"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
September 2007 Archives
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September 30, 2007
CHORDS OF COMPASSION
From Barbara Blackburn Tuttle, Hoboken, N.J….
"I first read about your book, and your story, in my Amherst magazine--the book is just amazing. I wanted to tell you about another extraordinary 9/11 project that I thought might interest you, Music From Ground Zero.
"My husband, Tim, is one of those wildly musical people who didn't go into music; because he became, instead, an energy broker, he was directly across the street from the WTC (where he had worked for several years) on 9/11. What he saw that day (which he still can't really talk about), and the friends he lost, broke his heart, and caused the music that had been inside him all his life to come out. The music eventually became Music From Ground Zero and every year he has done a truly stunning musical memorial. (It [was] performed this year at The Knitting Factory on September 11th.)
"The music is AMAZING, gorgeous and anthemic and incredibly soulful. (Perhaps not randomly, his cousin is Richard Tuttle, the minimalist; I think there is a wild creative streak in their Scottish-Germanic blood--though Tim's is way more motional work.)
"Many people have felt there is a rock opera in this music waiting to be born. I think that would be an impossible thing to sit down and compose--but the music never started that way. Writing this music was how Tim dealt with what he could not deal with: in one of the first songs he wrote 'I think I saw the unthinkable...' It was how he slowly healed and how he found a way to remember friends he had waved to that morning who had vanished into the air.
"That was the section of your book [pages 36-48] that crushed me the most -- the part about the 'Missing' posters. I remember them so vividly (one, on the wall at Bellevue [Hospital], was for a young man who needed medication; it was taped up with 'Fragile' tape from the post office.) I was struck, as you were, by the nature of the photographs--wedding pictures, men holding up their children, family gatherings. Humanity at its best. They seemed to be both beseeching the fates and addressing the dark, at that time still nameless force that had wrought the tragedy: surely you were not aiming at this. You meant to strike some abstract symbol of corporate greed--not this vast, lovestruck, beating, breaking heart under the glass and steel and the suits.
"Thank you so much for your time, and for being someone, like Tim, who insists that this must never be forgotten."
(A follow-up e-mail from Barbara…)
"The music is extraordinary, and some really lovely circles have already gone out from it. Tim is rabidly against this war, but like everyone wanted to do something for the troops. Because so many of the songs deal with losing friends, and finding hope beyond grief, he got the idea of sending CD's to Iraq. He got some amazing emails, and then last year a soldier on leave appeared at the 9/11 show at The Knitting Factory. He was a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, very polite, quite shy, who had come to New York that night to give Tim the flag he and many other soldiers had signed in a gesture of thanks for the music. He made it back again this year.
"Then last year, on September 12, Tim got an email from a middle school teacher in (very) rural Georgia, who had come on his website in an effort to find some way to connect her students to 9/11. She had had them listen to the music and then write (or draw) about their memories and thoughts about that day. She sent the papers to Tim, and they are so touching, in that way that only kids can be. ('Dear Tim, I am very sorry for your friends. But you and I both know they are in a better place. Your friend, Justin.' There is a crayon drawing of a skyline with no towers; below it, like a reflection and colored in blue, is a skyline with the towers still standing...)
"Tim and the kids wrote back and forth all year, about 9/11, and all kinds of things-- music, life, fishing, football. When one of the kids was tragically killed in an accident, they played Tim's song at the memorial. Tim flew the teacher and her daughter up for this years's show, and is planning to go down to visit them all later this fall.
"I am a great believer in the healing power of music. (I loved, loved the Vanity Fair piece on music in Mali. And then did you see the CNN piece on the prison in Indonesia where the prisoners have several hours a day of mandatory dance practice? Violence is way down and they're getting ready to put on 'Thriller.' Amazing.)
"I hope you enjoy the music. And thank you again for what you have done with the book and your website."
September 25, 2007
THE BONDS OF A BLOG
Ron Hogan, in his GalleyCat column on Mediabistro.com, writes about this Web site in a posting, “How 9/11 Changed Our Relationship to the News.” Quoth Hogan: "The bond between author, readers, and history is not just confined to the book, however; the website Friend created continues to serve almost as a ‘shadow’ narrative, where people continue to submit their pictures of the events.” The Shadow Knows.
