April 3, 2017

On Those Re-released FBI 9/11 Photographs

Last week, the FBI re-released twenty-seven 911 photos that disappeared from their website. They were first published six years ago, then vanished after a technical glitch. Here is the FBI’s archive page and, remarkably, a photo-less wire story at NYT.

These 9/11 photos highlight a point I was making last week about Russian protest images. In this golden visual age, we are seeing more and more affecting photos with less and less context. This new trove of pictures were widely published last week. In most cases, the individual images were published with no analysis or regard for their emotional impact. Most were published as photo posts or slideshows with FBI captions, as USAT did, or they were presented in gross general categories, the way CNN did, with no other information at all.

It’s a cold practice “dropping” this still-wrenching material this way. It treats the photo as a media artifact far more than historical and emotional material. In our commercial and “quick click” culture, it signals to the public that these are just more objects to be consumed.

It was in that spirit that I decided to add a personal reaction to eight or nine of the photos. (Those are my “captions” or reflections below each.)  The different comments aim at different things: irony, memory, emotion, a historical lens. Hopefully, they also encourage you to really pause and reflect, to read the picture. Ultimately though, these images, like so many others rushed through the news stream, deserve more.





Like a copyright symbol, such a glisteningly intact fragment of America. Re-released @FBI #september11 photos

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Michael Shaw
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