NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at http://www.bagnewsnotes.com/. Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« Face It, Iraq Was All About 9/11 | Main | Alive Day: Beyond The Mind's Eye »

Sep 12, 2007

September 11, 2007

0109110423
(click for full size)

Photographer Alan Chin, who was in lower Manhattan on 9/11/01 and captured the image above (among many), returned again yesterday to observe the mood around the Ground Zero site on the sixth anniversary of the WTC attack.  The following images, posted without commentary and more reminiscent of street photography than editorial or documentary photojournalism, represent Alan's personal record of the occasion.

As Alan explains:

This is my home and I grew up with the World Trade Center.  Yesterday, I heard the official ceremony on the loudspeakers, but that wasn't my priority. These pictures are as much about me as they are about the event. I have been back on previous anniversaries -- the first year, I was on assignment -- but this was the first time I felt like I really wanted to be there all day.

(Click any image for  larger size.)
10709110104  07091101062
30709110109

40709110130

50709110133

60709110136

70709110216

0709110313 07091104099

100709110324 0709110531 111

120709110223

130709110213

140709110530 2

150709110236

160709110335

170709110233

180709110412

190709110535 2


(All images courtesy of Alan Chin.  New York.  September 11, 2007.  Posted by permission)

Comments

They all look defeated.

When New Yorkers look defeated, I'd say we're pretty much toast.

ref : “to observe the mood around the Ground Zero site

i... always have a difficult time trying to discern any "mood : event" link dynamic in Mr. Chin's photographs; the people in the photographs always seem to be his objects; ie., reacting more to him, and having their pictures taken rather than made. and i always feel like such a prick for having this response, making this kinda comment, Alan; so i always end up "feeling guilty" about how i feel about your photographs. i... just don't get any "mood around the Ground Zero site" man; these could be any urban residents; this could be anywhere, anytime; they don't seem to emote anything in particular, in concert ~ save "self-awareness" of YOU, their photographer. i am so sorry, Alan (see?) all i can say is that, fwiw: i don't get it.

Marley,

Because of the turn-around time and all the news and visuals coming down the pike the last couple days, I didn't have the energy to add commentary to Alan's photos. Given their intensity, however, I now realize I was also scared off by them and so left them to fend on their own. However, the first comment in the thread, by Marley, sparks me to say/share one or two things.

Overall, I am fascinated how much we Americans have been politically and socially condition to think, look and see everything in life in terms of strength and weakness (or winning and losing). I watched the HBO "Alive Day" documentary yesterday and was struck (as I always am, when regularly re-awoken to the fact) that the pictures of war we are fed are not what war really looks like, because the "real" pictures would be more than we could handle.

I think these photos are the corollary to that on the grief side.

What Alan's totally non-p.c. pictures display is something we are psychologically conditioned to look away from or "edit out" in day-to-day existence, especially to the extent they also involve "pride of place" (and in considering a place like NY, no less!). What they show is the completely human expression of pain, of sadness, of memory, of loss, of confusion, of embarrassment, of anxiety. (Over the years, I've found -- in talking to patients who have struggled mightily with both -- that they would prefer to have to deal with a thick depression than with heavy anxiety.)

My question is, how strong a country and a body can we be when these completely essential expressions -- the stuff of basic mortality -- can only be viewed through a moral lens, and then show up in the mirror as weakness.

When I opened up these photos last night, my first reaction, to be perfectly honest, had to do with blasphemy. (I think that's what Marley might be experiencing, also?) I just thought, I can't believe Alan shot these pictures. Then, after sitting with them for about twenty minutes, I felt love and hate for them at the same time.

But what was so illuminating to me is how much I seemed to hate them for being too raw, for "just" making me upset, for "just" getting past my own filter; for making me feel so many things I couldn't -- and still can't -- just square away.

M.Gonzo - Strangely enough, I have to agree with you on this. I looked at them and didn't really get the "oh my god" reaction that the Bag seems to be getting here... and I get that reaction all the time when I read the Bag. I guess I get the same sense of disconnect from the event that you are getting. Without knowing that yesterday was 9/11, and that these shots are about the anniversary I wouldn't even be able to muster an emotion for them.

Maybe I'm just used to living in a big city and people look depressed on big city streets all the time.

There doesn't seem to be evidence linking the images to the tragedy. They are nice B&W shots, but ...

