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Photographs from Ground Zero exhibited on UC campus

By Alisa Weinstein and Gerasimos Rigas Special to the Daily Planet
Saturday November 17, 2001

As soon as the first airplane hit the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, photographers and ordinary citizens alike grabbed their cameras and rushed toward the scene to record history as it unfolded.  

They stood on rooftops and in city streets to take pictures of smoke rising from the twisted wreckage of the towers, of rescue workers tending to bloodied victims, of people weeping or just staring at the crumbling towers in disbelief. In the days that followed, they photographed hand-drawn leaflets plastered on storefronts by New Yorkers desperate to find their missing loved ones, prayer circles and memorial services. 

Two hundred of the images captured will be on display starting this Sunday at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism as part of a show entitled: “Here Is New York: Images from the Frontline of History.”  

The pictures are part of a much larger exhibit of thousands of photographs taken by professionals and amateurs put together two weeks after the attacks in a storefront in New York’s SoHo district, not far from Ground Zero. 

“Here is a show that came out of this disaster that happened very quickly,” said Professor Ken Light, who along with his wife, Melanie, worked with the SoHo exhibit’s creators to bring the photographs to Berkeley. “It’s based on this wonderful energy of these people in New York who were so moved by what happened that they left their lives behind and have just devoted incredible effort to putting this show together. We’re excited to be a part of that.”  

A number of the photographs in the Berkeley show illustrate the impact of the World Trade Center tragedy on New York City and its citizens. There are pictures of the city before, during and after the attacks, portraits of firefighters and police officers as well as images of people coming to work in the wreckage. Copies of the pictures can be purchased for $25. Proceeds go to The Children’s Aid Society.  

Among the photographs is the last picture taken by photojournalist Bill Biggart before he died in the collapse of the second tower. Biggart’s widow gave his equipment bag to photographer Chip East after it was pulled from the rubble. He was surprised to find that his colleague’s film had survived. East’s photograph of Biggart’s ravaged camera along with his dust-covered press pass is one of the most moving images in the show. 

Although television news has continuously beamed many of these images into American living rooms since the event, this exhibit offers a different way for people to come to terms with the tragedy. 

“With television, the process is fed to you,” said Light. “With a photography show, it allows you as the viewer to decide at what pace you want to take it in. 

“A person can stand in front of a photograph for five minutes or a half an hour and when they’re finished looking, they can move on and they can return to that image if they want.” 

For the show’s organizers in New York, it was important that the exhibit in Berkeley be an exact replica of the original – down to the kind of wire and clips used to hang the pictures. The photographs were to be displayed not with frames or protective casing, but simply hung from silver wire with plain, black clips. The photographs are also anonymous, labeled only with numbers to underscore the idea that each of the pictures, whether taken by a renowned photographer or a regular onlooker, are equally important. 

Light and students from the journalism school have been working since last week to hang all of the images for the show’s Nov. 18 opening.  

“This is an incredible experiment for us,” said Light. “Just putting it up so quickly and disrupting what we’ve been doing and deciding to put this energy into it.” 

Two New York photographers, Susan Watts and Ed Keating, who were both at Ground Zero, will speak about their experiences at the exhibit’s opening. The photographs will be on display through Dec. 24.  

Melanie Light hopes the show will bring Bay Area residents, who are 3,000 miles away from Ground Zero, closer to what happened in New York.  

“We can’t just shove this under the rug, as much as we’d like to,” she said. “This is an important event in our history and we need to come to terms with it personally and as a country.  

“Although we were emotionally rocked, to see these images in an intimate setting and to talk to the photographers who were there on that day just brings us in closer contact.”