Said Not To
said not to. The policeman yelled at people: "Put your cameras
away, show some respect. This is a graveyard, not a place
to come and gawk." "Put your cameras away," shouted the
policewoman. "Keep the line moving." "This is a crime scene,
no pictures," yelled a third. I did not have my camera with
me on that day (September 29), but I had already taken pictures
the previous week when people were first allowed to walk
to the area around ground zero. On my first visit, I walked
down Broadway in a crowded line of people who were tearful,
stunned, angry, even defiant. But each person had a camera
pointed toward what used to be the World Trade Center towers,
to take pictures of distant and hard to see smoke and rubble,
peeking around trucks, guardrails, and workers who were
blocking the view.
week before (on the 14th) I had gone from the Upper West
Side where I have been living this year, to St Vincent's
Hospital in order to be closer to where it happened. I also
went to a candle-light vigil at Union
Square that had been announced informally on various
flyers and Internet sites. I had not known whether it was
appropriate to go to the hospital area where some of the
injured had been taken and where families were still looking
for the missing. Certainly I had not felt comfortable bringing
a camera along. But, as soon as I got there, I bought a
disposable camera and took pictures of the signs, of people
holding them, of streets blocked, of the silent crowds at
the vigil. I took pictures of pictures, of people looking
at pictures, of people taking pictures. All the while I
wondered about what I was doing - what was I after? What
did this desire to snap the shutter - as uncomfortable as
it was uncontrollable - mean?
have agreed that the September 11 attacks are "the most
photographed disaster in history" (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett).
Well-known photographers and photojournalists and ordinary
snapshot takers like me have all been photographing. Within
the first four minutes of the first impact, the New York
Times had dispatched four photographers on assignment.
One hundred people eventually submitted images for the front
page of September 12. The event marked us visually at the
time, as people watched live, and then in unremitting replay,
planes hitting towers, towers falling, people jumping, running,
screaming. Even as we watched, we wanted to record everything
ourselves - however grainy, small, amateurish - on home
videos, digital or analog cameras. I have even gotten together
with friends to compare the snapshots we each took, snapshots
that require narratives and explanations because, ultimately,
not much is visible on them, or, better said, what we experience
as utterly extraordinary appears just too ordinary on our
have been created to collect the images of amateurs and
professionals, galleries have invited people to submit their
images for public viewing, images are being sold for benefit
purposes, exhibitions have opened around the country, magazines
and newspapers continue to publish and republish professional
and amateur photographs. "It's caused a sea change," reported
the front-page photo editor of the New York Times,
Philip Gefter, at a panel at New York University's Tisch
School of the Arts. The paper's editors decided that people
want to see as much as they want to read, and thus in the
New York Times there are more photographs, they are
bigger and generally in color, and they are more creatively
laid out on the pages of the newspaper. In Gefter's words
"words are cerebral, but pictures are visceral."
still photography has emerged as the most responsive medium
in our attempts to deal with aftermath of September 11.
But what does it mean to take pictures at the sites of trauma?
Is it disrespectful, voyeuristic, a form of gawking? Or
is it our own contemporary form of witnessing, or even mourning?
I started thinking about these issues specifically in response
to the ban on photographs - a very short-lived ban, as it
turned out, since later a viewing platform seemed actually
to invite photography - but one that seemed to say something
important about the relationship of photography to trauma.
How, on the one hand, has photography affected the public
and private process of mourning and memory and what, on
the other, can the photographic acts of Fall 2001 tell us
about the testimonial functions of photography? How has
photography inflected the ethics and the politics of grief?