Friday, September 11, 2015

Twin towers

West Broadway looking south from West Houston, NYC, 1989

I KNEW THAT I'D CAUGHT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER with my cameras while shooting Manhattan streetscapes, but my memory has been so faulty lately that I couldn't be sure. I intended to run this shot a year ago but it took me longer than I thought to excavate this frame from behind the analog wall.

This is the only shot I have of the twin towers, even though I spent the better part of a day in lower Manhattan shooting within blocks of where they stood. At the time, I'm sure I reasoned that the towers were a New York City visual cliche, and while I was aiming to take shots that said "NYC!" without being too obvious about it all, anything that featured them thrusting out over the skyline was just too picture postcard.

It also has to be remembered that the towers weren't well loved during their brief lifespan. Architecture fans didn't have much nice to say about them; they were a monumental expression of a late modernism that isn't given the same warm backwards glance we've used to celebrate postwar midcentury modernism like the Seagram Building, Googie diners or Richard Neutra houses.

They were big and hard to miss, which is probably why I worked to avoid them in my Rollei viewfinder when I was in their shadows, and only deigned to include the towers in my frame when they were far away, nestled in the long crease of a street of brick tenements and commercial buildings, varnished over by late afternoon mist.

There have been only two moments in my life when I knew viscerally that I was witnessing history. The first was the week I spent at my sister's place in Caledon watching the Berlin Wall fall on her TV. The second was the morning my friend Scott called me unusually early and just said "turn on your television." I watched the second plane hit and knew the towers were going to fall before they did.

Sometimes I wonder if I dreamed it all. The world certainly doesn't look the way I imagined it would in the anxious, gut-sick weeks that followed. I know people who think it was some kind of conspiracy. I know a lot of people who act like it never happened, or think that remembering it with horror and anger is an overreaction, and that whoever hijacked those planes had a reason that we can understand, or even sympathize with.

I don't know who frightens me more.

My daughters have some vague understanding that something happened in New York City not long before they were born, but unlike the weeks and months that followed that day, they've lived in a world where images of low banking planes and fireballs and leaping bodies and collapsing skyscrapers and lethal dust clouds have been scrubbed away. They have a better idea of what trench warfare was like than an event that set the tone for the century they will call their own.

I have books and videos sitting on shelves and in hard drives, ready to show them when curiosity pierces the amnesiac fog that has, increasingly, drawn a curtain over the last decade and a half.

But the towers were there, once. Even I have proof.


AN APPEAL: This blog is celebrating its first anniversary, and hard use has taken its toll on my old HP scanner, which now only produces clear scans on a narrow strip on the right margin of its glass. I'm on the market for a new scanner, but the only comparable replacement costs several hundred dollars beyond my budget, so I'm asking anyone who's enjoyed what I've been doing here - and wants to see more - if they can chip in and help. There's a PayPal button up near the top, and anything would be appreciated. Also, if you feel moved, please click on my links - a small percentage of anything you buy helps fund this blog. Thank you so much in advance.

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