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Monday, August 28, 2006

9/11: The Aftermath

Five years on and Joel Meyerowitz's epic images of Ground Zero remind us anew of the enormity of that day. The veteran photographer spent nine months at the site, shooting mangled steel, mountains of rubble, heroic human effort...and, finally, an empty pit. As Peter Conrad writes, the images in his new book Aftermath: The World Trade Center Archive show destruction on a biblical scale.

View the photographs

Sunday August 27, 2006
The Observer

Joel Meyerowitz's early photographs were poetic meditations on the sky and the omens that glimmer in it—a twitching nerve of summer lightning that snakes through the blue evening air on Cape Cod; the arch that spans St Louis like a metal rainbow, opening a gateway for Western explorers; the reassuring totem pole of the Empire State Building, with the sun gilding a spire that was designed as an anchorage for airships. Then, on 11 September five years ago, the sky fell in. A few days after the World Trade Centre collapsed, Meyerowitz wangled a pass to the site. He spent the next nine months photographing a sulphurous underworld in which the sky was a remote, mocking memory.

What he saw to begin with was a mountainous mound where twisted steel, pulverised cement and shredded bone had fused: the implosion of those levelled towers. The rescue workers, who began by futilely searching for signs of life in this smoky, reeking tumulus, called it 'the pile.' For Meyerowitz, accustomed to serene and unclouded skies, it was chaos—or rather Chaos, the gulf of elemental ructions that existed, according to Greek myth, long before the world was created.

He trod on a surface that was still molten, so hot, because of the jet fuel that continued to ignite fires deep below, that it ate through the thick soles of his boots. The debris, in which so many mangled bodies were compounded, was itself lethal. Voids could open in the pile to gobble up the unwary; extruded metal could casually slice your head off.

When the sky fell in, the ground beneath our feet opened to swallow it, reversing the separation of heaven from earth decreed at the start of Genesis. The weight of the wreckage eviscerated subway stations under the World Trade Centre and exposed the networks of cables and pipes that used to keep the whole elaborate apparatus lit and watered; it also came close to provoking a further biblical catastrophe.

The most frightening of Meyerowitz's photographs shows a zigzagging fissure that one day, weeks after 9/11, suddenly ripped open a street. Earth excavated when the foundations of the World Trade Centre were laid had been dumped in the nearby Hudson River and used as landfill for the high-rise dormitories of Battery Park. The hole in which the towers were built was reinforced by a dyke, which now began to quake....




Blogger hugo solo said...

¿ ¡spent! nine months ?

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Doug said...

I think it's a fantastic thing that somebody would spend 9 months to show the world how the firemen/police/rescue workers did their jobs.

There was a big feature about him in Photography Monthly magazine. Has some great photos from his work as well. The fact he used a 5x4 camera as well meant he could display prints 22' wide! I'm going to buy this book

5:48 AM  
Anonymous Simon E said...

I read the article in the newpaper on Sunday and found it terribly bland. However, there was a section written in Joel's own words (added at the bottom in the online version) that was the section that made sense and gave the whole thing some vitality and purpose.


4:03 PM  

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