(I also share the guilty-for-commenting-like-this feeling you describe, too. Mostly because I respect the Bag so much. Sorry, Alan!)

It's the feeling of emptyness which pervades these pictures. It is the feeling I have every time I enter Manhattan by train or car from the south and can't see the towers anymore, after having spent ten years of my life looking at them out of the windows of my apartment in NY. They were so emblematic of the might of the city, and always present, even on the edge of sight, edge of awareness.

That they are not there, anymore, is so emblematic of our overall loss as Americans: of civil liberties, world prestige, and national pride.

These pictures do have sadness as context, and I do not think they are at all typical of NY street expressions. My memory of such is that folks, there, are pretty tough and detached, making the sadder inhabitants stand out. But, these pictures reveal an overall sadness, which I feel every time I go to New York. It's not just the anniversary, it's every day. New Yorkers have been changed and subdued by this singular event.

gonzo and gasho,

sure, i guess "anywhere" always has menomite women singing hymms, buildings with huge american flags draped across their sides, and people listening or looking in quiet contemplation at something you, the viewer, cannot know.

not that it matters. this IS the world trade center site six years later, and what i saw and photographed.

if you read my introduction to these photographs, you might understand that it's about MY experience as much as anything else. yes, some people might react or notice me, the photographer. others may not. all, and myself, are part of the space, the place, and the moment.

the first photo, in color, i took on the ruins of the south tower about two hours after it came down. everything else, in B+W, i took yesterday. so this is about the place, which is the same, the time, which of course is an "anniversary," and me, the same photographer, six years older, and perhaps the same, or not.

so you're right, you don't get it. my attempt at the BAG here has been, with Michael, to bring a side of things that you don't normally get to see. to use visual language in more subtle, and personal, ways than you're going to get in an ordinary news outlet. but maybe you prefer something like what my friends and colleagues Tyler Hicks and Todd Heisler did for the New York Times on assignment. i know and respect their work greatly, and having been a newspaper photographer for many years, know what they were looking for and giving you.

but the point is, that wasn't what i was out for yesterday. try not to look for "meanings" or "signifiers" or "hooks" in my pictures. instead, put yourself into the idea of being there, of the subjective nature of perception, and simply of what is seen, when you put yourself anywhere.

i think these photos do in fact reflect the mood and emotion of the place and time, it's just that what we expect does not exist. perhaps it's more of a ny'er perspective but 9/11 has simply been beaten to death and used and abused by everyone from souvenir hawks to war hawks. the solemnity of the place left with the acrid smell of the debris. the few times i've walked by the site, it's always seemed like tourists checking it off of their things to see list before heading over to the statue of liberty ferry. just another thing to say they did.

add it to te list of things america has fucked up and handled like the cretins we are...

Gonz/Gasho, We are dealing in an incredibly subjective realm here (not to mention, overlaying many different disciplines besides the visual). The guilt reaction comes from the inclination to bestow too much respect. The fact your reactions are diametric from mine or Alan's reaffirms the purpose, meaning and value of the site.

I am nothing but fascinated by your reaction, and the the fact that nothing hit you (or youz). The first thing it did was make me realize that my reaction was overgeneralized. That's why, upon reading your comments, I went back and numbered the pics, which I've done, as a rule, in the past.

If I drew my reaction above from specific shots (2, 3, 13, 18 in particular), there are others that seemed more "stereotypically" sad (8, 10 or 15, say) and others (5, 6, 7, 9, 11) that, like both of you, didn't really land for me at all.

Above all, though, the point I want to make is that this is a seminar. The artists I've been dealing with, and who are (increasingly) drawn to The BAG ask only one thing -- that you bring it. (Same for me.) No apologies.

I like #3 and #9 the best- because to me they transcend the 9/11 hype. Both of them could be captioned "What the f*ck are you doing taking MY picture, a55h0le?"

And to me, THAT is the quintessential New York spirit- undamanged, undaunted, and just as in-your-face as ever.

And as far as depressed people- for me, the divide that is more striking is between locals, who are going on with their lives, and tourists, who have made the effort to escape the comfort of their corn-fed and padded existence somewhere else to see if being there can make them feel SOMETHING. Travy hit the nail on the head: I can just see the folks in #5 next week, telling their friends about how they saw the statue of liberty, central park, the empire state, and the hole in the ground all in the same day! And then they went and had a steak at Ruth's Chris all the way over on West 51st, the cab ride took FOREVAH, and then back to the hotel and caught a flight home the next morning.

