Three photographers describe the most poignant pictures they never took
Nan Goldin on the photograph she never took of the death of her friend, the writer and artist David Wojnarowicz, who died from AIDS in 1992
He was lying on the bed. He had pearls on. He was holding them up in his hands, [and] he was describing something. Then his eyes were closed and he would be quiet. I loved him. He was a beautiful man, very tall and very skinny. I have some beautiful pictures of him. But it didn't feel right in my stomach. We weren't in the same reality at that time. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever taken LSD? He was hallucinating from dying. I don't know what medication he was on. I'm sure he was on some kind, to help him die without too much pain.
All the people that I photographed dying of AIDS gave me their consent, but I never asked Dave. I know that he liked my work; in his book I'm one of the first people that he thanks. I don't know. I didn't want to hurt him, even if he wasn't 100 percent conscious.
I remember the pictures that I haven't taken much better than those I took. When I don't take a picture, there is frustration involved. I have a vivid memory of the moment that I didn't photograph.
Stanley Greene on the photograph he never took of the execution of a Chechen man
This man's clothes were kind of muddy, and he was a little bloody, and it looked as if he hadn't shaved for a while. But you could tell that once he was a good dresser and he must have been one of the opposition pro-Moscow Chechens.
It was 1996, the Chechens had captured Grozny from the Russians, who had been occupying the city. But within the city there were also pro-Moscow Chechens: administrators, politicos, whatever.
He was digging a grave and I took one shot, and [then] another Chechen, who had a Kalashnikov, made him get out of the grave, put the gun to his head, and told us to take a picture.
I'm a very nervous kind of photographer, constantly moving my camera around, and I almost raised it, like a reaction. He made it clear he was about to pull the trigger, but [another photographer,] Laurent [Van Der Stockt], who was with me, gently pushed my arm, and I realized that I almost lifted the camera. So we walked away.
I was glad that Laurent was there that day, but I would like to think that I wouldn't have taken the picture.
Rankin on the photograph he never took on 9/11
I was uptown in a hotel, and my agent phoned me and said, 'A plane just got into the WTC.' I didn't realize the enormity. I was like, 'I'm sleeping. I'll speak to you in a minute,' and then I woke up and I saw on the news the second [plane] going in. So I realized what was happening 30 blocks away from me. In my heart I thought, 'Should I go and document it?'
I didn't go out and photograph it. I didn't want to. I guess it was strange, in a way; so many people did. For me it was such a horrific thing, and I didn't want to have anything to do with it. I didn't want to mediate it in any way, to document it in any way, deal with it like that. I wanted to deal with it personally.
I thought, 'My experience of this is not going to be through photography.'
Excerpted from Blueprint (April 2004), the influential British magazine about design and architecture. U.S. subscriptions: $126/yr. (12 issues) from Kate Buckley, 34 E. 64th St., New York, NY 10021; www.blueprintmagazine.co.uk.