We are asked to read, notate the summarise the key points of the essay Safety in Numbness by David Campany and then note own observations.
In Safety is Numbness; David Campany writes about the UK Channel 4 special report regarding the post 9/11 documentation by Joel Meyerowitz as he captured and collected the clean-up operations of the pile at Ground Zero. Campany reflects on the vast difference in the presentation of the images from the speedy reporting and video footage during the event. When news companies like CNN abandoned the unwritten rules about not sharing broadcasts and fed footage from their webcams out to all news stations it helped create an instant and ever-present form of new recording. This video footage went word wide and helped to document the plane strikes on the two towers and the eventual collapse of both towers. Campany presents the idea that by allowing Meyerowitz access and permission to photograph what was going on that the photographs were better suited to ‘record’ the ‘official history’ and that Meyerowitz’ images are a record of a record of a past event, and that the images are not so much about what had happened but what happened after the event; what the actions and activity followed in the silence of the event.
Channel 4 Reflections of Ground Zero
Meyerowitz images mainly contain remnants, similar to forensic photography but taken a step further away from the crime. Unlike the crime scene photographs of Weege, Meyerowitz captures the scene after the cleanup crew has started to remove the scene of the crime. These images are a planned capture of memory and history; an aid which allows you to think on an event without projecting remembrance. It is plausible that by doing this Meyerowitz causes the backfire effect where the viewer cannot accept this ‘version’ of presented history because they cannot readily accept these images into their own remembered view of the event.
Campany also proposes that since the amount of video footage runs to less than a few hours, that the multitude of photographs has helped to cement the idea of photographs as a form of unaltered memory as they are uncontaminated and ‘mute’ (Campany,pp5). These frozen moments of time allow the viewer to define and analyse the event through their own memory and the image presented to them. ‘Late Photography’ presents a record disconnected from the immediate event, the images are in a way unrelated to the actual action, rather the images are a slow, methodical, detached reflection, unconnected to the constant stream of visual presentations in today’s 24/7 media driven age of news and event recording.
The last point made by Campany is that by allowing Meyerowitz to photograph around Ground Zero for 9 months that the final set of images presented by Meyerowitz allowed New Yorkers, Americans and the World to mourn and reflect on their own recollections about 9/11.
The photographs stand out as they are in reality the last analogue records of an event. This pre-digital ‘Kennedy Moment’ was mainly recorded on videotape, and various sizes of film and slide film. This pre-Facebook, pre-Instagram, pre-Telescope app time meant that the small amount of video footage is outweighed by the number of analogue records now available. Had 9/11 happened in today’s digital society with the amount of technology available then there would be a higher prevalence of common and accessible records as more of the public would be able to capture the event.
From a personal perspective, I found Meyerowitz’ images to be filled with the idea of American Manifest destiny, that they will overcome the event and press onwards and upwards. I can also sense Meyerowitz’ anger at initially not being allowed to photograph Ground Zero. It was only his interaction with a police officer that drove him to capture the images through Late Photography; using his political connections to get the mayor to give him the position of ‘official photographer’
When I think of 9/11 and the events afterwards I do not think of Meyerowitz, instead I am stuck with the image of the falling man (Drew. R 2001); an image published once and since has been filed away from the social remembrance as it is too powerful and painful an image. Meyerowitz presents the phoenix rising from the ashes, but what I remember is the following anger and lust for revenge against the perpetrators which overclouds the images and memories of the grief and pain of the mourners at the dedication ceremony.
In Campanys last point, while I agree that Late Photography has allowed everyone to work through their thoughts and feelings on 9/11, it has also given to a certain amount of “event safari” where groups are taken to see what is left behind.(Young, Oct 2009). It has also given way to the instant digital grief after an event where Twitter and Facebook are filled with instant but in reality unfeeling ‘thoughts and prayers’ following an event.
Meyerowitz was not the only photographer to capture images of 9/11 through Late Photography, but he was the only one to have an exhibition of images. Photographers like John Botte, who spent three and a half months on the pile working and photographing. Botte shot 56 rolls of film during this time, many of his images were during the first 48 hours but he captured both on the pile at Ground Zero and different perspectives such as Presidents Bush visit and the memorial mass.
How does Meyerowitz images compare and differ from my own memories of 9/11 and what value does the work have?
Meyerowitz worked here with little emotion, he wanted to capture not only the scale of the crime but also to record for history what had happened afterward. He feared that the reality of the act would be lost if the site was treated as just a crime scene. Meyerowitz worked with the teams to photograph their acts as not only as they worked through the pile but also worked through their thoughts and emotions. Meyerowitz captured the humanity of the workers as they cleared away the bodies, the rubble, and the remains. The rescuers had arrived with the hope of clearing the rubble and getting survivors and once that hope was gone, they had to continue; to uphold the values of America and show that they would not be bowed. Meyerowitz worked to capture what he called the ‘terrible beauty’ of the pile and wants his photographs to show how people cooperated after 9/11 to help each other
The images differ greatly from my own memories; what I recall from that period of time, is, first of all, a great hollow in my stomach as the horror of the situation was unveiling. I watched the broadcasts and practically all of my memories are about the first day, mainly around the plane strikes and the following collapse of both towers. I was overloaded with emotion and struggled to grasp the whole situation due to its enormity. The following days were filled with sorrow as hopes of rescue receded and the social impact of the act of terrorism was brought into scale. Certainly, his images have shown the after effects and that hope was not lost and that the people on the site did not allow the act to make them lose their humanity. But they also clearly show a record of what happened as the pile was slowly cleared.
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Channel 4 News. (2001). Reflections on Ground Zero. [Online Video]. 2002. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8hN-aNWWBE&list=PL0E496C00306D0177. [Accessed: 1 October 2018].
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