The following is excerpted from the March/April issue of the Photographic
Resource Center's bi-monthly newsletter, in the loupe.
Months, A Memorial
By Leslie K. Brown, Curator, Photographic Resource Center
This is not an exhibition.
Or, at least it is not an exhibition in the traditional sense. It
is, however, about the practice of exhibiting and the use of photography
in our understanding of these horrendous events. Many of the documentary
images in this exhibition show us September 11 memorials that no longer
exist. In this sense, the gallery brings them new life and allows them
to commingle with tributes from far-away times and places. The largest
memorials in New York City's Union Square share space with those erected
in the snowy fields of rural Pennsylvania. "Low" and "high"
art come together as well; grass roots web memorials coexist with avant-garde
video and installation pieces. In this space and on this subject, hopefully
the playing field is leveled.
is a memorial in that it is a collection of literal and artistic memorials
6 months later. It is the Photographic Resource Center's hope that it
can serve as a tribute to those lost and those who remembered them-a
space of contemplation. As a result, I present thoughts about the process
of shrine-making but, like the many authors of make-shift memorials
themselves; we act as collectors, with the gallery becoming a collection
site. Here you will find reference to abundant lists: websites culled
from almost 60 Yahoo! entries ("September 11th Attack > Memorials and
Tributes"), a partial bibliography of books and exhibitions as well
as quotations from a variety of sources. The piecemeal fashion of this
essay and exhibition are intentional. The greater whole is meant to
be stitched together in the reader's and the viewer's mind. We, or at
least I, cannot make sense of this puzzle yet.
there was more than one photograph, as if a multitude of images was
likely to bring the person back…Photography was everywhere in those
first few days….And yet the [open-call] exhibition also demonstrated
that no one image could capture the September 11 experience adequately;
hence the need for this dense collage, this chaotic fragmentation
of memory, this ruins of an exhibition….The press continued looking
at photography as a way to try and make sense of it all….When was
the last time photography attracted quite so much attention in the
Geoffrey Batchen, "Requiem," Afterimage,
January/ February 2002
So often the reasons for mounting an exhibition and the process behind
it are hidden. Why did you include this photographer, and not this one?
Why weren't you completely democratic? Certainly, some will ask this.
Yes, there were curatorial choices. We often found ourselves asking
artists to return to their original idea and earliest presentation.
Every attempt has been made to showcase photographs or projects as they
were initially presented and consumed by the viewing public. Thus, magazines,
newspapers, books, and websites comprise a portion of the presentation.
Many of these artists have exhibited different works in other September
11 exhibitions. Furthermore, we have even been approached about having
the idea of this exhibition be included in another exhibition. I believe
that this re-collecting could not be more appropriate.
As a student of
popular culture, I was fascinated by the urge to create something, often
on a tremendous scale, to somehow make up for the void we all felt.
I knew that photographs and their immediate memorializing in shrines
and exhibitions were important, but I didn't know why. Several things
flooded my mind, seemingly random, but somehow they formed the nexus
of an idea:
- I read the article
"Not Knowing What Else to Do, Woman Bakes America Flag Cake" in the
satirical magazine The Onion and associated it with the proliferation
of urban legends immediately after the tragedy, documented on www.snopes.com.
- Driving around
the Boston area in September, I witnessed touching memorials featuring
candles and photographs around various neighborhood squares and firehouses.
Like many Americans, I felt the need to save my Time Magazines
from September and October.
- I watched, along
with millions of Americans, the Super Bowl montage of all living presidents
and every major monument, ending with a recent view of Ground Zero.
After Mariah Carey sung the national anthem, I was struck by two photographs
being reenacted as tableaux vivants: Joe Rosenthal's The Flag Raising
at Iwo Jima alongside Thomas Franklin's newly iconic photograph
of New York City firemen raising an American flag. One of these has
already become a monument; the other will likely become one in the
Responses to these
tragic events in the Boston area have just begun to emerge. As was explained
in the preface, the idea to do some sort of exhibition was decided upon
before I arrived as curator. I do not pretend to be a native Bostonian.
In fact, I was supposed to fly to Boston September 13th to look for
an apartment. Organizing any show under this framework and time schedule
makes art professionals cringe. As of press time, I continued to receive
submissions. I have attempted to keep this showing amorphous until it
is hung. Indeed, it will likely transform over the course of a month
and a half, as events, and thus its context, change as well. Intentionally,
we have purposely invited feedback to be a part of the presentation.
cameras-video, digital, point-and-shoot-were everywhere. One young
woman, face puffed into a red ball, walked about dazed with a Leica
taking photos and crying at the same time. Weirdly, I had the sudden
vision of her as a surreal advertisement for the camera-'Leica: Our
Jacques Menasche, NewYorkSeptemberEleventhTwoThousandOne,
a de.MO project
and the Stuff of Historiography
photographs from 68 countries and 273 photographers, toured the world
for eight years, making stops in thirty-seven countries on six continents.
