What Ed Saw on 9/11

by Chikashi

Perfect Souls Shine Through by Edward Whitehead

Edward Whitehead was a colleague and a friend. No, not Commander Whitehead, the Schweppes guy; I’m not that old. I tend not to socialise with colleagues because of potential conflicts of interest arising in the future. Of course, there have been exceptions, and Ed was one of them.

Ed was a tall, devastatingly handsome man. He was intelligent and stylish. Above all, he was an interesting man. He was interesting because of what he lacked as well as what he had. He lacked the usual array of insecurities and anxieties; he was a confident man. Not arrogant, but confident, comfortable in his own skin. On the other hand, he was a complex character. He was a tormented soul because of something in the past. I do not know what that is or what exact effect it had on him, but there was a certain dimension to his character, a certain weariness, that told me that something specific in his past informed his current views. To me, that made him interesting.

Ed and I regularly walked the market to see what sorts of products and spaces were attracting customer traffic as well as the apparent customer demographics, sometimes chortling at the sight of 40-somethings swarming around product assortments intended for 20-somethings. Our little tours differed from routine walks because we mixed it up with ‘hot mum’ spotting.

‘Hey, 2 o’clock.’

‘Not bad. 9 o’clock isn’t half bad either.’

‘Oh yeah, she’s hot.’

Demographics is an important, professional consideration.

We certainly didn’t lack our own, respective hot mums. I have the Brunette. Ed had his long term girlfriend Josie, a stunning and very sweet former underwear model who reduced one of our colleagues to an embarrassing, cow-eyed jelly every time she visited our offices; she had a teenage daughter from a previous relationship very early in her life. The hot mum spotting broke up the routine and added a bit of innocent fun: just looking, no chatting or touching. Well, maybe a smile here and there, but nothing more.

I moved on to another company, one of Ed’s former employers. Ed also left soon thereafter, returned to New York and joined a relatively new company. He tried to get me to join the London HQ of his new gig, but it was not to be. Unfortunately, we lost touch soon thereafter.

Last November, I thought of Ed and wondered what he was up to. I searched on Google, only to find out that he died of cancer almost exactly 4 years before in North Carolina, on 2 November 2008, at the age of 52, leaving a young wife and a four year old daughter. The news took me by surprise in many ways. I did not know that he took a wife, that she wasn’t Josie, that he finally became a father, that he had cancer and that he died. It was a bit much to absorb all at one go that afternoon in mid-November.

I knew that he did not stay very long in New York and subsequently joined Galyan’s, a sporting goods retailer, as their chief marketing officer. However, I did not know about the publication of Perfect Souls Shine Through until I came across Ken Honeywell’s blog (containing scans of several pages of Perfect Souls) that same November afternoon. Perfect Souls was Ed’s book, a limited run published by Galyan’s to raise money for the Twin Towers Fund. It featured a selection of photos from 40+ rolls of film that Ed shot a few days before, on and immediately after 9/11.

I searched the web for a copy and found one at a used book dealer as new copies are no longer available. I did not seek out the book because I wanted to see more photos of the tragic event. Rather, I wanted to see what Ed saw, and felt, on the days leading up to it, including a care-free afternoon with friends on the beach at Amagansett, on the fateful day in downtown Manhattan when shock and disbelief swept across the world, and on subsequent days when New Yorkers started to deal with the consequences. It’s one thing to view scenes captured by Weegee, someone I did not know, but quite another to see what a friend captured. I suspect that Weegee did not have much emotional involvement with his subjects even though he knew how to capture his subjects’ emotions through his lenses. In contrast, Ed was emotionally involved even though most of the people captured on film were strangers to him. Through the photos, I could see what Ed was feeling and hear some of the words he must have muttered whilst focussing the lens and depressing the shutter release.

Ed admired Bruce Weber’s work. There was one particular Weber quote that he loved: ‘A house is not a home.’ Being genuine was important to Ed. It was a constant theme when we considered product assortment and presentation, including copywriting, styling and everything else. It’s not too often that one comes across such a disposition amongst marketers. I think this is partly because it is actually a very difficult stance to maintain when you work for someone else and even more difficult when you are dealing with products from a variety of third parties. Perfect Souls is all Ed.