The following is excerpted from the March/April issue of the Photographic Resource Center's bi-monthly newsletter, in the loupe.

6 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.

This exhibition 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.

"…Sometimes 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 mass media?"
Geoffrey Batchen, "Requiem," Afterimage, January/ February 2002

Genesis
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 near future.

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.

"Suddenly 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 Photographers Cry.'"
Jacques Menasche, NewYorkSeptemberEleventhTwoThousandOne, a de.MO project

Exhibitions and the Stuff of Historiography

503 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 and unknown.

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 for Chicago.

"A 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 history."
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.

The "Museumification" of September 11
On October 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 called 911history.net. 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.

  • Some of the objects that have entered the New-York Historical Society's collections:
  • "Get 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
  • Children's artwork (get well cards and messages of hope and thanks) given to fire stations
  • Assortment of buttons, badges and T-shirts with World Trade Center and flag motifs from fund-raisers and street vendors
  • St. Paul's Chapel rescue station memorabilia and artifacts
  • Printed 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.

"As 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.

The Public as Installation Artist
Make-shift 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.

"In 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

Photographing the 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.

"New 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 faces.

The Passage of Time and the Process of Healing

"I 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.

"I 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

Walls, 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.

"I've 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 project

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.

Public 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.

"You 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."

Most tombstones, 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."

"In 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 photographs.

January 2002