Bruce Jackson (b. 1936), St. Vincent's, 2001; photograph; Courtesy of the artist

Bruce Jackson (b. 1936), St. Vincent's, 2001; photograph; Courtesy of the artist

Bruce Jackson Being There, 9/11

Friday, March 15, 2013

Throughout the run of Being There: Bruce Jackson Photographs 1962-2010, the artist is sharing some of the stories behind his photographs.Being There is on view until June 16, 2013. The catalog accompanying the exhibition is available at The Museum Store at the Burchfield Penney.


This is a telephone booth on 14th street in Manhattan, just off Union Square. In a way, it summarizes everything I was seeing, doing and feeling when I went down to NYC shortly after the September 11 attack: the missing persons poster, the posters offering help that could never be adequate to the loss, a telephone that could never reach so many people forever out of reach, the cold metal of the booth itself, the torn calendar marking the day, and across the street the blue sign with the clean Helvetica letters proclaiming "SOON." Soon for what? Nothing, that's what.

As soon as the planes started flying again after the September 11 attack I went down to NYC. Like many other people I know, I wanted to do something and the only thing I knew how to do that might be useful was take pictures, so I figured on doing that. I knew you couldn't get close to the site, and that was being documented all the time by official people anyway. Lower Manhattan was closed off to vehicles, but you could walk or ride bicycles. My friend Margie Kunstler and I rode crosstown from her house not far from Washington Square to the West Side bike path. She noted where she was when the first plane hit, when the second plane hit and where she was when she saw the buildings go down. Long before we got to where the police wouldn't let people pass we smelt that horrible odor that the officials said was from burning electrical cables but everybody knew wasn't that at all.

I noticed that many buildings had missing persons posters taped to their walls, and that some walls were completely covered with them. Some of the posters didn't even have a name on them, just the reproduction of a photograph of someone who would never be seen again. There were also shrines in Washington Square, in Union Square and in front of firehouses that had pretty much been emptied by the collapse.

I had a Nikon with me and a Hasselblad X-Pan, a camera that makes negatives about twice as wide as ordinary 35mm negatives. I knew that these pieces of paper on all those walls were ephemera: air, sunlight and rain would soon obliterate them. But they were an important part of the tragedy that I thought should be preserved. So for two days I walked around lower Manhattan and hung around Union Square, photographing them. I was shooting film then, so I didn't take as many pictures as we do in the digital age—maybe 800 frames.. I did several with the X-Pan in Union Square, and at St. Vincent's Hospital (7th avenue at 11th street), which was where many of the injured were to be taken, but there weren't many injured. One long wall at St. Vincent's was covered with missing persons posters. I went back a year later and the posters were still up, weatherbeaten and faded, but still there. The next year, they had been encased. A year or two later, the glass case was gone and it was just a wall again.

Three of those photographs are in the exhibit: the phone booth, a low wall at Union Square with some posters and candles that seem to be leaking blood over them, and the wall of Ray's Pizza on 11th street at 6th avenue, covered with hundreds of posters. On the ground, in that one, are a number of candles, so the posters themselves have become a shrine. And a young man with a baby in a stroller stands and looks at them, the way he might look in any store window while taking the baby out for a Sunday morning walk.

Here are five that aren't in the exhibit, the first an X-pan image in Union Square, the second a Nikon image in Union Square, the third a Nikon image of a firehouse on W. 10th street that lost almost everybody in the collapse, and the last two Nikon images of the wall at St. Vincent's Hospital, the first in September 2001, the second in January 2004.

-Bruce Jackson


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