Which reminds me: Please send pictures and recollections that you would like to share -- of September 11, the aftermath, and related issues -- to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mediabistro also links to a YouTube video of a talk I gave this month about Watching the World Change for employees at Google’s sprawling new headquarters on Manhattan’s West Side. Ogle it HERE.
I’m also grateful to Mary Anne Ross, who wrote a piece in the Monroe Township (New Jersey) Sentinel, saying that during a recent talk Friend “held his audience at the township library spellbound.” Who’s to quibble?
SENTINEL PHOTO BY JEFF GRANIT
FROM THE E-MAIL BAG:
...From Renee Birenbaum, Tufts University, Class of 2009…
"But the converse of this process is that people who have direct ties to the tragedy want to tell others of their personal experiences, as if to brag about having a personal stake in a worldwide 'moment.' Akin to 'Where were you when JFK was shot?' stories, people seem to want to outdo each other with showing how personally affected they were by 9/11, by making it clear that what outsiders saw on TV is only half the story.
"I remember that on that day, we were called into the gym for an assembly - by then, I had dealt with the horror that followed listening to a classmate's father on AM 1010 [WINS Radio] describing what was happening, which lasted for four hours until I finally reached my own father, a downtown commuter, on his cell phone. A knot of kids were talking near me, and I heard one girl say 'My aunt worked in the twin towers, but went on a smoke break...so smoking saved her life.' Another kid added impressively that his father who worked in the WTC had overslept for the first time in his life that morning.
"And you know, I could have told them about my dad walking out of the subway station there a few minutes before the first plane hit, hearing the collision, looking up and seeing the fireball, and beginning the sprint to Broadway. But I felt so disgusted by the whole activity, this sort of narcissism over having firsthand experience in this momentous day - especially because I knew that there were kids in that gym who hadn't yet gotten in contact with their parents and other loved ones, kids who never did. It seemed so perverse to want to share these stories of miraculous survival when others' stories would be of suffering and loss.
"In an age where technology makes us realize just how many people there are in this world, and how few ever become newsworthy, I can see why people would jump at the chance to say they were part of something that will forever be imprinted on this generation's consciousness - but how do we define the precarious balance between telling these stories for therapeutic reasons, and perhaps dishonoring or belittling the lives of those people who weren't lucky enough to oversleep or go out for a cigarette?
"I didn't feel comfortable raising my hand with this during your presentation because I felt that saying 'on the day my mom found out she was pregnant with Andrew, my family was terrified until my father walked in the door, covered in soot' would seem like gloating. And at the same time, shouldn't these things remain private, these moments when the Rest of the World somehow managed to penetrate my suburban bubble and directly affect my family? But then again, years from now I'll be able to show my children exactly how I felt on 9/11, because they will be able to see the same images and footage that I did six years ago.
"I know this email has been long-winded, and if you've gotten this far I salute you. But basically my question comes down to this: what do you think of the effect that the media has had on the public's way of dealing with such tragedies, especially with respect to the need that people feel to make their own personal 9/11 story known?"
I believe that it is a natural human impulse to turn personal experience of an event into an eyewitness account and sometimes this seems to the outside observer to border on gossip or one-up-man-ship. Since people have little experience in how to modulate their accounts of being a witness to tragedy, I think many can be forgiven their need to aggrandize their role or their own personal tale.
For the first time since World War II, war came to our shores on September 11, 2001. And so our personal narratives were bound up in the grander narrative because, in our own way, each of us felt a part of history. Each of us understood, subconsciously, that his or her very narrow experience represented something more universal. Our individual tales did matter. And so we felt compelled to share those experiences.
That said, you're right: the media has made us all mini-story tellers and has trained us well. When I was growing up “way back in the day,” people were not as savvy about being photographed for the press, about how their family or community or company would be portrayed in the newspapers or on television. But nowadays, everyone seems to know how to talk the media talk, how to market himself or herself (think about the industry in college resume consulting!) Now, every kid with a few software programs is his or her own programmer, creating videos, composing songs, making their own stories heard. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Apropos of this exchange with Renee, photographer Alan Chin has posted a probing photo essay on Michael Shaw's popular photo-related blog, BagNewsNotes. By focusing on bystanders' reactions to the sixth anniversary of the attacks, Chin's images, shot this past September 11 within a two-block radius of Ground Zero, address how we are still trying to grapple with our responses to 9/11 and, further, make us ponder the relevance of memorializing in this breakneck age.
