World Trade Center Archive.
Photographs and text by Joel Meyerowitz.
Phaidon, London, 2006. 304 pp., 400 color illustrations, 15x10¾".
Aftermath opens with four skyline views of Lower Manhattan taken from Meyerowitz's Greenwich Village apartment rooftop, prior to September 11, 2001, showing the World Trade Center towers as New Yorkers will always remember them. The skies and clouds, sunset and sunrise, and the towers stand gleaming in the distance in these serene images. Meyerowitz's carefully honed sensibility and renowned sensitivity to the subtleties of color are in full bloom in these four photographs.
Then you turn the page. Spread out on a four-page overleaf is an image reminiscent of a Hieronymous Bosch painting-the utter devastation, in wide angle, stretching from the South to the North Tower, laid bare under the nightmarish glare of stadium lights against the nighttime sky. The toylike primary colors of the red cranes and
yellow earth-moving machinery are set against the burnt orange of rusting steel and the oppressive, monochromatic background of the smoke and dust of pulverized buildings. Scattered across this scene is an army of tiny figures of men who crawl like ants in frantic search for anything living-Dante could not have envisioned anything more horrible.
I was in Lower Manhattan that day and had to make my way around the smoke-spewing rubble on foot. Now, five years later, I am returned to Ground Zero in vivid detail. Meyerowitz takes us inside this devastation for a close-up look at the acres of carnage, even showing us the collateral damage at the perimeter of the site, along the many side streets. In one image, toy cars and coloring books are scattered around an abandoned daycare center; in another, the interior of a delicatessen sits
eerily untouched; in yet another, a conference room sits prepared for the day's meeting; in each of these, every object is covered in thick moonlike dust. Among the most powerful images from the day and from this book are the messages and hand-scrawled names that police officers and fire fighters smeared with their bare fingers on dust-covered store windows.
Meyerowitz was the only photographer allowed down on "the pile" as it came to be known, alongside the police officers and firemen, the steelworkers and rescue teams, amid the smoke-belching maws of twisted girders. He spent nine months photographing this unique urban inferno with an 8×10 Dear-dorff camera, wielding this large-format apparatus like a 35mm SLR. Fully conscious of making a record, he writes: "9/11 had awakened in me a profound need to give something back...Bearing witness week after week reminded me why I had become a photographer...."
Aftermath documents the entire range of people involved at the site, placing each portrait in chrono-
logical order, from the immediate aftermath to the
ceremonial removal of the last steel girder. His ungainly camera served to break the emotional ice that had descended on the workers, allowing him to pierce the facades. This is clear from the many intimate portraits he took of them-hardhat-covered faces with respirators dangling off their necks reveal the tears in the eyes of men who never cry. It is clear that Meyerowitz felt a
kinship and closeness with these rugged individuals, identifying with their determination to sift through the mountain of rubble to find both strangers and fallen comrades. Meyerowitz takes us out to the aptly named Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, where the debris was hauled on barges and dumped. His images depict stacks of hundreds of smashed cars, and the array of sorted and sifted-through rubble spread out to help in the search to find personal artifacts that may identify the missing. There are burnt and scorched police service revolvers, badges, ammo belts, melted radios and other oddments of attire.
Again, Meyerowitz's sensitivity to a subtle color palette is gorgeously employed here. In several images, he captures what he calls an "American Day" light, a particular light that only occurs in a city such as Manhattan where the river and bay and city merge to create a rich, layered tableau. Meyerowitz fully comprehends the tragic irony of this light, a light so clean and, now, so painful to remember. The book is ultimately too big to take in all at once, but is one that I will sit with each anniversary, unable to forget that awful day. MARK HILLRINGHOUSE
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