(edited the first bit, hope it clears the filter...)

To elaborate: for a lot of folks who AREN'T New Yorkers, I think there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance around the attacks and their aftermath. They see lots of very serious people on the TV telling them how very serious this act of terrorism was, and that after 9/11 everything changed, and that we have to fight them over there so that they don't fight us over here.

But for a lot of folks who aren't New Yorkers, the only change they have really noticed is that now air travel sucks even more than it used to, and gas got really expensive and stayed that way. They can feel the pressure of unified media and religious and government pressure telling them that they should feel shocked and saddened and frightened for our country's incalculable loss. But that doesn't mean that they're actually shocked or saddened or frightened. They're numb, or bored, or they think it was an inside job, or they just don't care.

So maybe what the disaster-tourists in these photos really reflect is that people are trying to reconcile their own continuing lack of emotional response with what everyone is telling them that they should still be feeling- they've come to Ground Zero on 9/11 to decide whether there is something wrong with them, or something wrong with the story they've been told.

I guess I can only hope that some of them are satisfied with what they found.

The first picture--its colors and textures--is stunning. I actually got tears in my eyes. A vivid image from 9/11. After that I couldn't look at the other pictures at first. I had to come back later.

I have a question for Alan. These pictures of people--so many of them have a kind of wary alarm on their faces. Do you snap photos without asking permission? I ask, because here in France, the French are extremely private. They will literally run and dive to get away from the invasive camera. And the expressions I read in a number of these pictures--2, 3, 5, 9, 12--strike me as "What's that guy doing, taking my picture!" expression. That wariness is interesting in and of itself, if true. Have New Yorkers become fearful of being spied upon?

I've missed all the 9/11 festivities, heh, being here in southwestern France for a few weeks more. As a result, these pictures are context-free for me. I've been trying to view them through the imaginary lens of time: 50 years from now, what will these pictures communicate about that time, place, event and people? In that context, my favorite picture is #19, of the young couple embracing. It reminds me of the famous Eisenstadt photo from VJ-Day, 1945, but what a difference! There, the sailor and the nurse are jubilant, victorious. Here the young couple cling to each other, alone in their own world. (I'm still trying to figure out the objects on the right side of the screen--it looks to me like electric guitar balloons with chicken heads??!?)

The next picture that grabbed me was that of the Mennonite singers, #16. I didn't know they were Mennonites, until Alan explained, but I knew they were a conservative Christian religious sect in old-fashioned clothes, and their faces are intense. It just seemed weird to see them in New York. I associate them with rural America. What are they doing there?

#7 also stopped me. It reminded me of those photos of people walking out of NYC across the bridges on 9/11. I have just been googling to find this image, and interestingly, I wasn't able to do so. What I have found in the archives are all the well-orchestrated shots of large numbers of Americans, flags, politicians and rallies. What I have not found are all the pictures of the New Yorkers on that day, walking out of the rubble. Stunned. Walking out of the city. Helping each other. (#16 touched me in that context.) So somehow the photographic archive of 9/11 has become about US, in general, not about the trauma inflicted on NYC. I think that's significant as well. Having briefly viewed the archives of 9/11, Alan Chin's pictures seem startlingly personal. #5, the travellers with their bags, are like interlopers, come to enjoy the spectacle. And I laughed at #9, the old guy in his plaid suitcoat and Mr. Magoo glasses! He completely captures my image of the arch-conservative, though I could be totally wrong! And I love #1--that guy is so tough!

The other two pictures that made me stop and ponder were #17 and #18. The rather sinister guy in a black suit behind the fence at the construction site. And the news announcer making up his story.

From the set of pictures, and filling in the blanks, I see individuals who are wary of being watched, who stay close to the ones they trust, echoes of other occasions and wars, and a tragedy that has been co-opted by people with personal agendas (#17, 18). The hurt, it seems, is still there, waiting, waiting, waiting....

of course i don't ask permission before i raise the camera. but usually there is a split second when a potential subject notices me, and either implicitly allows me to continue or makes it very clear that they don't want their picture taken, which i always respect. sometimes the reaction comes after the photo is already made, in which case i will not use it or publish it unless it's of a public figure or official person such as a soldier or police officer.