PHOTO BY ALAN CHIN
September 22, 2007
LEADERS AND LENSES
HALLUCINATION, YEAR 4. President Bush asserted this week: “Some say the gains we are making in Iraq come too late. They are mistaken. It is never too late to deal a blow to al-Qaeda.” Huh? Is he the only person in the country who doesn’t get it? As they say: the Emperor has no flak-jacket.
CAMERA CRAZY. The New England Patriots have been using cameras to swipe opponents’ signals . . . . Twenty thousand online volunteers, using so-called “smart mob” connectivity, spent part of the last two weeks sitting at their computers and searching the nooks and crannies of satellite photographs to find the wreckage of the missing plane of adventurer-aviator Steve Fossett, whose plane went missing in Nevada on September 3 . . . . There’s an ever-more-popular practice among the about-to-be-engaged, the Times reported Thursday: young men, in increasing numbers, are asking friends or even outside agencies to surreptitiously photograph them in public places as they pop the question to their would-be brides. “The trend is on the rise to have all the moments documented in your life,” the Times quote Anna Post, author of Emily Post’s Wedding Parties.” . . . . Opening sentence of Watching the World Change: The eyes are everywhere.
THE TIMES, IN PRAISE OF GIULIANI. New York City firefighters, Democrats everywhere, pro-lifers, artists, civil libertarians, yours truly – there is virtually a double-rainbow coalition against Rudy Giuliani. That’s why it was refreshingly counterintuitive yesterday for the newspaper of record to run a positive profile, by Michael Powell on the former mayor, going back to the day that defined him, and the months thereafter. I encourage the open-minded to absorb it. Even though it doesn’t alter my opinion that Giuliani would be a clear and present danger in the Oval Office, on many, many levels, it does remind me of his composed command that one day in September – and in the weeks thereafter.
Among the highlights of Powell's piece yesterday: “That walk north, the spareness of his words, and his passion became the founding stones in the reconstruction of the mayor’s reputation, transforming him from a grouchy pol slip-sliding into irrelevancy to the Republican presidential candidate introduced as America’s mayor. The former mayor has made this day the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, aware that millions of Americans hold that heroic view in their collective mind’s eye….His performance shone brighter for the implicit comparison with President George W. Bush, who initially appeared – fairly or not – frozen in his chair, listening to second graders read as a nation came under attack.”
RELATED POST: FIREFIGHTERS’ ANTI-GIULIANI VIDEO
September 13, 2007
Coverage of the paperback continues, I'm gratified to say.
Kevin L. Carter, writing for U.S. 1, out of Princeton, New Jersey, offers a kind assessment of Watching the World Change in his piece, "Analyzing the Photos of 9/11."
VanityFair.com, the ever-reliable Web site, provides a slideshow of significant images from the pages of the book, including this arresting image by photographer Rob Howard who happened to lean out his window with a medium-format camera at the very instant the second plane made its fatal approach toward with the south tower.
PHOTO BY ROB HOWARD
And then, in its efforts to disseminate online versions of every morsel of media, unfiltered, YouTube has posted an entire 40-plus-minute talk I gave at Google's New York headquarters -- warts and all, quite literally. Tell a friend or two.
GOOGLE-GRAB OF YOURS TRULY
I have a new theory, germinated just now. I call it Repurposing Calculus. In the mathematics of Repurposing Calculus, the above clip is a Derivative 4: four steps removed from the original media creation. It is a screen grab for a Website, taken from a Google video, recorded at a lunchtime talk, about a book. (Since the book is about media, it could arguably be recomputed as a Derivative 5. And if you email me a comment about the video, and I post it on this Website, together we could extend the chain to a Derivative 6 or 7.)
All of which is a way of warning: We are perpetually at a remove from the spark of creativity, writing not books but blog posts, reacting not to films but to reviews, hearing not symphonies but random iPod shuffles. Our synapses are hot-wired to synopses.
ANNIVERSARY, SHRUNK TO LIFE-SIZE
Jim Dwyer, co-author of the remarkable book, 102 Minutes, had an uplifitng piece in yesterday's New York Times, reporting on the ceremony down at Ground Zero, on the sixth anniversary of the attacks.
