Photo: Larry Towell, Magnum Photographers, www.musarium.com/stories/magnum911/01.html.
In rememberance of our collective experiences on 9/11/01,
I am sharing something I wrote about 3 months after the tragedy.
The exhibit hall is quiet with the occasional hushed murmurs floating around the room. It is the typical museum atmosphere: individuals in deep reflection of the items on display. But this particular hall invokes a deeper sense of introspection and reverent muteness. I have just stepped into New York September 11 by Magnum Photographers. As I stand reading the exhibit’s introduction printed on the stark white walls, a woman behind me exclaims, “Oh, Jesus,” as she enters the room and takes in the first enlarged photo of the destruction. This exhibit is the chronicle of something recently happened; history in that sense, but still so vivid in our collective memories that it is disheartening to relegate it to the annuls of long ago occurrences, things normally placed in history’s clutch.
The present visual imagery of the exhibit’s placement invokes a direct correlation to the past subject matter. Looking into the main room of the exhibit hall, I see a group of solemn figures standing to one side facing me, their faces fixed on some object which I can not see. Their gazes are intense with heads tilted slightly upward, reminiscent of the scene in lower Manhattan those few short months ago: businessmen and women watching from street corners as the city’s biggest landmarks were destroyed. As I come around the corner, I see what they have all been looking at, a video of that morning’s events captured by Evan Fairbanks. We, the viewers of the video are now a part of the exhibit, a part of September 11th.
As I move deeper into the space, I am confronted by large panels placed in the middle of the hall. They block the imaginary path which would have run from door to door straight through the hall. Their placement forces me to look. Printed in row after row are names and like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I instinctively know these people. They are the victims and their centrality to the disaster is symbolized in the posture of the panels. The glassy surface of the panels reflects my image and it seems that my own mortality in the context of this great tragedy is clearly evident.
That morning, I lay in bed trying to sneak in a few extra moments of sleep before my Latin American history course. The incessant ringing of my cell phone, then my dorm room phone and cell phone again became impossible to ignore. I slowly rolled over and instinctively switched on my TV, hoping that the morning news chatter might make it easier to get up. I am shoked by what I see. One of the gleaming towers of the World Trade Center has smoke rising from its side. The caption states that a plane has crashed into the tower. I sit up in bed. A chill runs up my spine. I had just visited the towers on Saturday, looking up from the plaza at the structures that seemed to extend up into heaven. The security and familiarity of this room, this city is fuzzy. I get up and go out into the hallway. Knocking on my friend’s door, I start in without a hello, “Are you watching the news? We were just there!” We huddle around the TV and watch history unfold.