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Photographer captures days, nights after 9/11

In “Aftermath,” award-winning photographer Joel Meyerowitz documents Ground Zero. Check out an excerpt and images.
/ Source: Weekend Today

In the harrowing days immediately following 9/11, only those directly involved in the recovery efforts were allowed inside the crime scene. But with help from the Museum of the City of New York and sympathetic city officials, award-winning photographer Joel Meyerowitz managed to obtain unlimited access to the site and for nine months took pictures day and night. These pictures have been published in his new book, “Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive.” Here's an excerpt:

. . . Early the next morning I went down to the site, only to find that the whole area had been cordoned off with cyclone fencing draped with tarpaulins, above which one could see smoke rising in the distance. There wasn’t much to look at as I stood in a crowd on the corner of Chambers and Greenwich, about four blocks north of Ground Zero, but out of a lifetime of habit I raised my Leica to my eye, simply to get the feel of what was there. Whack! Someone behind me poked me sharply in the shoulder. “No photographs buddy, this is a crime scene!”  I whipped around and found myself face to face with a belligerent female police officer. I was furious — both at being hit and at the absurdity of the command.  “Listen, this is a public space,” I replied. “Don’t tell me I can’t look through my camera!” But she came right back at me with “You give me trouble and I’ll take that camera away from you!” “No you won’t,” I said.  “Suppose I was the press?” “The press? There’s the press,” she said, imperiously jerking a thumb over her shoulder atabout a dozen TV cameramen and reporters, roped off by yellow police tape, halfway up the block.“When are they going in?” I asked.  “Never,” she said. “I told you, this is a crime scene. No photography!”

Sometimes life gives you just the push you need. They can’t do this to us, I thought. No photographs meant no visual record of one of the most profound things ever tohappen here. We had been attacked.  Now we had to bury our dead and reclaim our city. There needed to be a record of the aftermath.  As I walked north past the press corps, penned in and waiting, my fury gave way to a sense of elation. I was going to get in there and make an archive of everything that happened at Ground Zero.  This was something that I knew I could do.

. . . I was the observer, but as I made my tours around the zone I was also being observed — especially by anyone who had a stationary post — and slowly, as the weeks passed, I could feel myself being woven into the fabric of the site.  The volunteer outside the food tent would try to entice me with a granola bar; a fireman on the pile might tell me something funny that I’d missed earlier in the day.  “Hey, photographer,” strangers would call out to me — pointing me toward something that had just been unearthed, or tipping me off about something that was going to be demolished.  And there was always the need for talk.  There were small knots of men everywhere on the site — waiting for heavy machinery to pass at a crossing, or hanging around next to the raking fields, or standing by a makeshift shrine — and many of them were eager to tell you what had happened to them, or what they were thinking, or how they were feeling.  Part of what I was there to do, I came to feel, was not simply to watch, but also to listen.  As a result, I cried with men on the site almost every day.  Often, I didn’t even know their names.

The nine months I worked at Ground Zero were among the most rewarding of my life.  I came in as an outsider, an observer bent on keeping the record, but over time I began to feel a part of the very project I’d been intent on recording, and I was accepted on the site as a member of the tribe.  Photography is often a very solitary profession.  But the intense camaraderie I experienced at Ground Zero inspired me, changing both my sense of myself and my sense of responsibility to the world around me.  September 11th was a tragedy of almost unfathomable proportions.  But living for nine months in the midst of those individuals who faced that tragedy head-on, day after day, and did what they could to set things right, was an immense privilege.  I am deeply grateful to have worked alongside these men and women.  I documented the aftermath for everyone who couldn’t be there.  But this book is dedicated to those who were.

— Joel Meyerowitz

To view more images from “Aftermath,” visit .

Excerpted from “Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive” with photographs and text by Joel Meyerowitz. Copyright 2006, Joel Meyerowitz. All rights reserved. Published by . No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.