I was at the Mandalay Bay on October 1, 2017.
The morning after, I woke up to a breaking dawn out my 6th floor window – in the same wing where the shooter wrought mayhem just scant hours before. I went to the bathroom and when I came back to the room, the sun was just kissing the horizon. I grabbed my phone and snapped this image. I posted it on Facebook to let the world know that I was safe.
At the time, I wrote in earnest, “Don’t know how to process this”
For someone whose livelihood depends in part on processing photos, the irony of this statement was lost on me until I reread some days later what I’d written and grimaced at the unnoticed dark humor – unintentional, but not less poignant – less disturbing.
I’ve recounted the story to many in the intervening weeks but never quite knew how to process this, both literally and figuratively. I leave it for you to decide which was which.
To the melodramatic creature within I could simply say, “I was present for the largest mass murder in US history.”
To the humble creature lurking behind the melodrama queen I could simply say, “I was there – but I slept through it unawares.”
Both would be true. Neither is an accurate portrayal of the confusion, uncertainty, misinformation, uneasiness, depression, and the rest of the gamut of emotions that ran through me in the hours, days and weeks after.
Today, I returned to the image again and noticed something. When I took the picture, the words of former president Barack Obama were in my head. On the day after last November’s election, he told Americans “No matter what happens the sun will rise in the morning and America will still be the greatest nation on earth.” It was true. Horrible tragedy had rained down from just over my head and still the sun rose the next day and the day after.
Each day I stayed at the Mandalay Bay, I rose and took a picture of the sun coming up in defiance of or in indifference to the human toll of evil.
If you look at the images you can see the only thing that changes is the message on the Mandalay’s marquee. The sun comes up in much the same way across the four mornings following the horrific events. It continues to rise to this day.
As you can see by the four image strip above, I did finally come to process the image of that first morning. After 6 weeks of clarity rendering in both my thoughts and my psyche, I finally feel like I know how to process this: the image; the experience. Though long-delayed, I write about it now to complete that processing.
I share with you: Dawn at Mandalay Bay – the morning after. Be it a simple phone photo of limited resolution and dynamic range, with additional reflections caused by the multi-pane laminated windows, it is still a testament to what life and photography are all about.
To the memory of those who lost their lives and those who lost their innocence I have little solace to offer you. I grieve with you. Know that.
Rikk Flohr © 2017