World Trade Center (2007), a set on Flickr.
I’ve lived in America for 7 years now, and I’ve not always had an easy relationship to it. I’ve had a particularly hard time with the so-called ‘War On Terror’, the military and ‘national security’ response to 9/11 that has, in my view, been a huge step backwards for the country and greatly damaged America in the eyes of the world (and, I know, for many patriotic Americans too).
Back in 2007 I went to visit Ground Zero to try and get a better feel for the emotional weight of the World Trade Center tragedy for Americans; to better understand why the response has been so violent (and so ferociously sustained). I’d argue that response still colors for the worse reactions to contemporary ‘homeland’ atrocities (like the recent Boston marathon bombings), so in finally revisiting these pictures now it’s been helpful to be reminded again of the sheer depth of emotionality the site itself evokes. And the impact it had on me to see the place, to connect it then and now with the famous, horrific TV images that we all soaked in during those awful days in 2001. I suppose empathy has to work both ways - with the victims and the perpetrators. But seeing the grief of the victims still so evident six years later at least helped me understand a bit more clearly the seemingly mythic status 9/11 now has in the minds of ordinary US citizens and why the raw wound has not yet been completely salved.
The actual site was largely still undeveloped in 2007, wranglings continued over the exact nature of the replacement building, and the massive gap in the dense Manhattan sprawl was hoarded around with black boards, every one of which had at least one ‘Post No Bills’ sticker attached. Visitors moved through chicanes of these boards as if being guided through a labyrinth. And every one of the boards was graffitied by the countless visitors who’d made the same pilgrimage as me since 2001, the poster letters filled in with well-wishings, touching pleas for understanding and tolerance, insane conspiracy theories, pro-US sentiment (which seemed apt in the circumstances), and amazing representations of the attack itself: as if the naive, cave-like drawings (often using the taller letters as frames for the towers themselves) could somehow contain the whole of the awful force of the event they sought to depict. Acts of magical thinking that sat alongside famous photographs from the aftermath and optimistic City Planning Dept. evocations of the future. And at the end we all arrived at the visitors center, which was really just a simple corridor dedicated to advertising high fashion and luxury goods, all advertisements bearing the simple legend ‘Shop’. This, of course, echoed the depressing response of President Bush when asked what Americans should do to cope: “Buy stuff. Go out and buy stuff…” But even that couldn’t detract from what was a moving, memorable visit, one I’ve enjoyed reliving in working with these images now.
The pictures were all taken with a Palm Treo device, which has a 0.3 megapixel camera with a broken focus mechanism. This made for some interesting flaring and blurring that seemed, somehow, to fit the scene… Some of the photographs were then re-balanced on a computer.