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Volume 19 • Issue 18 | September 15 - 21, 2006

Photo by Jonathan Hyman

One of the many visions of patriotism in “9/11 and the American Landscape: Photographs by Jonathan Hyman,” now on view at 7 W.T.C.

Picturing loss: 7 W.T.C. exhibit commemorates country’s grief

By Nicole Davis

It is exhilarating and slightly spooky to stand on the 45th floor of 7 World Trade Center, with its lighthouse-like views of the city and the Trade Center construction site below. As it happens, the unfinished floor in the newly rebuilt Tower is also the perfect vantage point for a body of photography whose focus is the nationwide commemoration of the attacks five years ago. Curated by Clifford Chanin on behalf of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, “9/11 and the American Landscape: Photographs by Jonathan Hyman,” is the cousin of “Here: Remembering 9/11,” installed on the Trade Center fence some 450 feet down. Like “Here,” the site of the exhibit references both the space we now occupy, and the era we are about to move into once the Twin Tower rebuild is complete, along with the W.T.C. Memorial.

“It’s a very powerful dialogue, between the tribute art and the bird’s-eye view of Ground Zero,” said Chanin, founder of the Legacy Project, a non-profit that uses exhibitions, literature, programs, and its website to document creative responses to nearly every tragedy of the 20th century. As someone who has spent the past five years working on issues of memory and loss, Chanin has found that one experience common to traumatic events is the agonizing, time-consuming process of memorializing the past. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, for instance, wasn’t established until 1996. The time it’s taking to create the W.T.C.

Memorial and Museum seems swift by comparison, particularly since its directors aren’t waiting for a permanent home to begin exhibiting.

Chanin selected just 63 photographs from Hyman’s 15,000-picture oeuvre, which he spent the past five years creating on numerous road trips. The Foundation bills the exhibit as “a selection of... personal tributes and memorials created across the country in response to the attacks of 9/11,” but many of the photos on view were taken in the vicinity of New York, be it the boroughs or the tri-state area.

Contrary to what this viewer expected, they are not all sappy, sentimental tributes, either. In fact, the emotions on view run the gamut of rage—like the photo of Osama’s bloody head tattooed on someone’s forearm—to funny, down-home messages of solidarity, like the picture of a roadside sign bearing the phrase “Corned Beef Dinner” along with “United We Stand.” Through Hyman’s lens, we see that these are just two subgenres of 9/11 memorializing, and in addition to the elaborate tattooing (one man used his back as a canvas for the smoking Towers) and the roadside chatter, there are also a number of community murals, painted on everything from the walls of Egyptian carpet dealers in Queens to the garage doors of New York City firehouses, and a slew of extreme patriots, like the Connecticut man who painted his entire home red, white, and blue, even covering up his bedroom windows with a square of stars. The lengths people will go to express their love of country...

There is also one arresting image of spray-painted message on the side of a house: “God may forgive, but we do not.” The vitriol present in the photo calls to mind other messages of hatred in a collection of photographs taken in the wake of Katrina, by two New York area residents. Though they don’t exist in a gallery space (yet), the photos online at www.signsoflifebook.com, and in a book titled “Signs of Life: Surviving Katrina” depict a much different America in mourning than Hyman’s, but one that is just as worthy of remembering. In fact, what the Hyman exhibit ultimately reminds the viewer of, is that these images of a country united against a common enemy have lost their original meaning. However cohesive the social fabric felt at the time of 9/11, it appears in these pictures as a memory.

The Hyman exhibit runs through October 7. Hours are Monday – Friday, 12 PM – 6 PM, and Saturdays 11 AM – 4 PM. For more information visit buildthememorial.org.



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