Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Fitting Memorial on the Fifth Anniversary of September 11: “Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive” by Joel Meyerowitz

We still struggle with knowing how to think about the events of 9/11/2001 – and with how to depict them in the popular media. The reactions to the films “World Trade Center” and “Flight 93” have been all over the map. For some, it seems too soon to reopen the raw wounds that the tragedies of that day inflicted on our national psyche. For others, remembering the events and trying to make sense of them is part of the healing from those wounds.

In the first few weeks after the attacks on the WTC, I found myself drawn to the site. Something within me needed to see “Ground Zero” up close in order for me to begin to process what had happened there. For some individuals, attending a wake where the body of a loved one is on display is a ghoulish practice. For others, it is a necessary part of the process of acknowledging the reality of the death of the departed. I felt as if I needed to “view the body” of the WTC – a place that had been special to me since it was first built. I had enjoyed meals in the “Windows on the World” restaurant and had brought many friends and family members to the observation deck. I had seen the site from the air on September 16th, but I needed to see if from ground level. So, I drove to NYC and made my way to lower Manhattan. I parked a few blocks north of the site and spent several hours walking the perimeter, reading the notices asking for help in locating lost and missing relatives, talking with police officers guarding the perimeter – trying to get a sense of the place. When I returned to my car, it was covered in a thick patina of greasy ash that still filled the air for many blocks around Ground Zero.

At my desk in my office in Wellesley I keep a crystal block that memorializes the WTC and the first responders who raised an American flag over the rubble. The events of 9/11 are never far from my mind. So, when I learned that a picture book was being released on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the WTC, I ordered the book from Amazon.com.

The book, “Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive” by Joel Meyerowitz, is a huge “coffee table” book. This tome is a stunning work of art that is the result of amazing diligence, courage and ingenuity on the part of photographer Joel Meyerowitz. This heart-rending and sobering collection is the only archive of images of Ground Zero after the events of September 11. In his narrative of what he experienced during the nine months during which he captured images of the clearing of debris from the site of the WTC, Meyerowitz compares the site to Pompeii.

“The nine months I worked at Ground Zero were among the most rewarding of my life. I came as an outsider, a witness bent on keeping the record, but over time I began to feel a part of the very project I’d been intent on recording, and I was accepted on the site as a member of the tribe. Photography is often a very solitary profession. But the intense camaraderie I experienced at Ground Zero inspired me, changing both my sense of myself and my sense of responsibility to the world around me. September 11th was a tragedy of almost unfathomable proportions. But living for nine months in the midst of those individuals who faced that tragedy head-on, day after day, and did what they could to set things right, was an immense privilege. I am deeply grateful to have worked alongside these men and women. I documented the aftermath for everyone who couldn’t be there. But this book is dedicated to those who were.” (From the forward)

Meyerowitz has made a major contribution towards helping us remember and process in a new ways the tragedy of that day in 2001. I plan to give a copy of this remarkable book to my daughter-in-law, who is a gifted professional photographer in her own right.

For anyone who continues to be moved by what happened at the WTC, this book is a worthy investment of time, money and emotional energy.


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