WHEN THE TWIN TOWERS QUIETLY
COMMANDED THE NEW YORK SKYLINE
The photographer Brian Rose was in Amsterdam on September 11, 2001, when he learned, over the phone, that a plane had just flown into one of the Twin Towers. Rose, who had gone to college in lower Manhattan and still had an apartment there, turned on his television in time to see a plane strike the second tower. Within a few days, he was airborne himself, on one of the first flights permitted into New York City from Europe, feeling a sense of urgency and dread. Much of downtown had been cordoned off, but on the day that Rose returned he was able to walk down Broadway carrying a 4 x 5 camera. He stopped to take a handful of pictures on the edge of the zone that had been named Ground Zero.
Those pictures, showing little more than temporary fencing, the booms of cranes, and a section of the distinctive aluminum skin that sheathed both towers, are as close as Rose gets in his new book of photographs, called “WTC,” to the death, destruction, and recovery work that have become synonymous with the World Trade Center. Images of black smoke pouring from the buildings on September 11th and of people fleeing clouds of toxic dust have become so familiar that it is difficult for some to know whether their memories of that day are based on tableaux they witnessed themselves or ones they later saw on television, on computer screens, and in print.
The heart of Rose’s book is pictures of the intact towers, photographs that are meant to reflect how the structures were viewed before they became symbols of horror and sacrifice. From their completion, in the early nineteen-seventies, until they were felled, by Al Qaeda operatives, the Trade Center towers stood for little beyond the abstract notion of global commerce. Their smooth façades and uniform rows of narrow windows projected the monotony and order that are often identified with corporate culture. The architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable described the towers, in 1973, as embodying a style she termed “General Motors Gothic.” Though they soared higher than any other buildings in New York City, their boxlike appearance was more utilitarian than inspiring.
“The Twin Towers remained aloof from the passions below,” Rose writes in the book’s foreword. “They were the perfect backdrop buildings, minimalist pylons signifying nothing in particular—unlike the heroic Empire State Building—but serving always as inscrutable signposts.”
Like many New Yorkers, I had a tangential relationship with the towers. As far as I was concerned, the towers mainly functioned as dependable reference points. If I emerged from an unfamiliar subway station or was unsure which way led east or west, a quick glance would often be enough to locate the towers and become oriented. At night, viewed from the window of my apartment on the Lower East Side, they provided rough indications of the prevailing weather. On a clear evening, the edges of the illuminated towers were sharply defined against the dark sky. Sometimes their lights would reveal gathering clouds. On a truly overcast night, they would often disappear completely from view.
Source: The New Yorker, Colin Moynihan , Sept. 8, 2016. Read more...