These passages moved me to the verge of tears:
“Yesterday, on a showery morning, no more than a few hundred relatives and friends of the dead gathered on Liberty Street. Ahead of them, a grove of construction cranes rose from the pit of ground zero. Behind them, traffic heaved along Broadway, the soaring notes of a flutist’s ‘Amazing Grace’ dueling with the diesel wheeze of buses.
“The families hiked down a ramp to drop flowers into a pool. No one will make precisely that memory walk again; the ground will be built over next year.
“Sept. 11, as a public occasion, has shrunk to life-size: potent as ever for people holding photographs of fathers on their wedding days and mothers in their backyards, but unlikely to start wars again.
“Babies are in first grade, children have graduated from high school, teenagers have finished college.”
September 11, 2007
September 10, 2007
SIX YEARS ON
O, TANNENBAUM. On the evening of September 10, 2001, I ran into photojournalist Allan Tannenbaum at an auction to raise money for the charity Friends in Deed. The next morning Tannenbaum was off into the breach, coming away with key, enduring images of the attacks.
I urge readers to click over to the current issue of the Digital Journalist, which was posted yesterday, featuring Tannenbaum’s gripping documentation of individuals struggling with illnesses that medical experts attribute to their exposure to toxic materials in the air downtown in the weeks and months after the attacks.
GIULIANI RECONSIDERED. This weekend’s New York Times column by Gail Collins, “Giuliani’s Ground Zero Legacy,” was hard-hitting and dead-on. Quoth Collins: “The man has so identified himself with 9/11 that it’s amazing he hasn’t tried to patent it.” CLICK HERE for the full text, if you get Times Select.
TIMELY NOTICE. Speaking of the sage Times, its Book Review yesterday showcased Watching the World Change in “Paperback Row,” calling it “a lucid, wide-ranging analysis of the cultural impact of the day’s imagery, from news coverage to amateur photography” – a hybrid of responses about the book that have been previously written for the Times by Garrison Keillor and Frank Rich.
Hats off to the Formerly Gray Lady.
September 7, 2007
SEEING, BELIEVING, REMEMBERING
At times, what I remember most distinctly are the images snapped by average citizens: the shot of the architect who, eight months into her pregnancy, stood on Fifth Avenue and asked a co-worker photograph her with the smoking towers in the distance (below); the woman upset and disheveled as she adjusted her hairpin, talking on her cell phone as her bedroom TV set echoed the horror outside her window; the man collapsed into the folds of a dust-covered wall, weeping into his phone....
PHOTO COURTESY ISABEL DASER BESSLER
These instants, most of them captured by New York-area residents who decided to make public their private views of the day, were gathered for an exhibition that has become the most significant archive of still photographs – some 8,000 strong -- related to the September 11 attacks and their aftermath. Now, many of those pictures (from the original exhibition/installation/archive/book of the same name: Here is New York, curated by Alice Rose George, Gilles Peress, Michael Shulan, and Charles Traub) will go on view in an exhibition that opens at the New-York Historical Society.
The photographs will be accompanied by objects recovered from the World Trade Center site: a messenger bike, the remains of a safety-deposit box, a melted timepiece – all forming a sort of time capsule of our collective September 11 experience.
The exhibition runs through January 2008.
BIN THERE, SEEN THAT
As experts pore over what is purported to be a new videotape from Osama bin Laden, pegged to the sixth anniversary of the attacks, I wanted to reprise this passage from Watching the World Change (pages 176-78):
“Once bin Laden went into hiding after the September 11 attacks, he ceased to exist as a bona fide ‘public’ figure and, instead, became his image.
"Just hours after the first U.S. aerial raids on Afghanistan, on October 7, he suddenly materialized on Qatar’s al-Jazeera network….On November 3 and December 26, he resurfaced [yet again]. The videos, of course, burnished bin Laden as man and as myth. Unlike still photographs, which could be doctored more convincingly – and with cheaper software – videos provided flesh-and-blood proof of his having survived, and their accompanying audio tracks made it possible to date them, since bin Laden would invariably refer to an event in the recent past. The tapes became the centerpiece of a concerted media campaign by al-Qaeda to convince the world that its leader -- thought by some to have been killed, wounded, or cornered … was still among the living and in command.
