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Its 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 its 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: theres 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
So, more than the other collections
of photographs memorializing the attack on New York and its aftermath,
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. Its not a book
that one would be drawn to browse every day, and once one has put it away it
will probably stay on ones shelf for weeks or months, if not years. But its 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.
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
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