in some of these photographs there is a reaction. but not a request or demand for me not to photograph. part of that is the awareness, even by tourists and commuters not there for any reason in particular, that it is the anniversary, and i had a press pass hanging from my neck as well as two cameras. with photo #5 i debated with myself if the tourist's reaction was too extreme or odd, but i decided, because of the other two people with her (parents? older relatives?) that there was an energy there that wasn't just or only the reaction to me.

here's the thing, i was wearing my press pass, because it still IS a big event, yet, at the same time, it is becoming just another day, even in the shadow of the site. so that line between "obviously photographer is at event" and "street photographer doing art or whatever, why?" has been blurred. maybe, in fact, some of these people had forgotten it was the anniversary, and wondered why a photo-journalist was roaming around, whereas others were obviously very much aware, and part of it.

i've made plenty of photographs on the streets of Paris and it's no easier or harder than in New York!

The Mennonite singers had come specifically for the anniversary to sing. they gave out CDs and religious material and it was their way of participating in the commemoration.

And yes, in the last photo, it's a balloon of a guitar. along with flowers, teddy bears, and other items that people leave at memorials.

as i sit here surrounded by cornfields i look at the photos of the people of new york on a day that has effected us all.i can see that the rhythm of life goes on whether it`s in a big city or in a small town. alan`s photo`s are a snapshots of time and place that i will never visit and that is why i appreciate his dedication to his work.

First of all, I can understand Alan's commitment to the photographs, not just as the photographer, but as a participant in the community around the towers and all that happened there. But I have to agree with M.Gonzo and gasho that, absent the knowledge of when/where they were taken, they look like a lot of urban street photography. I don't get the feeling of pathos from these that I saw in his photos of NOLA. I don't know where gasho lives, but M.Gonzo has mentioned the west coast and I live in CA. That may be the difference. I've not been to Manhattan nor seen the towers. I (and perhaps we) don't have that innate identity with place that the New Yorkers have, that which immediately calls up the emotional terror of that day and thus makes it possible to transfer that to the photos. In that respect, Alan's right, it's personal to those who live there and have been through it. New Yorkers would know what all the clues in the photos are and what they mean, while to us outsiders their significance is lost. It's an experience we outsiders cannot identify with. PTate mentions the VJ-Day photo which I can identify with, but how many 20-somethings seeing it would have no reaction other than what's that crazy sailor doing and how can he get away with it.

As for the ennui abroad in the land, I think that has more to do with helplessly watching our country be dismantled piece by piece. The oft-mentioned 'battered wife' syndrome. Of course, the knee-jerk patriot flag-wavers have no problem shouting about 9/11 without having any identifiable emotional connection to the towers. That it doesn't stop them only confuses and angers the rest of us. The fact that one of them is in the white house only makes it worse. Since I never idolized the towers their loss is no more to me than the Murrah building or the sinking of the Arizona. A recognizable tragedy which would be better left to those in New York to grieve over without all the hoopla that the MSM insists on focusing on every year. And for that, once again the blame goes to the occupant in the white house.

Alan, I apologize, the comments posted here must be difficult to read. I sympathize, but must be honest about how I feel. The first photo (color shot) though, was emotional for me, it's almost painterly. It captures the emotion of the first responders and the destruction and the hopelessness of their situation. The line of rescuers disappearing off into the heart of the mayhem and the one fireman in the right FG looking off to the sky, perhaps looking to heaven or for more attacks. My bet is that Alan took that one on instinct, without thinking. The B&W ones seem to be 'one-step-back' from the emotional borders. Just sayin'.........

Harsh criticism: the photos are not subtle, they are boring. The photos are not relevant to the event. Whether they could be seen as shot anywhere else other than NY is immaterial. Maybe this is an indication that 6 years on, it's time to stop mourning, time to stop photographing. Do real people mourn for 6 years? Furthermore, maybe it's an indication that the photographer is bored as well, despite his good intentions. I just don't think it's an event any longer. You can see it in the lack of inspiration in the photos. A big disappointment that the BAG chose to highlight this set of photos, but even bigger disappointment that the BAG chose to highlight this non-event.

cactus, i agree with you. to me, and every new yorker, and i thought, just about every american, it's immediately obvious that the place is the world trade center site: the world financial center buildings, the temporary crosswalks, the fences and the construction. the fact that you don't recognize this instantly is amazing to me.

why do you want to compare these images to the "pathos" of new orleans and hurricane katrina. that is "news" and ongoing, even two years later, of course there is pathos. this is an "anniversary" of an attack now six years ago, a long time for some, not at all for others. the life of the city, the lives of new yorkers and tourists, go on. certainly it is not "news" the way it was six years ago.

