Hundreds of photographs related to the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center are attracting more than 2,000 visitors a day to a makeshift gallery in the city's trendy Soho neighborhood. The "populist" exhibit "Here Is New York" shows off the work of amateur and professional photographers.
The entire New York City skyline concealed in a giant plume of gray smoke. The heroism and fatigue of New York firefighters. The harrowed faces of survivors.
These are some of the chilling images that fill the makeshift gallery, recreating the minutes, hours and days after the September 11 attack.
A photograph of the World Trade Center in the window of an empty Soho storefront spurred the idea for the exhibit. Noticing how much attention the picture attracted, the owner of the space and a group of photographers organized the exhibit. Photographer Jay Manis volunteers at the gallery. "It's not about art on the wall. It's not about the photographer. It's not about the greatest picture in the world," said Mr. Manis. "It's about a community experience, the multiplicity, the diversity of people, how this event touched different people's lives from where they were at a particular moment and people walk in here and react to in profound levels. It's almost a memorial, a tribute you know, the poignancy of many of these pictures is astonishing."
Some of the photographs have been published. Others were taken by amateurs. One, snapped at a park near the Twin Towers, shows a statue of a businessman. In an eerie scene, the statue sits alone, covered in soot, surrounded by shredded papers from the toppled skyscrapers.
Others capture the look of horror in the moments after the attack. A man clutches his infant, looking up to the sky in shock. A firefighter sits on a beam resting on a giant pile of rubble. His helmet is next to him and his hands cover his face. The only color in the dusty scene comes from the yellow reflective bands on his jacket.
The photographs cover the walls of two rooms and hang from wires. Mr. Manis said the organizers decided not to use the names of the photographers. "Take a look, everybody in the world is walking through here, and they're not coming in here to add to their collection of fine art or to find something to go over the sofa," he said. "It's a lot more personal than that. It has a lot more meaning than that." Every day since the exhibit's opening last month, more than 2,000 people visit the gallery.
Kola Olosunde works near the site of the World Trade Center. He saw the buildings collapse with his own eyes. Mr. Olosunde said seeing the pictures helped him revisit the disaster. "I stand in awe and I remain in awe," he said. "It's a tragedy of immense proportions and the magnitude we have yet to fully realize. I think as you can see from the wide collection of pictures, it's huge. It touches a wide cross-section of all lives and transcends race, gender, ethnicity, and even religion."
Other New Yorkers come because the photographs help them start to cope with the tragedy. A woman named Susan, who did not want to reveal her last name, said she saw thousands of people walking through her Manhattan neighborhood covered in soot from the World Trade Center collapse. Now, she watched a slow-motion video of the collapse replayed in the back of the gallery. "I think it's very emotional, quite powerful, very powerful," said Susan. "It brings the whole thing back. I was here at the time and I didn't actually see the towers falling down. Seeing this video, it's just astonishing watching it. Astonishing, and upsetting again. It brings up the whole of the situation."
Some visitors from out of town say they want to identify with New York in the wake of the attack and to witness for themselves a unique period in history.
As Nada Byrum, from Bakersfied, California looked at the photographs, she was moved to tears. "We had to see what the pulse of this city was now, and we wanted to be part of the mourning process," she said. "And we're getting ready to walk down to the site and we wanted to stop by. We heard about this photography series and we just wanted to see it. We wanted to be here."
Reprints of the photographs are for sale with proceeds benefiting children affected by the attack. The gallery has already raised more than $75,000, and the exhibition has been extended. One photographer says the organizers were overwhelmed by the public reaction to the exhibit. She says they are not surprised though, since photography is a powerful tool that helps define a moment.