The Bomb Site Was a Stage

The Boston Marathon finish was constructed for photographers and video crews.

Two explosions went off near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.
The finish of the Boston Marathon was likely the most photographed spot on Earth at that moment

Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Walking past the finish line the day before the Boston Marathon, I couldn’t help but note how it is constructed more like a stage than an athletic venue. There’s more scaffolding to hold a catwalk for photographers, videographers, and media than there is to actually mark the finish line itself.

On race day, that catwalk and the whole finishing stretch on Boylston Street is packed with photographers, some from various press outlets, but the vast majority from MarathonFoto, a company that sells images to runners as souvenirs. Last year, I ordered photos of myself, running directly in front of the bank of world flags where the first bomb went off. It’s difficult to overestimate how many photographers are taking photos, virtually constantly, for the entire time that finishers are crossing the line.


All this seems likely to make the finish of the Boston Marathon the most photographed spot on Earth at that moment. In addition to the press footage and images that we see on the media today, the bombs that went off were likely captured by dozens of other professional photographers, not to mention countless amateurs. Directly opposite the bomb site was a grandstand that had seated VIPs and guests of honor from Newtown.

While everything about the bombers is at this point unknown, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that they planned their bombing to be on stage, a spectacle guaranteed to be captured thousands of times. It would be easy to be assured of exactly how the videos and photos would work, as there would be thousands of public images of past years’ finish lines and ample time in the days before the race to be among the throngs who make the finish a tourist destination. The bombers weren’t simply choosing a crowded location for the bombing. They were choosing one guaranteed to offer the greatest visual spectacle.

All this means that as the thousands of MarathonFoto images are combed for evidence, we’ll consume this spectacle an overwhelming number of times, with images of every split second and every possible angle.

Read more on Slate about the Boston Marathon bombing.