Joel Meyerowitz Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive

While looking through works of photojournalism that show people at work, I came across a book by Joel Meyerowitz titled Aftermath: World Trade Centre archive. The book contains photographs taken after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, where after a lot of effort Meyerowitz was the only photographer allowed unrestricted access to the area. Meryerowitz's personal account of the cleanup process and recovery efforts after the destruction of the twin towers, serves as a token of remembrance dedicated to those who lost their lives in the destruction caused by the two terrorist attacks. The book also celebrates the determination of those who rebuilt the area now known as Ground Zero.

I decided to look more closely at some of the images from this book that focus more on the workers rather than documenting the site's physical progress at that point, as they can inform the work I am doing at the moment a lot more. The photographs of workers from this series however particularly interested me, as they were working on what was an unparalleled cleanup operation in the US, after one of the most devastating tragedies of the 21st century. These images are incredibly powerful as they show such compassion and solidarity across those who worked on the recovery operation, and as these images span 9 months of work by Meyerowitz on the site, we are able to observe how these people adapted to this situation and really came together as one.

'A worker carrying a hydraulic hose'
Above is an environmental portrait that particularly stood out to me in the book, which shows a worker carrying a hydraulic hose at night on the recovery site. What is particularly powerful for me about this photograph is the very heavy feeling that it has. Not just in seeing this physical task being carried out but in particular the distressed expression on this man's face, as though he has been quite shaken emotionally. Which is something we can all have empathy for in the context of this image, as these men will have been working tirelessly all day while also finding remains of human beings and their work environments. As nearly three thousand people were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Centre and many of which were buried in the ruins of the two collapsed towers. Coming across these remnants must have been particularly disturbing and as the whole city was shaken by the events of 9/11 anyway, you can only imagine what it was like for these workers being confronted with the aftermath of this all the time. 

A lot of the photographs in this book by Meyerowitz show groups of workers together, and they communicate a real sense of the solidarity that they had in coming together to make decisions and get jobs done during this huge operation. However the photographs of individual people like this one above who are also part of this big operation, reminds us of how vulnerable the individuals must have been with being exposed to the aftermath of such a massive tragedy all the time. 

What I find particularly effective about this photograph as an image capturing a person at work, is the way this man is framed centrally in the image and takes up a lot of the frame, in what feels very confrontational for a viewer with the added context of the photograph. Forcing us to look into the eyes of someone clearly very affected by this tragedy who is doing their best to help. In terms of the task itself these leading lines created by the hose, coming into the frame on the top left and continuing down the image, communicates the physical demand required to do this task. The marks all over the man's clothes, the respirator and helmet all help draw our attention to the level of manual labour that was necessary for the operation and of course how unpredictable the site was. This is done effectively in the way the man's left arm goes up across his chest to carry the hose, cradling his respirator which captures our eye and then we begin to notice these marks and other details adding more context to this portrait. I also think having our attention drawn towards these common clothing items worn on a building site reminds us that these are normal people carrying out such an indescribable task under unprecedented circumstances. 

I think the vantage point that this photograph is taken at is another part of what makes this photograph of an unnamed worker so powerful. As because we are looking up at this man rather than straight at him, we get a real sense of courage and emotional strength that Meyerowitz and so many of us would see in people like this particular worker on the site.

Overall as a piece of documentary work this book is an incredible testament to those who came together on the recovery operation at ground zero and contains some incredibly potent images. In terms of what I have taken from this book for person at work inspiration, I really feel I am going to be more aware of things like vantage points and other details that can add even more context to photographs of this nature. In my series of three images I am able to capture three different perspectives of the same people at work and I hope that visually I am able to achieve photographs that inform the viewer well without necessarily having to read the captions I will be creating. Looking at Meyerowitz's photographs has given me a lot more to think about in terms of the story I am able to tell with my photographs. 

Joel Meyerowitz, 2006. Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive. First Edition Edition. Phaidon Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment