DPP Home Profiles Joel Meyerowitz - AFTERMATH

Friday, June 1, 2007

Joel Meyerowitz - AFTERMATH

By working connections and being a model of persistence, Joel Meyerowitz secured special access to New York's Ground Zero site.

AFTERMATH On September 5, 2001, Joel Meyerowitz set up his Deardorff camera in the space that had once been his studio for 15 years. As he composed his photograph of Lower Manhattan, he recognized that it wasn't a particularly eventful day for creating a picture. Unlike the other images he had taken over the years from this spot, this photo wouldn't have the benefit of great light or dynamic weather. Instead, this photograph, which contrasted the simple, muted hues of sky against the crowded urban landscape, was just of another average day in New York City.

He knew it wasn't a great photograph. But as he took the image and looked upon the rising figures of the World Trade Center, he thought he'd always have another opportunity.

"So I made that picture, which was very quiet, nondramatic, and I remember thinking clearly to myself that it's not so interesting," recalls Meyerowitz. "But I'll come back some other time. They're always going to be there."

A week later, he was on the corner of Chambers and Greenwich, four blocks away from the cordoned-off area that was now known as Ground Zero. He and hundreds of others looked up at the smoke, still rising from the smoldering debris of what once were 110-story twin structures.

Meyerowitz raised his camera to his eye, ready to make a photograph, when he felt a sharp jab at his shoulder.

"No photographs, buddy. This is a crime scene!" It was the voice of a policewoman who in no uncertain terms let him know that photographs weren't allowed. When he protested and asked when the press would be permitted at the scene, her reply was just as firm. "Never. I told you. This is a crime scene. No photography."

The idea that no photography would be allowed, that there would be no visual documentation of what was likely the most profound event to ever occur in the city struck a chord within Meyerowitz. There needed to be a record of this. It was too important an event for there not to be.

The idea inspired by that chance encounter with the police officer eventually evolved into the photographic record of the events after the attacks on September 11th. Now published in a book entitled Aftermath, it's the work of the only photographer to have had continual access to the site that the crews nicknamed "The Pile." Meyerowitz created a visual record of not only the physical devastation inflicted on the city, but also the story of the men and women who labored for nine months of cleanup and recovery.


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