After a whirlwind tour of museums and galleries, one series of photos stood out in my mind. Though not a traditional photo essay, the piece entitled “A Response to 9/11,” currently being shown at Aperture, is extremely moving and presents the viewer with a range of insights.
The piece is composed of work from various New York Times photographers and email correspondence from the NYT staff on September 11, 2001, which is chilling to read. A few photos have quotes from the subjects beside them, some of which I found to be very powerful. What sets this series apart is the fact that it presents views from both sides of one of the most contentious events in American history, allowing the viewer a truly impartial glimpse at people and events that popular media often portray in a singular light.
There are images of firefighters at ground zero on the day of the attacks, with a quote from the photographer, mentioning his inability to remember taking most of his pictures from that day:
“…I can barely recall these firefighters who are struggling to clean out their eyes — though, looking at it now, I can remember exactly how much my own eyes burned from the smoke.” –Jeff Mermelstein
Then, you come to four portraits of Muslim men living in New York at the time of the attacks. Each has a corresponding quote placed next to it that demonstrate just how upsetting the events of that day were to the entire country, Muslim or not. They express their devastation and desire to let people know that they, too, feel the effects of what has happened.
“I’m the religious leader of the Muslim community here in Bay Ridge…What has happened happened to us as well. We are fellow Americans. A lot of people have [come] here in the past few days to share their grief.” –Sheikh Mohammed Moussa Imam
We see this again with portraits of an American soldier and a young Afghan boy. The photo of Sgt. Michael Cunningham was taken just after his squad was ambushed. The photo of 7-year-old Khalid was taken just after he was injured by shrapnel from a bomb dropped near his home by U.S. troops.
As you find yourself feeling for both of these individuals, you realize that it’s impossible to take sides, patriotic loyalty or not. To me, this unbiased perspective is what makes this particular piece of photojournalism truly effective.