street photography, by its nature, can be in any city at any time. what's interesting is the details and the juxtapositions, even the banality. and so it is here. except that this group of street photographs IS presented as being of the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11. so let that be the baseline of what you may or may not get out of it.

but i do have to correct you about the first photo, from 2001. that was not on instinct. i took a series of about ten or twelve photos from that spot, and the one here is the second or third.

marsha mallon, harsh criticism for you: you're wrong. about as wrong as can be. and you should know it. It's NOT about "inspiration" or "non-event" or "good intentions." If I was bored I wouldn't have gone and made these photographs, and contribute them to this site. "Time to stop photographing"?!? are you serious?!? are you asking photographers to stop working, because YOU, ONE VIEWER, are not interested? Because YOU are bored? The big disappointment is your lack of curiosity, and your ignorance.

Thanks for the answer to my question, Alan. Of course you didn't ask, and, of course, you had a press pass--that helps me think about the context of the "you're taking my picture!" photos. And I am like Cactus, I didn't realize that all these shots were taken at the World Trade Center site. That IS amazing, isn't it?!?? I suppose that should have been obvious--I mean, of course that is where you were on the anniversary of 9/11. But I don't know the site well enough to know it. That also helps me think about the context of the photos; These are photographs of people witnessing something but the something is off-stage.

I find it very interesting that a number of previous comments have expressed a lack of interest in this particular set of pictures especially in light of your comment that "These pictures are as much about me as they are about the event. I have been back on previous anniversaries -- the first year, I was on assignment -- but this was the first time I felt like I really wanted to be there all day." So now I am very curious to know more about what you were seeing that was different, a change. Or perhaps the change was in you.

A couple years ago, I went to a Hindu wedding in a remote region of Southern India, which was, of course, extraordinary. When I got back to the USA, I was very disappointed in my photographs, and as I thought about it, I decided that the poor quality of the photos was because the photographer, me, was experiencing culture shock: I couldn't "see" because everything was so strange and unfamiliar to me. I didn't know what to focus on to tell the story.

I mention this personal anecdote because it was for me an interesting example of how encultured vision is. To state the obvious, seeing isn't a sensory process--to "see," our mind has to give meaning to what the sensory neurons are transmitting to the brain. And, of course, the process also works the other way, the viewer brings an expectation to what they are seeing. (My example for that is the difference between seeing a photo of a place, before and after one has visited it.)

We've discussed in these threads how 9/11 has affected our expectations of the disaster script. When people say these pictures aren't interesting, I am wondering what they are expecting to see. I also wonder how that has been influenced by all the dramatic public images that have saturated us over the past six years. I am also making an assumption that you, for many reasons, are "seeing" the event with more complexity than those of us who know it entirely through the public media.

As I look at the pictures again, I find them deeply fragile and transitory, as if you were able to pierce through the public narrative for just a moment to something very true. I keep coming back to #13. I find it haunting, and I can't explain why.

Rereading the BAG's comment, about Americans being conditioned to see in terms of strength and weakness, this comment jumped out at me: "What Alan's totally non-p.c. pictures display is something we are psychologically conditioned to look away from or "edit out" in day-to-day existence" I think that is a more elegant way of saying what I have been trying to say, that we may not be able to see in some cases because our previous experience has either not prepared us to see what we need to see (my culture shock example) or because our experience or culture trains us to see or not to see something.

Brian Williams, What We Saw : “More than any other event during the day — the tolling bells, the long list of names, the wreaths and roses and the steady rain — the two blue towers of light visible off the left wing of our aircraft were as impactful in the darkness of evening as anything in a long day of remembrances.

Just to riff a little on what Marsha wrote, yes they are "boring" if you look at them out of context. The images are not meant to excite, influence, or elicit any type of response. They are simply a slice, a record of Sept. 11, 2007 near Ground Zero.

I think people expect too much when they see images that are made there today. Perhaps people are expecting to see families of the dead weeping/mourning, policemen, firemen, religious symbols, american flags...all the symbols that have become commonplace with 9/11.

This was a fresh look at the future. Yes, it's on people's minds, but it's not what their lives are about. I like to think that they go forward without fear.

The nice thing is you can read them any way you like.

Good work, Alan. Thank you.