Over 9 million people saw documentary images by photographers known
No, this clause
is not describing "Here is New York" or "September 11 Photo Project"-two
of the remarkable grass roots photography exhibitions mounted after
9-11-but a 1955 exhibition, The Family of Man. The exhibition,
curated by the Museum of Modern Art's Edward Steichen, was in itself
a kind of memorial to post-war America. Similarly, The Family of
Man featured copy prints hung in an unorthodox manner, a repeating
image of a Flute player separating the various themes. The specific
trajectory of love, birth, and death was punctuated by a ghostly image
of the hydrogen bomb.
"Here is New York"
and "September 11 Photo Project" each displayed over 3,000 photographs
responding to the tragedy. They featured professionals and amateurs
alike, donated all proceeds to charities, and ended their New York displays
around the holidays. Both hung their photos in unconventional manners-taped
and pinned to walls and hung from clotheslines-and both intend to tour
the shows internationally. In fact, "Here is New York" is already booked
lot of people talk about what kind of memorial should be built for
the September 11 attack, but in fact it's already been made….By the
time we're through this may be the most witnessed art exhibition in
Charles Traub, chairman of the photography department at New York
City's School of Visual Arts, and one of the organizers of "Here is
New York" Prince Street exhibition, American Photo, Special Issue
It is too early
to say whether any of the numerous photography exhibitions will reach
the eponymous status of The Family of Man. These projects as
well as the countless other exhibitions will likely make ripe subjects
for many future dissertations. After the run of Steichen's masterpiece,
it was housed in France to be reassembled in 1993, almost 40 years later.
With most photographs from both New York projects existing in digital
format (you could buy a print from "Here is New York" for $25, with
the money going to a 9-11 charity), it is likely that these will be
recreated at some meaningful time in our nation's distant future. Intriguingly,
this is already happening: MoMA will present a digital kiosk of photographs
from the exhibition "Here Is New York" through May of 2002.
"Museumification" of September 11
4, 2001, over 80 history professionals met to discuss "The Role of the
History Museum in a Time of Crisis." On the forefront of their agenda
was how to preserve and interpret the deluge of materials surrounding
September 11. The result: The Museum of the City of New York and the
Smithsonian National Museum of American History have sponsored a website
Many plans have already been made to exhibit some artifacts from September
11, including an exhibition of the "Missing" fliers of those lost at
the World Trade Center in New York. The Museum of the City of New York
has acquired the Wall of Prayer, which was erected in front of Bellevue
Hospital, and plans to loan sections of it to museums around the country.
Museums collected anything just after 9-11, feeling that it was better
to do so now and sort through it all later.
of the objects that have entered the New-York Historical Society's
Well" cards to victims of the disaster at Mt. Sinai hospital and messages
of hope to the staff sent by school children around the country
artwork (get well cards and messages of hope and thanks) given to
of buttons, badges and T-shirts with World Trade Center and flag motifs
from fund-raisers and street vendors
Paul's Chapel rescue station memorabilia and artifacts
matter relating to the fall 2001 elections, including the rescheduled
primary, originally held September 11, and documenting mass transit
issues and rerouting
In a recent New
York Times article, eleven September 11 exhibitions are listed in
New York City alone. Likewise, the amazing ability to publish tribute
books and photographic keepsakes at an ever-increasing rate continues
to astound. I struggled to keep up with each new exhibition, each new
monograph, as they continued to grow like kudzu. Surely I missed many.
This creative pace perhaps is necessary. Although we cannot move rumble,
this is what museums, galleries, and book publishers do.
the collective memorial shrines that dotted the city in the fall have
come down, expertly painted commemorative murals have gone up. Ad
hoc, open-submission gallery shows are being supplemented by others
more polished and selective. A scholarly exhibition on the World Trade
Center opens at an uptown museum next week. And a gathering of architectural
proposals - perverse, utopian, poetic - for a new World Trade Center
is drawing crowds in Chelsea. All of this activity is part of what
might be called post-9/11 culture, phase 2. Grief and flags are there.
But so are other things: historical reverie, self-examination, an
evaluative and often critical look at current politics at home and
abroad. The passage of a few months has brought a restored sense of
balance, but seeing a certain image at a certain time can take you
straight back to that bright morning in September with the force of
a body blow."
