For yesterday’s 10th anniversary of September 11th, TIME Magazine put up journalistic work on their website from a variety of photographers and writers. It was there that I came across the photos of James Natchwey. He was at his apartment in New York on that morning and was able to see the events occur at the Twin Towers from his own window. According to the accompanying article, Natchwey later went out and shot 27 rolls of film of the horrific events of that morning in September 2001. His photographs of 9/11 are incredibly balanced. He manages to make mass destruction look beautiful, powerful and terrifying, all at the same time. Many people have said that the events of 9/11 didn’t seem real. That the dust clouds, overturned cars and plethora of papers falling from the sky looked like they belonged on a movie screen at the multiplex and not like they belonged on the streets of New York City.
Another element that these pictures take on is that of a war zone. The destruction to automobiles and buildings look more like photos from the events that took place in Bosnia and Iraq. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when TIME referred to Natchwey as “the greatest war photographer of our time.” Below are individual photos of 9/11 that Natchwey took and below each one is a war photo that he took at some point in his career that creates the same mood as the 9/11 picture that it is paired with.
RUBBLE AND TWISTED METAL
The top photo is of a firefighter at Ground Zero and the bottom photo is of woman walking through Kabul, Afghanistan. Both of these photos feature a single individual surveying the damage done to man-made objects. Both of these people represent the human form but don’t contain any unique characteristics because their uniform or outfit hides their identity. There is a sadness and loneliness visible in both of these photos because the human forms are juxtaposed with the creations of civilization but civilization has been entirely wiped out.
The top photo is of New York residents escaping the Twin Towers and the bottom photo is of factory pollution in East Germany. The basic similarities that these two photos share is that of pollution and toxic air. This pollution distorts the air and actually makes it difficult to determine where these photos were taken. Location is obsolete. All the people featured in these two photographs look more like creatures escaping a fire than human beings due to the dirt, smoke and haze that hangs like a cloud around them. There is an erie quality to these photos as well, perhaps it’s a warning of the perils of living in an industrialized society.
The top photo is of a cross on top of a church in New York as the Twin Towers fell. The second photo shows a starving child in Somalia. Both of these photos have a religious or faith element to me; the cross with the explosion behind it is more apparent where the photo of the young starving child in a prayer like position is more nuanced. They both represent death; the death and destruction of the Twin Towers, which meant the death of thousands of people and the death of an architectural landmark and the death of an innocent child who looks lonely beyond belief at the end of their life.
The top photo shows a single person walking around an abandoned building in New York on 9/11, the bottom photo shows a factory worker in Czechoslovakia. What struck me about both of these photos was the beautiful filtered light that is present its illumination of the darkness. It adds enough levity to make these photographs interesting and not fully depressing. They both feature a lone, shadowed individual being dwarfed by the large machinery that surrounds them. These two photos were taken more than ten years apart but they set a singular mood. They made me contemplate the people featured and their thoughts in that moment. The viewer is privy to their appearance but not their feelings on what they see at that exact moment and that is what makes these two pictures alike and intriguing.