by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
December 6, 2001
THE IMAGE MADE REAL
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The images came first on Sept. 11, one after the other, each more shocking than the last: smoke coming out of the first World Trade Center tower; the fireball just after the second plane went in;people tumbling from the sky; a blizzard of paper; gray people running; the impossible implosion of the buildings; the silent, enormous, brooding,steaming, twisted pile.
Before we could even acknowledge or process our unfolding emotions, we saw the pictures. And for me, that became a problem.
Because I live in Vermont and didn't lose anyone in the tragedy, and because the New York skyline now looks pretty much like it did while I was growing up there, and because events have moved so quickly since then, the emotions of Sept. 11 became buried. When I visited Ground Zero in October, the pile became viscerally real to me. But I still needed to find a way to mourn the loss of the towers, and I found it last weekend in New York City where three photographic shows are helping people to grieve.
The New York Historical Society on 77th and Central Park West has a show by the Magnum Agency, which represents a world-famous group of photojournalists.
Many of them happened to be visiting in New York for ameeting on Sept. 10, and when the first plane attacked the towers, theygrabbed their equipment and ran downtown.
Some of the photographs are stunning -- a minuscule firefighter dwarfed by the huge pile of twisted metal behind him, a businessman standing in an ash-strewn, littered street reading a piece of office paper which has drifted out of the sky. And some are weak attempts to finds ymbols of life in the midst of death - like the one of a baby on arooftop with the World Trade Center smoking in the background.
But the most effective exhibit is a 25-minute color video shot by videographer Evan Fairbanks, who happened to be on location at nearby Trinity Church that morning.
Fairbanks documented everything, including the second plane slamming into the second tower - literally out of the blue. Even though the video is silent, you can hear the roaring engine, the screaming metal, and the violent tantrum of rage and hatred that was flying the plane. I watched the film three times, and each time, the audience gave a loud and collective gasp of horror and grief when the plane hit. I wasn't the only one in tears.
"In its darkness and cruelty, it's the most horrible story I've ever covered," said Magnum photographer Paul Fusco, who has been in Chernobyl and Chiapas, and done photo essays on the global ravages of AIDS.
Afterward, I overheard a woman in the bathroom say, "A fitting punishment for Osama Bin Laden when they finally catch him is to crush him to death between two stone slabs carved in the shape of the World Trade Center towers."
The Magnum show was small and select. Downtown in SoHo, I saw two remarkable exhibits that practice photographic democracy.
At 116 Prince Street, (on-line at www.hereisnewyork.org), I saw "Here Is New York; Images from the Frontline of History." The show contains every photo the organizers - all professional photographers - could find that relates in some way to the events of Sept. 11 in New York.
Thousands of pictures, amateur and professional, line the walls and hang from ropes that stretch from ceiling to ceiling. Copies of the images are for sale, and the money benefits the victims of the attack.
The most remarkable photo is one of the last pictures taken by freelance photojournalist Bill Biggart, 53. On the left side of his black-and-white picture stands one side of a gleaming tower. On the right, pieces of the building are exploding into the air. One of those flying pieces must have killed Biggart.
The September 11 Photo Project (www.sep11photo.org) at 26 Wooster has a collection of over 1,000 photographs accompanied, in some cases, by text. The show is designed as a response to the thought, "I can't believe my eyes," and I found the work there far more personal than were the images at Prince Street. Some are an attempt by artists to create art out of this enormous community tragedy. Their goals vary - to heal, or provide hope, or convey anger or, sometimes, a political message. Many of the pieces succeed; others are not fully realized. But all of them convey the importance of the World Trade Center to New York and to the world.
To me, the World Trade Center was never a symbol of American wealth and arrogance because of it was an important financial center. Instead, it was a symbol of American wealth and arrogance because it was such ghastly piece of architectural design. In a spot of loveliness and great potential, not only one but two ugly rectangles were plopped, and a lively neighborhood was displaced by a barren plaza and upscale underground shops.
At the top of the towers, at The Windows on the World, the prices were high and the view - on a clear day - was breathtaking. But then, as someone famously said, the best thing about the view was that you didn't have to look at the World Trade Center.
That was before Sept. 11. Now that I've seen so many images of those thin, silvery, burning, smoking towers, they look so vulnerable to me that I think of them as something almost human. I see them waving in the wind, feel their suffering, hear the ravaged creatures crying out for help.
I feel a mad urge to rush in and save them.
Photographers try to capture the one precise instant that explains more about what happened than a million written words can accomplish. They try to find the truth and show it to the rest of us, who are safe in our homes. They say, "Hey, this is important, look at this." It is through the images made on Sept. 11 that I came to understand exactly what happened at the World Trade Center that day.
It is important for each of us to come to emotional terms with this event. As Aeschylus says in "Agamemnon," in a quote written on the wall at 116 Prince St., "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
Joyce Marcel is a freelance journalist who writes aboutculture, politics, economics and travel.