"cactus, i agree with you. to me, and every new yorker, and i thought, just about every american, it's immediately obvious that the place is the world trade center site: the world financial center buildings, the temporary crosswalks, the fences and the construction. the fact that you don't recognize this instantly is amazing to me. "

Why would you expect me to recognize buildings, temporary crosswalks, fences and construction at a place I have never seen? If I sent you my photos of the '92 earthquake in my neighborhood, the houses off their foundations, the buildings and businesses lost, do you think they would have any meaning for you? I doubt it. To me, and perhaps others not in NYC, the attacks were seen on TV - already one remove from the action. Six months later, we pretty much went on about our business. And I wonder if The W were not mentioning 9/11 several times a day would you be still having anniversaries? We don't have anniversaries for the Murrah building, or our earthquake, or hurricane Andrew.

Perhaps the rest of us out in the hinterlands are sick of 9/11 because the administration whips it like a bad puppy whenever poll numbers go down. It has become a cliche for them to use shamelessly. Then when NYCers recognize the anniversary, it seems like piling on. You may not like that, and perhaps I'm being too cynical, but that's how I feel about it.

"why do you want to compare these images to the "pathos" of new orleans and hurricane katrina." Because the same photographer took them. Perhaps you and I look for or see the same things in NOLA because we are all outsiders. But, when you shoot in your own neighborhood, you see with different eyes than we outsiders do. I admit that NOLA is emotional for all of us because it shows the callousness and racism of ODL and his continuing ignoring of the city still shocks us. And shooting it today (or the memorial period) is news in the sense of what is still not done and what new outrages are being perpetrated.

Alan, I don't think that Marsha meant for you personally to stop photography, just that maybe it's time to stop photographing 9/11 at Ground Zero (what a name, good grief). And I don't think it's a good idea for someone in your role to attack the posters, although I'm sorry you felt hurt by that comment. I think you were way out of line with your response.

My experience with 9/11 this year was being hassled at the gym because I didn't wear the flag on my clothes or the colors red, white, and blue. Of the people who walk in with the flag T-shirt and the flags on their cars and who make comments to people who don't do that--it's the older, very conservative Republican types. I heard several times that liberals were "really" responsible for 9-11 (thank you Dinesh D'Souza for that brilliant theory). 9-11 is now simply a partisan issue, something for conservatives to get lathered up about to flog their phony War on Terror. I'm sick of it.

I don't have much to say about the pictures. I liked them, a bunch of fat untidy people trying desperately to feel something and mostly failing. I liked #19 because I'm a sucker for young lovers, who as in this case will take any excuse to get it on. And the well polished TV announcer looking as artificial as his product undoubtedly is. However this is not exactly a revolutionary observation, is it?

I have an idea, why don't you come here to the heartland and photograph the little town which forces everyone to decorate like the 4th of July for 9-11-- every house in the downtown must participate. Then you can photograph the mean hearted Nixon era "patriotic" baby boomers for whom this little burg has become a sort of tourist attraction on that day. Or you can just take their pictures with their pot bellies and all their flags. Either way, that would tell us more about 9-11, about what it has become and what it "really" means in practical terms. Just an idea......

For people outside of New York, 9-11 is getting to be a faint embarrassment, really. We are not still grieving.

Mr. Chin, a photographer like you should not respond to Ms. Mallon, even if what she said seemed harsh. But I must say, given that I googled your name and looked at your other work, even your previous work shown here on bagnewsnotes, and it really doesn't measure up. Now, who am I, why does my opinion mean anything? Well, honestly, I'm nothing, so forget everything I say. However, I do live in NY, I experienced 9/11, collect art, paintings, photographer, sculpture. All for my private use, not for resale. And so, I've compared your recent work to everything I know in the world of documentary photography, from James Nachtwey, to Eugene Richards to Bresson and even thinking about the street work of Gary Winogrand. I was looking for something to connect to. Something I could understand. Sorry, couldn't find anything. But I sincerely believe that it's not your fault, it's not an indication that you're a bad photographer. It is that you didn't connect to what was going on because there was a disconnect with the people in your pictures and the event, which was a non-event, in the words of Ms. Mallon. I agree with that statement. I know this a blog that focuses on the photo-political discourse, but I couldn't help but focus on your photography. It didn't communicate ANYTHING. Not emptiness, not solitude, not any perceivable feeling in relation to the 6th anniversary of 9/11. So maybe that was your point. But if so, it was a weak point with no relevance in my world and my perception of 9/11 and it's 6th anniverary.

