Vanity Fair is better known for its celebrity, showbiz and cultural coverage, but from time to time, the magazine often produced exceptional photojournalism and documentary pieces. Those pieces are still centered around the magazine’s identity focusing on individuals and portraiture.
For instance, after the events of 9/11, the magazine published one-off special edition, on October 12, “One Week in September”. The edition was sold as an insert in its November isse (a 375-page tome covering the music industry, planned before 9/11). These timelines themselves were a revealing look into editorial, scheduling and logistics process behind monthly magazines: to hit the newsstands on time, magazines intended for a particular month were dispatched out months and weeks beforehand.
In a letter in the November issue, Graydon Carter, Vanity Fair’s editor-in-chief wrote:
The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions….
We had just about closed this, our second music issue, when the attacks occurred. We considered remaking part of the magazine and devoting those pages to the tragedy. Instead, for the first time in Vanity Fair’s history, we decided to produce a second issue in a single month. This special edition, “One Week in Seplember,” is the work of the entire staff, none more so than contributing photographer Jonas Karlsson and contributing photography producer Ron Beinner, both of whom all but lived downtown, capturing portrais and stories of heartbreak and heroism.
I was unsure about the appropriateness of the mix of music and tragedy this month. Then something charged my mind. The first weekend after the attacks in New York and Washington, I was at home and on the phone with contribuing editor Chrisopher Hitchens, who was stranded at the Denver airport, when we both heard a band somewhere out on the streets playing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I got off the phone and followed the music out to the Seventh Avenue. There, on a street corner across from St. Vincent’s Hospital, the epicenter of the medical relief was a marching band from Alabama made up of a dozen or so African-American teenagers. I have no idea how they got to New York or even what they were doing here. But their noble posture and their music held the people around them like a pair of loving arms. At that momest, and in that place, it is a charm that soothed this savaged breast.
Apart from Jonas Karlsson’s portfolio of firemen, doctors, volunteers, politicians, survivors, and others, the issue only included two other stories — an essay from contributing editor David Halberstam on the character of the US and a poetic eulogy to the dead of September 11 by Toni Morrison — and no ads.