Although I was there, I barely heard Barack Obama's inaugural address. Later, if pressed, I might have been able to produce a couple of key words from the speech but none of the themes. I was working – juggling two cameras, four lenses, and loose scraps of almost-illegible names and notes, and checking my phone for text messages from two Monitor writers.
A mile from the Lincoln Memorial, you could hardly see Obama's face on the JumboTron. I turned my back to it and focused instead on four black women behind me. They were straining to hear his words. They had just met. At times in his speech, they grabbed each other by the arms. They pointed toward the Lincoln Memorial, turned to each other and said, "Yes. That's it. That is it." Other times they clapped and smiled. Toward the end, they got tears in their eyes. I don't know what Obama said, but, photographing these women, I understood how his message was received.
When I listened to the speech later, after my photos were edited, I realized that Obama's words were not the story. The story was the reaction of the 1.7 million who gathered to hear him. It was the energy, excitement, and kindness that they shared with one another. It was the inspiration these women found in words from a leader whose desires, experiences, and skin color matched their own. I didn't miss a thing.