“The tapes conveyed a measure of technical sophistication. They projected distinctive personality traits, and physical resilience, that still pictures could not. And they reinforced the extent of bin Laden’s political reach. In the past, according to the old saw, all politics was local. Now, in the age of electronic connectivity, all political acts had the potential for worldwide impact, through the ripple effects afforded by global media. All that was required, bin Laden understood, was a leader with charisma, a cause, and access to a camera.”
September 6, 2007
From Alexander Newman, of New York City...
"Reading the first chapter of Watching..., I was struck by the notion that photographers felt impelled to record, and drawn to the site. Perhaps similarly, I felt compelled to preserve the email I sent to my friends and family around the country and around the world that afternoon, recording my experience of the day. It's been ONLINE HERE, since then, unedited.
"Thanks again, for a timely, if uncomfortable, reminder of 'the Event.'"
From Nikki Stern, author, blogger (1WomansVu), of New Jersey, who lost her husband, James Potorti on September 11, 2001...
"The changes you discuss re the availability of and approach to images is so different. Reality TV is as much a part of the trend of 'showing it all' as YouTube is. There's also the increasing use of the Internet by radical factions to show things like public executions and on the other side, there's a flattening and broadening of news - there's no hierarchy in terms of what's important. So your depressing but probably accurate notion that we may pass through a period of prurient voyeurism (hope that's not redundant) makes sense."
A Los Angeles reader of the book and this blog, Jim Colligan, was intrigued enough by my recent posting, "MyPod" (about a new device that allows people to literally turn their cameras inward to take self-portraits), that he sent along this image of CNN's Anderson Cooper, practicing his own version of "autofocus." Yet more evidence that this guy's got it all: A committed journalist, intrepid on-air correspondent, and videographer, to boot. (He's also a hell of a nice guy; Cooper agreed to provide a blurb for Watching the World Change, for which I'm forever grateful.)
PHOTO BY JAMES COLLIGAN
Writes, Colligan: "Your Aug. 21 photo of the MyPod accessory reminded me of a photo I shot at last year's big immigration demonstration here in Los Angeles. AC360 might be interested in the invention."
Here's the image of the new XShot device, from last month, that prompted Colligan's candid:
September 5, 2007
GOOGLE'S PHOTO SYNTHESIS
In an hour or two I'm speaking about Watching the World Change at a luncheon for employees at the New York offices of Google. Seems like the right audience. The Search-Ad-App behemoth is currently involved in a number of photo-centric initiatives, from GoogleEarth to GoogleSky to scanning a cool million images from the photo archives of the now-defunct Life magazine to the announcement, four days ago, that Google will begin hosting traffic from four key news services on its very own servers (a move that potentially threatens to cut traffic to newspaper Websites, aggregating it, where else?, on Google's Home Sweet Home Page).
Seems time to resurrect a piece I did for Vanity Fair several months back: Dick Cheney's Google searches. CLICK HERE and all will be revealed!
I also recommend this week's cover story in The Economist, "Who's Afraid of Google?"
And, while we're at it, here's an April piece posted on this site: Google, Cameras, and a Cause.
Scary as it is, it's becoming Google's Universe, online, and we just browse in it.
September 1, 2007
RAW, RED-MEAT CLICKABILITY
"Reading/writing people…we are ghosts witnessing the end of the literary era."
I was thinking about this line, from Philip Roth’s forthcoming and highly anticipated novel, Exit Ghost (out in October) – the ninth and final book of his Zuckerman cycle – when I encountered AOL’s home page last night.
Of the 16 headlines featured on the first four rotating splash screens last evening, 11 were about sex, relationships, substance abuse, or public image. (NOTE: As lame as it sounds, I still use my AOL account on occasion. And, equally as lame, I have not yet taken the time to personalize my AOL home page. Which means: I am no more likely than anyone else to receive news blasts of this nature.)
The 11, in the order they appeared:
In the hierarchy of AOL, the slumping economy, terrorism, the war in Iraq, even summer storm updates, were not on the radar, at least not on the generic home page that I receive. And why not? It seems that across the culture we’re attuned not to substance but surface, not to meaning but mirage, not to the literate but to the latest sleaze-tease. We want raw, red-meat, clickability. And we want it byte-sized. And we want it now, now, now.
It's not about aborsbing what's on the page. It's about maximizing the page-views.
Perhaps I should give up the AOL ghost, since I only use the service intermittently. Or maybe I’ll tailor my AOL home page so I won’t have to burden anyone further with such rants.