For the last two Fourth of Julys, I have been photographing the parade in the small town of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, which has the oldest or biggest or both July 4th Parade in the Northeast or something like that. Barely an hour west of New York, in some ways it feels very Middle American, with all the local organizations and clubs out, high school marching bands and cheerleaders, veterans, volunteer firefighters, Boy and Girl Scouts, and so on...pot bellies and all...I have a great time there...

Regarding 9/11 and memorializing, there are several points i'd like to make: It's interesting to me, that almost 100 years after the fact, there's a group which still has a small ceremony for those lost on board the Titanic, every year here in New York harbor. So for those of you who think that 9/11 has been overdone or has outlasted its impact, think about that.

Secondly, neither Bush nor Giuliani nor the Republicans nor any particular group owns 9/11. If you believe that, you've bought into the hype and the propaganda, even if you're turned off by it. I would like to point out again, as I did in introducing these photographs, that New York City is my home. I have lived here my entire life. I didn't directly know anyone killed in the attack; a friend's father died on board one of the aircraft. A cousin who worked there was late that morning, and survived. My sister worked in a building next door, and evacuated over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. Several colleagues, photographers I know, were hurt by falling debris, in one case quite badly. I do not write all this now to get your sympathy, but to explain further what I thought I had already done in my short preface, that these photographs of the sixth anniversary are personal, are NOT supposed to supplant or replace what you will see in the New York Times and elsewhere, but merely to add a bit of context, mood, whatever you want to call it, one photographer and one New Yorker's marking of the day.

So to conflate 9/11 with "sick of 9/11 because the administration whips it like a bad puppy" is to allow politics to set the agenda, rather than the intrinsic meanings of the event itself. Frankly, I am as insulted as anyone by the way 9/11 has been used by opportunistic politicians. It belongs to all of us, just like the American flag or the armed services or any other part of collective memory and culture. To allow any one group to exclusively co-opt any of that is entirely against the spirit of our democratic and egalitarian values.

My pictures do not ask anyone to grieve, or mourn, or "celebrate" the anniversary. Quite the contrary: part of the point was the show that life goes on, some people may not even be aware of the anniversary right at the site, whereas others are.

Now, Cactus, after the attack, millions of Americans came to New York to see the World Trade Center site. So much so that viewing platforms had to built. TV and photo coverage at the time was exhaustive. I don't think I'm too far off to consider that the appearance of the site is as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge, or Grumman's Chinese Theater, or Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, as the Place de la Concorde or as the Kremlin and Red Square, and so on. Of course, without the Twin Towers themselves, it is an absence rather than a presence, it's a big hole in the ground and not much else at this moment, after all. But if some large percentage of Americans have been there and seen it countless times on screen and in print, then it should be recognizable. But even if it isn't, the caption tells you immediately that this is where we are. If you see a photo of a hot dog vendor and the caption says St. Louis, and a near identical photo where it says Detroit, then you still understand that we're in different places. So this debate over whether or not you can recognize the site from the photos is a bit odd, since the written description has already told you.

Another, more general point: Often, journalists and photographers are accused of presenting only the stereotyped and "official" view of things, without subtlety and nuance, without stepping out of the box. To show photos of relatives with the portraits of their dead, candles, etc., would have more of that, since on the first, second, anniversaries, we saw so much of that already. So my attempt to NOT do that, gets accused of being "irrelevant." Well, maybe, as some of you point out, the whole thing is irrelevant. Nonetheless, it leaves me, as a working photographer, with the sense that I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't.

Which brings me to Marsha Mallon's point, which may be exactly that, the whole thing is pointless. And if you re-read her post, her tone is antagonistic and personally insulting. I do not think that I am out of line responding the way that I did. Other posters have been perfectly legitimate and fair in their criticism, and whether you agree with them or me or not, I have done my best here to answer questions and issues with an informed response, and again, I don't ask that anyone agree or disagree with me, only that we all go at it with an open mind and the willingness to question.

What Michael Shaw has done with BAG is extraordinarily innovative, which is why I have become a contributor. Nowhere else that I know of is there this direct a conversation between the media and the reader. The challenges go in both directions. If I have been a bit defensive in my tone it is because as I openly stated to begin with, I am personally invested in New York and the 9/11 experience in a way that I am not elsewhere, even when I spend months or years covering New Orleans or the Middle East or the Balkans. No matter how much I may hopefully empathize with or care about those stories and the people who I have photographed and helped me and hosted me, it IS different when it is your own people, your own home.

