Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Shock of What Happened, Or The Ache For What Never Will

 When I found these photographs a week or so ago, I wasn't sure if I wanted to even look through them let alone share them. And then when I decided to post them there was the issue of adding some narrative, which I liked even less. The photographs themselves say everything better than I could and therefore I'll be uncharacteristically brief. Love each other. Really. That's it. Love each other and be kind to others whenever you can. And tell the people that you love that they matter. Don't assume they know. Tell them.

I recently read a beautifully written book by Simon Van Booy entitled Everything Beautiful Began After. It's rare that I take time to copy or memorize sentences from books anymore, but a few lines were heartbreakingly authentic, and in this instance, timely.

"You were unsure which pain is worse--the shock of what happened or the ache for what never will."

The Connecticut 9-11 memorial wall

The ghosty image from the SI
the Towers will forever remain in my memory.


 There's nothing I could say about New York's beloved FDNY(aka NY's Bravest) that hasn't already been said more honestly or eloquently by many other people. It is their collective badass, balls-out courage in the face of such genuine horror that I find to be almost inconceivable. The large scale and depth of their loss was felt in every corner of every borough. These photographs are from Squad 18 in the West's their website with more of their story:

For months after the attacks many of the city's firehouses and police stations were draped in black and purple mourning bunting. A kind of veil had dropped on the city and even as we slowly returned to the rhythm of our days, there was not any tangible feeling of normal. Not when "normal" included fighter jets making their frequent passes over New York City's airspace. And yet, there was a kind of learned comfort that came with the sound of those protective aircraft. As if you could trick yourself into feeling slightly less helpless when bolstered by their fierce speed screaming overhead.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Union Square

Washington looks out over the sea of flowers, candles, and
posters at Union Square Park
I remember emerging from the subway at Union Square and being slightly bewildered. My neighborhood on the Upper West Side had some small memorials and there were supportive signs for the FDNY and NYPD, but nothing on the scale I witnessed at Union Square Park. Candles, photographs, prayers, pleas, home made poster board "have you seen?" signs--they were everywhere. Taped to the triumphant statue of Washington, on the subway station supports. Everywhere. Unlike most occasions of ubiquity, however, these small bits of remembrance and support never failed to elicit a deep, emotional response. You couldn't NOT look, and when you looked, you would feel another wave of sadness envelop you.

Union Square Park

Union Square subway station

One of the brilliant editorial cartoons, Union Sqare Park

Another of the small "altars" left in the park

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

St Vincent's, and Yet Another Sad Farewell

I was working on Hudson Street on the morning of the September 11th attacks. I'd heard something odd as I walked into our office building, but nothing that really gave me pause. The timeline of that day, for me, started with my cubicle partner getting a phone call from her husband who worked farther downtown than we were. He was calling to tell her that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center--and said we should turn on the television. (At this point I'll admit saying something that has haunted me ever since...) As my colleague hung up from speaking with her husband (who I'm happy to say was unharmed) I quipped, "Well, at least it wasn't the Chrysler Building!"

Obviously, I felt like the colossal ass that I can be from time to time when events unfolded so horrifically later in the day. The scope of that day still is beyond my comprehension and I think I'm grateful for the memory gaps that do exist in my timeline of both that day and the following weeks.

We all stayed put for most of the day, either glued to the television in our spectacularly intimate "conference room" or trying to get thru to loved ones and let them know we were okay, at least for the moment. Once the fighter jets began making their flights over the city, a few of our staff ventured out to St Vincent's to give blood and see if there was anything they could do. St Vincent's would become the site I most identified with as I often walked past it in the months after the attacks. It was where the doctors and nurses waited in vain, mostly, for patients that never arrived. Watching the missing persons wall and all the photographs and flowers and wishes wither away as the days at "the pile" dragged on was heart wrenching and now and then, tragically, you'd see the person's obituary in the NY Times.

So when I heard months ago that St Vincent's was to close, I felt especially sad and as though a nearly decade old scab had been pulled off, exposing long buried pain. For me it was a spot by which I could ascertain small steps of progress, healing. Herewith, St Vincent's Hospital during the immediate post-September 11th days. The photo at the bottom, the ambulance with the "Last Roll Call" newspaper on the dashboard may have given me the roughest punch to the gut when I saw it among the other images.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Love is everywhere, light is everywhere

Following up on my post from yesterday, here are a two more photographs. Homemade signs like these were everywhere in the days and weeks that followed September 11. Missives and messages were attached to buildings, mailboxes, railings, light posts--practically anything that stood still. I photographed many signs but these two stood out as memorable, meaningful, and straightforward. And in the sign below, with two seemingly commonplace words that many of us use nearly every day, a deep resonance was achieved. Remember. Rebuild.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Just when you think it's safe...

I went on the hunt for a couple of pictures of a failed preservation project I'd worked on with a friend who passed away yesterday. My digital archive, (thanks mostly to iPhoto and DropBox) is far easier to sort through than my actual photographs, which are, to put it bluntly, a jumbled, bollocksed up mess. TOTAL CHAOS. And yet, occasionally chaos points us toward something important; important and safely tucked away.

In two oversized Spectra Photo envelopes (from when I took actual photographs and had them developed at the wonderful Spectra store on W 72nd street), wedged between packets filled with romantic photos of London cemeteries and my photographic "homage" to Henry Adams Mont St Michel and Chartres, there they were. Not the hoped for photographs of the old pool house at Soldier's Field where we'd waged our failed preservation campaign, but instead a treasure trove of a different nature--my photos of NYC in the early days after September 11, 2001.

I've said before that I am perpetually surprised at how quickly and powerfully that day and the maelstrom of memories attached to it flood back to the surface. The deep, dull ache is nearly as immediate and as raw as it was a decade ago. The tug in your gut never totally goes away. The emotions grasp at you, pulling in every direction from sadness, to anger, to uncertainty and back again. I cannot begin to fathom what it was or is like for those who lost loved ones and friends, the depth and breadth of their pain is on a completely different level. I was merely a bystander--a proud New Yorker--and I was and am forever altered.

I'm quite certain that back then I could not even begin to project out into the future ten years ahead, and I'll wager that I haven't looked at these photographs since I took them. Maybe now is the time to share them. So over the next few days I'm going to scan a few of the images and will post them here, perhaps with some other odds and ends of remembrance from those days.

I, along with many others, I think, took a kind of comfort in being out and gathering with people--mostly complete strangers--to share stories and do whatever we could do in our own small ways. There were some incongruosly beautiful autumn days right after September the 11th, at least as I recall (and admittedly, there are large blank gaps in many of those days that I can't remember, and I'm guessing that's for the best) and I spent a lot of time wandering around the city and taking photographs.

This isn't where I expected to end up today, but here we are and here's photo 1. Taken from a Labor Day, 2001, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It's one of my favorite photographs ever.