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.
Carrying over 200 pounds of photographic gear, including his large-format camera, a Mamiya 6x7 and a Leica rangefinder, Meyerowitz also brought to Ground Zero a sensibility of light, color and scale that he had honed in his portraits, landscapes and especially his street photography. Among these was a strong sense of color, which led him to photograph in color using Fujifilm negative and slide film.
"If I had used black-and-white, The Pile and all of the considerations around it would have been kept within the tone of tragedy," Meyerowitz says. "Black-and-white would have been a poor imitation. Everything would have been gray. You wouldn't have had a sense of the reality that was there. Things were aging. Things were rusting. Things that had been hidden within the building's skin were now exposed and began going through their mutation. Color is like sound. It's the racket of everyday street life. It's not about the individual color, but it's the mix of the whole thing."
Yet despite the aesthetic considerations of his work, there were constant reminders of the lives that had been abruptly ended and changed on that day. It could be seen in the crews carefully raking through the dirt and pulverized concrete searching for the small pieces of human remains that could help bring closure to family members. It was there in the paper, the photographs and the personal items that were strewn everywhere.
"There was an incredible poignancy beyond what one normally associates with things you see in offices, " Meyerowitz says. "Most of the time, it would just be meaningless crap. It carries no association with tenderness or tragedy. It's just paper. But it's different when you go to an office after a building has been devastated and people have fled from it fearing for their lives and everything is covered in dust. You look at the same pile of debris lying there and suddenly there's a weight to it. Suddenly the trophies, the plaques on the wall, the lunch boxes in the schoolhouse and the personal belongings on the desks have something of the sacred."
Over the ensuing months, the photographs revealed themselves to be more than images of destroyed buildings and infrastructure. They were images of everyday people who were brought together, unified under a common umbrella of purpose, grief and commitment. It was their faces and stories that Meyerowitz began to document, though he admits people weren't readily inclined to share their personal feelings and experiences.
"In the beginning, no one was willing to stop and talk," Meyerowitz recalls. "They were all too busy. And the few people who did stop threw me out. But I persisted and I stayed in. I became a fixture, and so the people who were there regularly would see me walking around with this wooden camera. Once people recognized me, they were willing to come over and share their personal stories.
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