Recent History

It's hard to fathom that it's been a year since that clear blue morning on the East Coast when everything changed. It's also hard to forget, given that every media outlet in America is trying to outdo the competition with so-called commemorations.

In these weird times, we're fortunate to have the work of Joel Meyerowitz. A street photographer in the tradition of Cartier-Bresson, the native New Yorker is also the author of magnificent pastoral landscapes, including loving pictures of his hometown's singular skyline.

He was on Cape Cod when the towers fell, but he returned to the city as soon as he was allowed and went straight to Ground Zero.

"I found myself standing in the crowd," Meyerowitz told New Times over the phone, "and I did the most simple gesture: I raised my camera to my eye to see what the world looked like through the frame. I hear, No photographs, buddy. It's a crime scene.' And I said to myself, Wow, what have we here -- a crime scene with no photographs?' We're a nation that swallows everything we do photographically! I had this crazy moment of revelation, and I thought, I'm going to make an archive.'"

Meyerowitz eventually talked his way onto the site ("You know the expression chutzpah'? It was that and more.") and began documenting everything he could. He stayed for nine months, the only photographer to be granted unimpeded access to Ground Zero.

"I tried to think and see historically," he says now. "What will be important in 50 years? The single most artful' asset that I could give was to try to be self-effacing -- a very delicate task, because artists always want to affirm their point of view. But this felt too big to me, something on the monumental scale of nature."

He shot the images with a large-format camera, lugging his wooden tripod around the site and using what he calls "the gasp reflex" to determine his shots. "When I went Ahhhh,' that's when I took a picture. I never used one moment of a telephoto lens. Everything you see is in deep space, which means you're standing there. What I really wanted was to allow the viewer to stand in my shoes and look out into the pile and have a visceral reaction."

From about 6,000 images Meyerowitz collected, he and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art have chosen 27 photographs for an exhibition opening on Saturday. SMoCA director Susan Krane, who visited Ground Zero with Meyerowitz last spring, says of his work, "Until I saw Joel's photographs, I don't think anything I read about the event was as meaningful to me. I was re-reminded of the sheer power of pictures."

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Deborah Sussman Susser