As a proud American, I am writing to you about my "Liberty, Courage and Hope" project. I was lucky enough to fulfill a vision of mine in 1994, at a time when I felt as one citizen and as a country that we needed to embrace the ideal of a true hero. I felt that it was important to address the origin of who we are as Americans and the need for a symbol of heroism to hold on to. I embarked on a quest to immortalize the true embodiment of what that meant to me. My vision was of a Firefighter; a soldier of the world fighting a battle that knows no boundaries. The job of a Firefighter is to save lives based on courage and instinct, not choice. I was fortunate to have been able to create, through the lens of a camera, this image of what I saw as "Liberty, Courage and Hope." The Firefighter I picked to represent all heroes in the line of duty was Mike Weinberg, a probie New York City Fireman. Six years later on 9/11, 2001, Mike lost his life defending our country. It is as if I shot this image then to be part of history now. In a time of national mourning, God has given me a gift to give to the American people and the world; a portrait of history that invokes a healing and hope for the future. This vision is a blessing to all that are able to see it and my goal as an American is to give back to my country a memory to hold on to. My dream is to secure this image in the archives of the United States by having this portrait for all to see through museums, schools and as a United States postage stamp. The Documentary film I shot on fire fighter Weinberg is the story of what makes an American Hero. This portrait and film together should be shown to educate and illustrate to present and future generations the essence of a true hero and the liberty we all stand for as proud Americans.
God Bless us all.
A Fellow American
"Some of the most famous images in history are those in which non-famous, everyday people are transformed into historical icons. Alfred Eisenstaedt’s 1945 portrait of the kissing couple in Times Square, Edward Adams’ Saigon Execution, and Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother are such examples. Those portrayed in these images were not public personalities. However, their faces are permanently etched in the public consciousness as the result of one split second of artistic inspiration that would visually capture so much more, telling its own story and inspiring others to tell theirs. These moments are not calculated. Rather they are the serendipitous result of photographer and subject capturing a fleeting moment that will eventually symbolize, summarize, and in rarest cases provide a fateful foreshadowing of an entire era." – Columbia University
BACKGROUND - In 1994, November Productions filmmaker and photographer Kevin Dornan created a multimedia tribute to firefighters from various parts of the United States. New York was the first location for the filming, and Dornan met with firefighters from across the city before choosing Mike Weinberg. "Mike had no idea who I was and what my project was about. He was so kind and helpful to this stranger in the firehouse. That's when I realized I'd found my Fireman… right in front of me." Over the course of several days, Dornan recorded, both on film and in still photography, the life of a firefighter. In the visual context of "a day in the life" theme, they discuss everything from outside hobbies (Mike was a minor league baseball player) to hopes, dreams, and the extraordinary calling to be a civil servant. Unfortunately, the project was discontinued after Dornan finished shooting New York. The last photograph taken during the shoot was of the firefighter- in full regalia- on a fire boat with the World Trade Center as the backdrop. On September 11th, 2001, Mike Weinberg was on vacation, golfing in Queens NY, when he heard the breaking news of the World Trade Center bombing. He rushed to the scene without a second thought. In addition to his duty to serve the public, he had a sister who worked at WTC Tower II. His sister managed to get out alive, but he did not.
THE PHOTOGRAPH- America and the World now have aftermath images of the World Trade Center embedded into its permanent consciousness, the most infamous of these possibly being Thomas E. Franklin’s image of three firefighters raising the American flag amidst the wreckage. That photograph is a powerful depiction of the essential hope that rises from despair; a necessity to maintain the strength and spirit of the human condition. Kevin Dornan’s image " Liberty, Courage and Hope" provides an equally powerful complement as it invokes hope by recalling hope itself. Here it is remembered as a once nameless face in front of –seemingly "guarding"- the same New York City symbol of strength which would later call on him for his very own strength. New York’s "bravest" and "tallest" in the same image, both with a certain pride and fearlessness that, at that moment, seemed indestructible and eternal; symbols that were once almost taken for granted as unbreakable fortresses and are somehow even more so now, even in their demise.
THE FILM- What was originally intended as a celebratory documentary of living American firefighters is now a bittersweet remembrance of a brave soldier. Dornan did not know that Mike had died at the 9/11 tragedy until six months later. When Good Morning America learned of this lost footage, Dornan was immediately faced with the heartrending duty of revisiting the image and the voice of a man who had, during the course of the project, become his friend. On February 4th, 2002, Weinberg’s sister and friend appeared with Dornan on Good Morning America and painstakingly viewed the lost footage of Mike. "I was given the greatest gift by being able to show the Weinberg's moments of Mike and present them with the portrait they never knew was taken, a gift which countless others would never be given." Several other network news programs made offers to Dornan, but he felt that any replay of that moment would detract from the dignity of the project. Indeed, from the varied depictions of the everyday life of a firefighter to the now-fateful final dialogue, this film is one which needs to be viewed as its own inspirational portrait rather than one small segment tied only to tragedy. "We as a nation need to heal, and by having even one story of hope and bravery can keep the memory our Heroes with us forever."
THE PHOTOGRAPHER / FILMMAKER- Dornan’s progression into film, writing and photography has been featured on television, in books and major magazines. But despite this impressive body of work, Dornan is still most proud of his portrait of an American Firefighter representing "Liberty, Courage and Hope."