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Here Is New YorkReview - Here Is New York
A Democracy of Photographs
by Alice Rose George, Gilles Peress, Michael Sullivan, Charles Traub
Scalo Books, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Dec 23rd 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 52)

It’s hard to know how to approach this massive collection of photographs of New York City taken on September 11, 2001 and the days and months following the attack on the Twin Towers.  Physically, it is a large heavy book, measuring 21 x 30 x 6.5 cm, and opening out to 65 cm wide.  The book comes in its own box, and it is difficult to even get it out of the box at first.  The photographs in the 864 pages are not accompanied by any explanation or text apart from a short introduction that says how the book came about.  The first 162 photographs are in black and white, the rest are in color.  The images are not organized in chronological sequence, and it’s not clear if there is any organizing principle.  Each photograph gets a page to itself; the only specification of the photographers is in a long list at the back of the book, so it is not possible to tell who took most of these images.

At the time of writing this review, it is more than a year since the attack, and the discussion about how to remember those who lost their lives and what kind of building to build on the site of the World Trade Center is well under way.  New York City is still full of reminders of the attack, but in many ways life for most of its inhabitants is largely back to normal.  In December, people were busy doing their shopping for the holiday season.  To look at these photographs now is disturbing and upsetting because they bring back vivid memories of the uncertainty about what was going to happen next after the attacks, the terrible worry and guessing about how many people had been killed, and the shock that an attack had had the ability to momentarily bring the United States to a halt. 

Looking through these pictures, one finds many familiar images of the Towers being hit by the planes, the Towers collapsing, the rubble of the buildings, flyers posted around the city asking for information about missing loved ones, the long rescue and recovery efforts in the following days.  Some of the photographs here have been appeared in other books.  Other photographs here show unfamiliar and surprising images, often with a horrific beauty or terrible poignancy: there’s a time-lapse shot of a person falling to his death, there are several pictures of lost shoes, and there is one photograph of a human leg lying on the ground.  Presumably there were many other photographs of death and dismemberment that the editors chose not to include, or that the photographers did not submit in the first place.  The pictures included in this book will surely be explicit enough for most.

So, more than the other collections of photographs memorializing the attack on New York and its aftermath, Here Is New York is an uncomfortable book.  Some might object to the packaging and the high quality production values (although of course all profits go to charity), and the lack of text providing context for these images makes them seem somewhat random and anonymous.  Some might well judge it problematic that the box cover of the book decorates every side with its images of destruction and suffering because it trivializes the deadly seriousness of September 11.  However, collecting so many images here is in itself a powerful statement; the fact that the book is overwhelming in having so many images from so many different photographers is fitting for such an devastating event.  It’s not a book that one would be drawn to browse every day, and once one has put it away it will probably stay on one’s shelf for weeks or months, if not years.  But it’s easy to imagine taking down this large and heavy book from the shelf every so often, and viewing the different images on many occasions, as history changes their meaning.  The lack of text makes the particular people, objects and events pictured more open to interpretation and readers will almost certainly come to see these images differently as the years pass.  At the same time, the fact that so many different kinds of photographs are included will help viewers remember that there were many perspectives and experiences at the time.  This book will help to reduce the temptation to reduce the memory of the attack to the too familiar television pictures of the planes flying into the Towers and their subsequent collapse.  Indeed, the repeated viewing of these photographs could itself for some readers come to have an element or ritual and remembrance.  In the future, taking out this book to turn its pages and remember the images seen many times previously will give readers a way to reflect on what the World Trade Center attack meant for New York and the rest of the country. 

 

 

Links:

·        www.hereisnewyork.org

·        Review of The September 11 Photo Project

·        Review of In the Line of Duty: A Tribute to New York's Finest and Bravest

·        Review of New York September 11

 

© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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