Holland Cotter, "Amid the Ashes, Creativity," New York
Times, February 1, 2002
Try typing in 9-11
Memorial or 9-11 Photographs into Yahoo! or another search engine and
hundreds of websites will pop up-offering everything from clip art to
midi files to Webrings. Available on our website and in our gallery
list is a collection of the various internet sites, books, and exhibitions
relating to September 11 and the idea of memorials. The idea of the
archive seemed increasingly important in this Internet age. September
11 emails, screen captures, television and radio broadcasts, and jpegs
have all found a virtual home.
Public as Installation Artist
memorials and shrines are not uncommon. Many of us have come across
a spray of flowers and bows around a tree or by the roadside. The making
of memorials is entrenched in many cultures. Day of the Dead altars
and Buddhist shrines are only some examples. However, Americans seem
to lack this type of collective output and to compensate, make up for
it by creating commercial and "secular" holiday displays. As September
11 blurred into hallowed holidays such as Halloween and Christmas, we
witnessed the curious merging of various cultural forces.
America, we express our feeling in mourning. In the inner cities,
when somebody gets shot, neighbors, often create murals to express
grief. This is the same thing."
Eli Reed on his photograph of a public grieving site, New York,
September 11, by Magnum Photographers
memorials of September 11 is akin to the popular nineteenth-century
practice of photographing extravagant casket floral displays. Both help
to retain a trace of these ephemeral objects. In retrospect, one wonders
how these memorials began. Who lit the first candle? How many people
contributed to it? Curiously, few photographers seem to show the vastness
of these memorials such as the one in New York's Union Square. Most
photographers of September 11 memorials adopted an extremely close vantage
point or documented them inch-by-inch in a composite fashion. This consistent
photographic viewpoint might be metaphoric for emotional distance. If
these memorials still existed, perhaps we'd take a step back.
Yorkers and visitors to the city have shown an amazing instinct and
ability to use the city's spaces to gather and express themselves,
and in many cases, to give others an opportunity to do the same. What
is it that gives so many New Yorkers the gumption to just start something,
like the gatherings in Union Square and the message board at Times
Square? Somehow, in this huge city, with all its potential for anonymity
and alienation, people seem able to just claim their space. What should
we make of this?"
From City Lore's website, www.citylore.org
Just as images of
the World Trade Centers immediately morphed into historical relics,
so too did missing posters gradually turn into posthumous portraits.
The smiling faces, however, continued to look out. New York City Park
personal tore down most of the memorials two weeks after the event.
Several memorials came back--many did not. The unchoreographed accumulation
continued in other forms, in the newspapers and on the web. As if to
encourage this impulse after the remembrances faded away, many local
newspapers ran full-page reproductions of the American flag in the days
and weeks afterwards. Companies and individuals created elaborate web-based
lists of the lost, inviting people to post photographs and memories.
Among them, CNN's online memorial stands out. For those who didn't have
a photograph, a lit candle stood in its place. Flags and candles replaced
Passage of Time and the Process of Healing
really believe we shouldn't think about this site out there, right
behind us, right here, as a site for economic development. We should
think about a soaring, monumental, beautiful memorial that just draws
millions of people here that just want to see it. If the memorial
was done correctly, you'll have all the economic development you want,
and you can do the office space in a lot of different places."
Official farewell address, Rudolph W. Giuliani
Time was extremely
important to us in understanding September 11th. Seemingly arbitrary
permutations of hours and minutes-8:48, 9:06, 10:00, 10:29-took on increased
significance. Instead of quantifying in years, this timeline ticked
off minutes. Numbers also took on increased meaning, almost creating
a 9-11 specific numerology: 4 planes, 2 towers, 19 hijackers, over 80
countries. Figures of the missing gradually dropped from over 6000 to
under 4000. Just as immense registers of the lost became ways to grapple
with the staggering numbers, so too did inventories of moments bear
out the loss of innocence for the living. For a long time to come we
will partition events into "Before" and "After." The 21st first century
has a new beginning.
have been through the process of bereaving before, but what struck
me was that this was a collective state of bereavement and that a
whole people could feel as one: the shadow of a lost object falling
on desire. Compulsively devouring Le Mode, the New York Times, and
La Nación, pathetically hoping to find some kind of light between
the lines, some hidden truth…"
Carols Basualdo, Artforum, November 2001
Grids, and Totems
I have a curious ritual. When friends or relatives of mine pass away,
I put away photographs of them for a while. At some point, when I am
ready, I bring them out to look at them again. Somehow photographs,
still photographs, offered solace during September 11, a tonic
for the repetition of the horrific crashes on endless loops. Major magazines
and books produced special issues comprised of mostly photographs, allowing
the public a collective breath.
been collecting obituaries of the victims. Practically every day the
New York Times runs compelling little profiles of the dead and missing,
and I've been keeping them. Not out of some macabre desire to stare
at death, but to see if I might recognize a fact, a name, some old
acquaintance, a former colleague, even a stranger I might have seen
on the subway or street."
