September 11, 2015

On 9/11: A New Ground Zero Photo. Five Kids on Bikes.

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A remarkable phenomena of culture, time and photography is how people continue to discover images of historic events for years, even decades afterward. A street photo taken in Williamsburg that newly turned up was the basis of our 9/11 post last year. And so it happens again, this remarkable photo by Ed Pirnik-Mauriz, taken 9/12/01, being even more interesting emerging in a year wracked by racial protest and the emergence of #blacklivesmatter.

As Ed wrote this morning:

“At about 4:30 I awoke–couldn’t sleep. I had this nagging anxiety. So I went to the basement searching for my 9/11 negs. Couldn’t find the ones from Tuesday, Sept. 11, but I did find the ones from the following day – September 12. I still can’t believe these kids were able to get past the security cordon downtown. Strange, unreal memories. The “old days” at U.S. News.”

Stunning it is in the diversity of the reactions, including the pose of the kid far right, accented by what I imagine to be a cop just off his shoulder, and the immediate adjacency of some other emblematic vehicle. And, of course, there’s the dialogue between the shocking view, the practical need to avoid (what we thoroughly appreciate now was) the toxic ash and the gansta-cool so familiarly ascribed to black boys covering their mouths with bandannas or pulling their shirts up that way.

I’m assuming the day that has passed since the disaster itself would account for the range here. Whereas the kid in the white shirt is completely and unselfconsciously stricken, likely terrified, the kid on the right, fully mindful of the camera, is completely posed. (As much as he evokes a quality of been-there, done-that, though, I can also imagine him holding on to himself for dear life.) Like the kid in the white, the two boys flanking him are also a study in absorption. Gazes like that, given a circumstance like this, make me wonder not only what was going through the two minds, but what they still see now. (And, given that question, I wonder how much the answer is threaded through the status of the black male in post-9/11 America.)

What sticks with me, also, is the muddiness and the ash tracked up in the tires. It makes me think of what can’t be washed away. Given the impact of this encounter, I’m also marveling how I completely missed the presence of the ashy Nevelson sculpture until I took a fourth pass, “fused” as it is to the other boy looking our way. It reminds me how all the sublimity came later and how much it seemed at the time that irony, too, had died.

Finally, do you notice how much the three boys in the center, the ones fully gripped by this fateful event in American history, are also a study in red-white-and-blue?

Ed Pirnik spent over eight years in the journalism industry in New York as a photographer, writer and editor. Today, combining his interest in media with his love for woodworking, he’s the senior web producer of Photo used by permission.

(photo: Ed Pirnik-Mauriz)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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