10 weeks later.
When the third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, one more Australian died — 62-year-old Red Cross coordinator Yvonne Kennedy, from Westmead in Sydney. She was a passenger on the plane, nearing the end of a holiday that was a retirement gift to herself. Before she left, handing her itinerary to her son, she had quipped, This is just in case the terrorists get me.
This week, several of the families of the 10 Australian victims of September 11 have headed to the United States for the official remembrances there. One victim’s son once talked of the frustration of his mother’s death getting lost in what he considered the U-S politisation of what happened, but Stuart Knox offers a different view.
“I think the American government has been more supportive than the Australian government in this, that we’ve been included in a lot more because of how it actually happened, and there hasn’t been the distinction by the American government of, ‘These were our American people, versus people from countries from around the world,'” Knox said. “There has always been a responsibility that they have felt that they’ve had to ensure that we’re supported”.
In fact, the victims that day came from more than 90 countries around the world. Many will be represented in New York this weekend. And despite looking forward to the media attention going away after that, Stuart Knox admits there is another side to the emotion.
“In some ways, our message, and the message that probably all 10 families want to remain, is that we don’t want people to forget. And we certainly think that it is important that it was the moment in time that then caused us to go to the war, and we lost a lot more Australian troops. And so it had a big impact on our country,” Knox said.
* Michael Roberts: “Suicide Missions as Witnessing: Expansions, Contrasts.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2007, 30(10), 857-887.
* Michael Roberts & Arthur Saniotis, “Introduction: Empowering the Body and ‘Noble Death’. Social Analysis 2006, 50(1), 7-24.
* Michael Roberts: “Lone Cell Assaults: From Boston to Westmead-in-Sydney to the Unabomber. Inspirations and Enabling Conditions in Comparative Perspective,” 13 April 2013, http://thuppahis.com/2013/04/19/lone-cell-assaults-from-boston-to-westmead-in-sydney-to-the-unabomber-inspirations-and-enabling-conditions-in-comparative-perspective/.