- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

Memories of last September 11's horrific terrorist attacks have faded for many, although Wednesday's commemoration of the first anniversary will revive them for much of the nation. As time passes, more and more attention will be focused on the development of “ground zero,” the 18-acre site of the former World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan that will forever be sacred ground.

Fortunately, “Here Is New York: A Democracy of Photographs” an exhibit of 2,000 searing images taken that day and shortly afterward opens at the Corcoran Gallery of Art today.

Actually, the title of the show is a misnomer and confusing. The exhibit began as a record of the September 11 disasters in New York. Gradually, with help from the shows sponsor, Target stores, organizers expanded the documentation with the addition of 500 never-before-seen images from the Pentagon and the site where Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa.

The exhibition is an immensely moving memorial to September 11 victims, their families and rescue workers in a way that current proposals for rebuilding at ground zero probably never will be. (Design concepts released earlier this summer were criticized for emphasizing commercial aspects of the site while sacrificing elements of a memorial to those who died there.)

“Here Is New York” began spontaneously when writer Michael Shulan, one of the exhibit's four organizers, taped what he calls “a nondescript photo of the Trade Center” to the front window of a Prince Street storefront he owned. After people gathered to look at it, Mr. Shulan put up more September 11 images and began attracting ever-larger crowds.

To meet what soon became an obvious need, Mr. Shulan asked photographer friends Gilles Peress and Charles Traub and photo editor Alice Rose George to help organize an exhibit open to everyone, especially amateur photographers. The project would have compelling appeal: Anyone could enter.

“In those turbulent days, it seemed as if everyone in New York had a camera, and we decided that the exhibition should be as broad and inclusive as possible, open to anybody and everybody'; not just photojournalists and other professional photographers, but bankers, rescue workers, artists and children amateurs of every stripe,” Mr. Shulan wrote in the valuable catalog. After the call for photos went out, New Yorkers responded overwhelmingly. The organizers scanned all submissions to turn them into digital files and print them with inkjet printers.

The show, which opened on Sept. 25, soon became a New York event, as well as an international one. Up to 3,000 visitors snaked around Prince Street to visit the exhibit each day. Today, 25 shows of the “Here Is New York” digitalized photos have traveled in Europe and the United States (another is scheduled for Tokyo), thousands of the $25 digitalized prints have been sold to benefit the Children's Aid Societys World Trade Center Relief Fund and other worthy charities (they're also for sale at the Corcoran exhibit), and 5,000 can be seen on the Web site (www.hereisnewyork.org). Visitors are still being asked to contribute their own photos and recollections of September 11 to the continually growing exhibit and archive.

As part of its display, the Corcoran provides a video booth in which visitors record their memories and comments. The gallery also shows Etienne Sauret's independently shot, 11-minute documentary, “WTC: The First 24 Hours.” It begins with the North Tower on fire and ends with acres of ash-brown debris strewn across much of Lower Manhattan the following morning. A special showing of photos on several large light-emitting diode (LED) video walls is also scheduled on the Ellipse from tomorrow through Thursday.

“Here Is New York” is no ordinary art exhibition, and seeing it is radically different from most museum shows. “It's the collective experiencing of a collective trauma in a physical way,” says Philip Brookman, senior curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran. Mr. Traub and Mr. Shulan suspended the photos from wires hung across the Corcoran galleries at different heights as they were in the Soho storefront. (Mr. Shulan got the idea from seeing laundry suspended across streets in Naples, Italy.)

A group of portraits of five firefighters hang above the first display area on a second-floor Corcoran “bridge” leading to the gallery. Nearby are photos of Fairfax County rescue workers, a woman calmly feeding her baby on an apartment deck across the river from the burning buildings, a candlelit vigil in Washington and a yellow ribbon tied around a tree in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Peress' photo of three survivors running through thick dust holding each other and shielding their faces against the noxious air was in the first show and is also at the Corcoran. Also included in the Corcoran show is a photo of smoke billowing from the towers toward the Brooklyn Bridge by Magnum photographer Thomas Hoepker.

Inside the gallery, photos attached to wires by heavy black office clips first turn heads in one direction, then in others. The burning buildings, smoking ruins, candlelit vigils, grim-faced firemen, people fleeing down dust-filled streets and across Manhattan's bridges, American flags, rescue dogs waiting patiently with their masters, and screaming newspaper headlines are all there, as they were in some of the other recent September 11 shows in Washington, but with a different approach.

The other exhibits included “New York, September 11 by Magnum Photographers” (which closed at the Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building on June 30) and “A New World Trade Center: Design Proposals” (a National Building Museum exhibit shown last spring by New York's Max Protetch Gallery that presented designs by well-known architects for a new, memorialized Trade Center). The “9/11/01” exhibit of artists' visual tributes that opened last October at the Anton Gallery, and Meridian International Center's “True Colors: Meditations on the American Spirit” of last February caught the spirit, rather than photographic translations, of the event. Meridian Center's traveling exhibition will open as an additional memorial on Wednesday at the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

The Corcoran display looks more like a planned jumble, juxtaposing the senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing in sometimes goofy ways. Mr. Brookman says they purposely mixed disparate photos and videos together. Two images of the smoke-belching Twin Towers and Pentagon, shot from skewed perspectives and mounted next to each other in the first gallery, immediately convey a sense of dislocation and unease.

The pictures of the World Trade Center and Pentagon heaving and smoking form the largest number of photos and are among the most moving. People running down debris-filled streets, barely visible through the surrealistic light, come next. Firefighters combating smoke and fire, and burying their dead, are unforgettable, as is a poignant photo of a rag doll nearly hidden by debris. Prints of lost people such as “Samantha and Lisa Egan” attached to telephone poles tear at the heart. A posted announcement, like so many, tearfully asks, “Have You Seen This Man?”

The people who made the photos in this show have proven that anyone can be an artist. If art is creating a story, they are. If succeeding in expressing their gut reactions and touching the deepest emotions of their viewers, they qualify. The exhibit participants are ordinary people who have gone a level beyond themselves in their horror and grief. So, also, will visitors to the exhibit.

WHAT: “Here Is New York: A Democracy of Photographs”

WHERE: Corcoran Gallery of Art, New York Avenue at 17th Street NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tues., until 9 p.m. Thurs., closed Tues., through Nov. 11

TICKETS: $5 adults, $8 families, $3 seniors and member guests, $1 students with valid ID.

PHONE: 202/639-1700

WHAT: “Here Is New York: A September 11 Video Exhibition (electronic images displayed on several 13-foot-by-18-foot LED video walls)

WHERE: The Ellipse, adjacent to the South Lawn of the White House and across 17th Street NW from the Corcoran Gallery of Art

WHEN: Opens at 8 p.m. tomorrow; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through the evening of Thurs.


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