Bill Moyers, NewYorkSeptemberEleventhTwoThousandOne, a de.MO
Many of the missing
posters, photographs, and candles were displayed one against each other
in ever growing grids. Unlike billboards and broadsides, these were
not plastered over. Walls, poles, statues, and windows became locations
for families, friends, and passers-by to gather and behold. Walls and
fences that normally held us out allowed us to come together. I, like
many of the artists in this exhibition, felt the need to group work
in multiples. Diptychs, triptychs, and grids greet gallery visitors.
The grid, quilt, and album format is repeated in many of the works.
It is as if normal art making and gallery presentation gave way to the
vernacular-mimicking the spontaneous display of memorials and patriotism.
Art and Future Memorials
In his book, Lies Across America: What Our Historical Sites Get Wrong,
James Loewen reminds us of the importance of realizing by whom and when
a monument or memorial is constructed. What makes a successful memorial
is not the passage of time-many states require thirty-fifty years elapse
before a marker can go up-but its ability to encapsulate historical
perspective. Each commemorative is a tale of two eras: the person or
moment being historicized and the time in which the memorial was erected.
Loewen cites Boston's own Shaw memorial in Boston Common, a tribute
to the African-American 54th Massachusetts regimen and their general
Robert Gould Shaw, as a model for those that get both histories right.
will notice the speed with which the Oklahoma City memorial…was undertaken.
It wasn't until 1922 that the United States got around to building
a memorial to Lincoln, and even then it was controversial. But in
our day, the impulse to memorialize tragedy is instantaneous. It is
as if the memorial were a quick fix for whatever bad happens and a
way to move on. The moving on is crucial. So is the coming together
in a sometimes uneasily diverse society, through a presumptive communal
or national bereavement, which the monument embodies."
Michael Kimmelman, "Out of Minimalism, Monuments to Memory," New
York Times, January 13, 2002
Loewen offers a
useful distinction that can be used to help us conceive of the immediate
and widespread memorializing that was and still is occurring after September
11. According to societies in Eastern and Central Africa, the deceased
are divided into two categories: Sasha and Zamani: "The recently departed
whose time overlapped with people still here are the Sasha, the living
dead. They are not wholly dead, for they live on in the memories of
the living…when the last person knowing an ancestor dies, that ancestor
leaves the Sahsa for the Zamani, the dead. As generalized ancestors,
the Zamani are not forgotten but revered."
Loewen cited, are products of the Sasha. Under this definition the September
11 make-shift memorials, art, and even this exhibition are Sasha-inspired
as well. The listing of names on a scrim behind popstar band U2 during
the Superbowl halftime show was likewise a Sasha-inspired moment. Those
memorials erected within weeks of someone passing, Loewen explains,
"[are] sometimes the most accurate….often located in quiet cemeteries
or quiet parks, Sasha monuments and markers often simply remember an
event and those who died in it, often listing them (and sometimes the
living) by name."
38 years, if present trends continue, half the population will have
been born after Sept. 11, 2001, says Prof. Andrew A. Beveridge of
Queens College, using Census Bureau projections. That raises a fundamental
question about designing a memorial: should it tell the story literally
or evoke the tragedy abstractly, allowing viewers to bring their own
knowledge to the site and inspiring them to learn more once they have
seen it? Today's memorial builders must also reach a generation to
which history has been spoon-fed as entertainment and spectacle."
David W. Dunlop, "In Remembrance of Sorrow From Other Times," New
York Times, January 25, 2002
For example, Loewen
cites, "Monuments and markers provide sacred sites for what sociologist
Robert Bellah has called America's 'civil religion.'" For some, I suspect
that this memorial exhibition will provoke intense emotions; it has
for me. Although I cannot predict its reception, the Photographic Resource
Center hopes that, in the very least, it provides a fitting tribute
to those lost and a quiet space for reflection. For, coming from the
Sasha, it is merely a product of its time. In essence, it is no grander
than a small conglomeration of melted candles, wilted flowers, and crumpled