September 11, 2016

Memory, Poetry and Politics: Thoughtful Views from Instagram on the 15th Anniversary of 9/11

In recent anniversary years, we’ve been interested in new, or unpublished photos of 9/11 to help us remember, process and mourn. Last year, we published a unique photo of boys on bicycles at Ground Zero.  The year before that, we offered this evocative photo from Williamsburg. This year, we have carefully collected a group of Instagram photos from the last few days. Some of them address the event more literally, though we were drawn even more to the poetic, as well as political. We’ve added a few thoughts about each one.


GaryHershorn’s Empire State Building/s

As we wrote in our repost of Hershorn’s almost mystical articulation of the Empire State Building as mid-town twin towers:

Strangely wonderful pic as photographers are flocking to Instagram to post photos from 9/11 in honor of the 15th anniversary. The caption makes no mention of it but the photo makes us think about how rooted the event is and how much the memories are in the air.

34th Street, New York #newyork #newyorkcity #nyc @empirestatebldg

A photo posted by Gary Hershorn (@garyhershorn) on

Gary Hershorn’s United

History, memory, and trauma re-surfaces all the time connected quietly and incidentally to our everyday. Gary Hershorn’s feed in the week leading up to the fifteenth anniversary contained several photos specifically about 9/11. There are other shots in between, however, that didn’t mention it at all. Together though, they didn’t really have to. It’s just a United Airlines passenger flight on approach to Newark airport traversing a fence in the foreground. Like United Flight 175 was just another flight approaching the New York area on that day in 2011 … until it wasn’t.

A #united jet on approach to #newarkairport #newark #newjersey #newyork #airplane

A photo posted by Gary Hershorn (@garyhershorn) on

Floodthezone’s Freedom Tower (Pancho Bernasconi)

It seems like the lusty obsession with the Freedom Tower, especially by visual media, runs as deep as the hole in the ground, and the heart, that was left by its predecessor/s.

Todd Heisler’s Ranger

Todd Heisler’s photo turns a ranger and the tour ritual at the 9/11 Flight 93 crash site in Shankesville Pennsylvania, into poetry. How haunting (if still, just paper, and so documentary) to see that fated jet return to the sky.

In case you missed it, our latest dispatch for This Land with @danbarry1958 Follow the link in my profile for the whole piece. The last time I stood in this field it was September of 2002. I was with Somerset County coroner Wally Miller, who has carried the heavy burden of Flight 93. A small memorial was growing at the top of the hill. Below, in the field where an official memorial now stands, he showed us small shards of the plane that are found to this day in the nearby woods. Now it is a national park. From Dan Barry: SHANKSVILLE, Pa. — Just another Thursday, and the morning mix includes leather-vested bikers from New Jersey, Amish visitors from Pennsylvania and a few children adjusting to a park not intended for play. They settle onto benches for the 11 o’clock retelling. A ranger in the green and gray of the United States National Park Servicetucks his peanut-butter-and-jelly lunch on a shelf and walks out to face his audience. A field of wildflowers undulates behind him; the pewter-bellied clouds seem nearly within reach. He begins: “Remember how bad the weather was that morning?” Hesitant nods turn quickly to head shakes. No. On that particular September morning, you could see forever. This is just the ranger’s way of buckling you in. Helping some to remember what we already know. Helping others, especially those who were not yet born, to envision a beautiful, calamitous day now nearly 15 years in the past. His name is Robert Franz, he is 61, and his title is “interpretive park ranger,” which means that his job is to tell the story of what happened in that color-dappled field behind him, again and again and again. #thisland #911memorial

A photo posted by Todd Heisler (@heislerphoto) on

Spencer Platt’s Tattoo

In collecting 9/11-inspired Instagram posts, we’ve expressly avoided scenes of the destruction itself. This is the closest we came to an exception, though. That’s because of the way the “first responders” became famously named, known and recognized as such, and because those who lived through it seem to have so internalized the actual scenes of destruction. It’s telling, by the way, how much the fire challenges the flower, and the flower challenges the fire. The attack is still challenging our resilience.  If some petals also seem a little phallic, that’s telling also given how much the attack became tied up with America’s potency.

Chad Rachman’s Harbor

The photo does not necessarily have anything to do with 9/11, but it’s amazing how many photos of the New York skyline have been posted in the days leading up to the fifteenth anniversary. And talk about echoes. To many, the view of Lower Manhattan will always retain the emotional footnote: “the skyline as its become.”

#nauticalcommute #statenislandferry #siferry #nyc #newyork #tgif #ferryfriday

A photo posted by Chad Rachman (@chadrock) on

 NOOR/Nina Berman’s Paranoia

9/11, and the frightened path it set this country on, was the basis of years worth of powerful documentary work from Nina Berman. This black-and-white photo, simply capturing an officer of some kind as a shadow against a building, was and remains a chilling portrait of the paranoia.

Nina Berman’s Red Carpet 

This is another classic 9/11 aftermath photo by Nina Berman. The so-called “War on Terror,” a phrase we never thought would lose the quotation marks, really was packaged and sold like a Hollywood premier. It’s just painful to think about it that way because there was so little difference at the time between vulnerability and gullibility. …Actually, not just at the time.

Mark Peterson’s Homeless Vet

We’ve been thinking about the ripple effect of  9/11, especially the way it plunged America into that deep black hole in Iraq and so physically and emotionally wounded so many of America’s young men and women. One can say with high certainly this man would not have been standing here, otherwise. And one could certainly argue he might not have become so broken.

Nate Gowdy’s Trump Supporter

What does this photo, taken by Nate Gowdy outside a recent Trump rally, have to do with 9/11? Call it one more ripple effect of  the Bush administration’s response and the ensuing “war on terror.” Consider the parallel of the sign with Dubya’s words from Camp David on 9/15/2001: 

“…(W)e will find those who did it; we will smoke them out of their holes; we will get them running and we’ll bring them to justice. We will not only deal with those who dare attack America, we will deal with those who harbor them and feed them and house them.”

Tim Fadek’s Flyers

As much as fireballs, twisted rebar and ash-covered citizens wandering like zombies are markers of 9/11, perhaps the most fateful scenes, as well as artifacts, of that unimaginable event were provided by the “missing” signs blanketing the city. Of course, Tim Fadek’s photo also captures one of the other indelible scenes from 9/11 — that pose of the stunned citizen staring up at the sky.

Meg Handler’s Onlooker

Like time stopped but the smoldering wouldn’t, what’s so powerful about Meg Handler’s photo of 9/11 is simply the fact it was taken on 9/18.

David Kennerly’s Oregon

Why, on 9/11, would we repost this photo by David Kennerly he posted a couple days ago showing a bridge in Oregon? Well, a powerful photo always resonates with prevailing feelings, events and memories. And in this case, the mood of this photo, the tension between the clouds and the sun, but mostly the twin columns, felt like one more reflection. Dreams work the same way.

The #tillicumcrossing in #portland #oregon #today taken with the #iphone

A photo posted by David Hume Kennerly (@davidhumekennerly) on

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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