NYC was a major exhibition of recent and archive photographs of New York City from the world famous Magnum Photos, reflecting on the appearance and character of the city and the relationship to its buildings before, after, and during the events of the 11 September 2001. Conceptual in its realisation, the installation within the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station included images printed on a vast scale – up to 10m x 6.6m – and intended to recreate the awe and impact of Manhattan’s cityscape.
The photographers included: Thomas Heopker, Josef Koudelka, Steve McCurry, Susan Meiselas, Gilles Peress, Larry Towell, and Alex Webb.
NYC also presented a video piece by Evan Fairbanks. Silent, almost contemplative, that work lay at the emotional heart of the exhibition. Cameraman Evan Fairbanks had been working in downtown Manhattan on the morning of the 11 September and ran out with his video camera as the events unfolded. As he was filming the towers, the second aeroplane appeared and crashed into the World Trade Center. Fairbanks called Magnum that evening, and when they saw his extraordinary footage, they recognised that it fitted with their unparalleled documentary tradition.
NYC concluded with photographs by Peter Marlow and Luc Delahaye reflecting on New York’s mood in the aftermath of 9/11.
Nine months after the event it is hard to say or show anything new about September 11, it has all been said and all been seen, particularly the familiarity of the images have meant that they no longer have the emotional impact that gave many of us sleepless nights when we first saw them in our newspapers and on our TV screens.
When Magnum was asked to mount a show in collaboration with The Wapping Project it was therefore a challenge to come up with an installation that would be relevant nine months after the event. I felt the way to do this was to broaden out the scope of photographs to encompass New York before, during, and after the event, and for the event itself, create a presentation of images that are unfamiliar and that focus on the experience of being present on that day rather than on the more objective sights of the Towers on fire seen from a distance against the New York skyline. This is therefore much more of a subjective and emotional journey, it has the absolutely unique video work by the young photographer Evan Fairbanks who was on the street right next to the Towers as the aircraft hit. His video is an uncut version of the events, for 25 minutes, as he experienced it from ground level. The film shows the actual impact of the second plane, but more chilling are the other passages in the film showing what it was like to be there, sheltering under cars to avoid the failing debris, Evan filmed the chaos on the streets, skies full of paper floating down like snowflakes, firemen calmly walking to their deaths, and the finally he runs away with his camera still rolling as the Towers collapse. The film is disturbing and incredibly powerful, the nearest any of us who were not there will be to understanding what it was really like.
For Wapping, as a response to the scale of the former pumping house we decided to select fewer images but make them very large, so large in fact that the viewer is literally engulfed by the images, we have pushed what is possible to the limit given that most of the photographs were shot on small format cameras. The viewer is literally confronted head on by the scenes of destruction and the larger than life size faces of the people caught up in the event.
As a conclusion to the installation, we have included a piece by Luc Delahaye shot in late September which is a composite of nine photographs of people looking at the debris, in a different way it is a fascinating piece of observation, as engaging as the other work, all those faces with exactly the same profound expression.
My own work tries to capture more of an outsiders take on the city after the event. A selection of six images which look at the streets of New York a couple of months after September 11th. They show a city decorated with flags, seen in the most unlikely places, this was intended as a understated look at one aspect of the ‘ordinary city’ that tries to show how in those times of uncertainty this symbol was used to reinforce a sense of identity, the use of the flag was for many a sign of strength, but seemed more to me a method of obscuring from view the outside world. My overall response was slightly numb and sad, that the flag could be somehow used as a national medicine to make everything better again.
Peter Marlow, President of Magnum Photos, April 2002