Alan Chin:"No matter how much I may hopefully empathize with or care about those stories and the people who I have photographed and helped me and hosted me, it IS different when it is your own people, your own home."

This difference between having something occur to "your own people, your own home" and watching it from afar was made very obvious to me when the I35W bridge collapsed in my hometown in August. The difference seems to me to be worth clarifying because it seems so fundamental to the issue of seeing and knowing.

In any case, I have the sense that we are flirting around in this discussion with ideas and issues that theories of photography/visual imagery must have dealt with and could illuminate (John Lucaites???) I looked up the wikipedia discussion of "street photography" after Alan Chin's reference to it up above. So just as I feel a little stupid not recognizing the WTC, now I can be humble about how little I know about different photographic genres. sigh. So much to learn.

Poor Mr. Chin. Marsha Mallon was spot on and not harsh enough. Boring photography with no content masquerading as art (bw, artsy!) (tilted horizons, artsy!). We can't even get to the politics of the event because we can't get past this train wreck of an attempt at making a photo essay. Get over it Mr. Chin, you're supposed to be a pro, so take the criticism like a man. A student or beginner, we'd be kind to. What do you do when you show your work to an editor, yell back at them? You'd never work for them.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I hesitate to say a thing...after passing by here just after the photos were posted, I took a look and put up my comment. I see no joy in any of these faces. It just seems to me that people in this country understand, on a very gut level, that things have gone very seriously wrong in this country. And these wrongs are intimately connected to 9/11 and the way that day has been **used** to manipulate us and so many people and events over the past six years. It's not something that is necessarily articulated by most people, but it is felt. And that is my impression of what I saw on the faces in these photographs. Just people being people, having that look on their faces that belies the dissonance within. And to be honest, reading this thread now affirms my instinct. The harshness, the criticism, the negativity, the defensiveness. It's all there. As far as I am concerned, you are the people in the photographs. We all are. We all know that WE have lost something, and we cannot put the words on it, but this thing has happened. And if it were some simple thing like "they hit us because they hate our freedoms" or some such silly nonsense, then people would have recovered in 6 years time. And there would be some joy, some resilience, some positive energy left in the people in these pictures. But it is not there. And blaming this on Alan makes about as much sense as blaming 9/11 on Iraq. It's just more scapegoating. And that is unbecoming, but that is what happens when people realize on some deep level that something that belongs to us, meaning our country, has done something really, fundamentally wrong. We will all pay the price for this. I wish I knew who said that a devotion to reality at all costs is the hallmark of sanity, or something to that effect. Maybe it was M. Scott Peck. I don't know. But it comes to mind at times like this.

Marley, a very insightful comment. Thank you.

PTate in FR, as you enjoyed the dialectics of John Berger as related in one of your recent comments you might also enjoy Mary Caputi's take on 911 published in August of 2003.
You will also notice she quotes from Robert Hariman “Allegory and Democratic Public Culture in the Postmodern Era,” who is as you know the co author of No Caption Needed, with John Lucaites http://inpress.lib.uiowa.edu/poroi/papers/caputi030816.html

jtfromBC: thanks for the Caputi essay tip. Heavy going, but very rich, fascinating. I've just added "No Caption Needed" to my Amazon list.

Shorter Caputi: Think allegorically. Think of the "surplus of meaning" found in ruins. In the past, ruins served as allegories of the transitory nature of power and influence. Because of 9/11, the WTC are ruins. The WTC represented the power and influence of the USA, of American-led modernization. Focusing on the ruins of the WTC may help Americans reflect on what our country is and where we want to be.

Which leads me back to Marley's insight. This has been the crankiest, meanest BnN thread I have ever read. Marley's insight stuns me--the meta-awareness that this hostility is not coincidence nor caused by judgments of Alan Chin's photos, but arises as a function of the topic itself. These images of 9/11--of these "ruins"--force us to confront, consciously or unconsciously, what the US has been, has become and what we want to US to be.

Man, o, man--comments thread as insight therapy. Alan Chin, thank you for the photos that provoked this. If one of the functions of art is to spark change in the beholder, then these pictures have been true art, sparking revelations, for me at least.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Twitter
Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003