Went through Dallas on this trip to visit a couple of dear friends. We met through photography. They fit a bit of a typical profile for photo enthusiasts. One is a very good, ardent shooter, and the other is an ever patient, equipment toting spouse.
I taught a bit at a local high school, lecturing both the art and journalism classes, and hopefully meeting the two in the middle. While down there my friends offered to host a dinner to acquaint friends of theirs’ with the Giant Polaroid Collection known as Faces of Ground Zero. It was a very welcome attempt to attract funding for the collection. The collection itself is covered now, thankfully, under the umbrella of the New York Foundation for the Arts, and their tax deductible giving program known as Artspire. Follow the link to learn more, or make a contribution.
A quick note came in today from my friends in Dallas….. ” I too, spent some time with these Faces of Ground Zero, since it was my living room they inhabited for two days this week. I had not been prepared for the emotional impact these huge images have when one is able to see them face to face. To those of you who admire Joe’s work and follow his blog – Please, please join us in this fundraising effort with Artspire so these images can be installed in the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Every contribution, large or small, will help ensure the safe future for this magnificent Collection, described by the Museum Director as, ” An endeavor of exceptional artistic, emotional and historical significance.” Joe McNally, who gives so generously of his time, his caring, and his expertise in photography to all of us who admire him, can do with some help on this.”
It was the first time I had seen these pictures staged in a sedate, non-public setting. I made them, unbelievably, 10 years ago, in the tumultuous month that followed 9/11/01. Now, in the quiet of this beautiful room, we had a short, but wonderful conversation.
Back in February of 2002, the collection began an odyssey. Starting at Grand Central Station in NYC, it migrated to Boston, London, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and then back to NY, which is where they ultimately belong. They came out of storage again at the 5th Anniversary of 9/11, staging at the Firefighter’s Museum, down on Spring Street. During the course of this journey, they became a book, elevated awareness, and helped in an effort that raised almost $2 million dollars for 9/11 relief.
Other than that, they’ve been in storage. 24,000 pounds of framed, crated pictures, all over nine feet tall. Storing them month after month has been an uphill fight for my small studio, and in tough years, damn near broke me. Adorama came to the rescue a couple years ago, and now they pay the storage bill. It was the first of numerous, wonderful collaborations I’ve had with that camera shop on 18th St.
It was good to see them again, like greeting old friends I hadn’t seen for five years. They called me back to that time, in that studio, with that giant beast of a camera. I slept over it, actually, in a loft bed. Didn’t stray farther than a couple blocks from the studio the whole time. Crews from ground zero showed up, often unannounced, at 2am, 8am, midnight, whenever. If they came, a picture was made.
I say “picture” advisedly. For most of the folks, I made one picture only. Each sheet of Polaroid was $300. Thank goodness the Giant Polaroid didn’t have a motor drive attachment.
The images bring back that desperate time, quite vividly. Every time the studio door would open, dust from the pit would sweep in, filling the room with the tang of destruction. There were tears, and anger.
But mostly, I remember the people. Filled with resolute dignity, they stepped in front of this strange photographic instrument and shared their story, their loss, and their determination. A bond was made, and I feel it still. In the moment of exposure, an agreement was struck, a wordless understanding: I’ll stand for your camera, then it’s up to you to see it through.
As a group, we have traveled quite a ways for quite a while, and hopefully we’ll come soon to a destination. The 9/11 Memorial Museum wants to be their permanent home, which is appropriate, and I have hopes. I’ve been a photog too long to say more than that. I have hopes. After 30 years behind the lens, it’s enough to have.
It’s a wonderful thing to be a photog. We can illustrate the pages of our adventure, sometimes with pictures that really mean something.