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BEARING WITNESS TO THE MOMENT



Published: Fri, February 15, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



BEARING WITNESS TO THE MOMENT

Chicago Tribune: There is before ... and there is after. The World Trade Center's twin towers as they were -- and as they are.

Words don't do justice to the power of the images on display at the Sept. 11 exhibit, "Here is New York: a democracy of photos." But words must for those who haven't yet made it to the exhibit's Web page www.hereisnewyork.org

There are 1,500 digital prints depicting the before and after of that awful day. All are the same size and hung identically, unframed, in random order around the sides and across the top of the exhibit space.

They were taken by professionals and amateurs -- cops, firemen, investment bankers, rescuers, tourists -- who happened to be witnesses to history. They are truly a democracy of photos.

Connecting point: The images surround visitors, who wander, reverent and hushed, from image to image. The exhibit began in New York's Soho with a single photo hung in a vacant storefront. It has since morphed into a powerful emotional connecting point for Americans still dealing with the grief of Sept. 11.

Some photos are famous. The towers rent and burning. The terrible plumes of smoke. The gritty, murky aftermath of their collapse. The American flag at what had just that moment become ground zero. There are photos of utter devastation and photos of people -- hurt, angry, shocked, full of tears and exhaustion and anguish.

Some are poignant. Some are angry. Some are hopeful. Some hurt too much to view head on; they must be approached obliquely. Early on that awful day after the first hijacked plane has been flown into the first tower, the gash is a gaping wound. The shape of the plane's wing is clear, as is the smoky, fiery destruction on those floors. And standing at the lip of eternity is a lone woman, long hair streaming.

And interspersed everywhere with the photos of devastation are images of the intact towers soaring above New York. Oh, how sleek and powerful they looked, glinting in the sun or lighting the night sky like twin beacons.

The exhibit takes the first half of its title from E.B. White's 1949 book, "Here is New York." White included these words, which, given the reality of that terrible September day, seem ominous indeed. "The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible."

Human spirit: But that is not so. What comes through the totality of these images is not the destruction, though that is everywhere, but the strength of the human spirit. It survives.

A great city, after all, is more than the concrete and steel that gird its towers. It is organic, constantly rebuilding. It draws its vitality from the people who live, and who die, within its limits. Here is New York indeed. Shocked and in mourning, yes, but indomitable nonetheless.




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