here is new york: a democracy of photographs
“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.”-E.B. White, Here is New York, 1949
here is new york was organized by four individuals (Michael Shulan, Charles Traub, Gilles Peress, and Alice Rose George) in the days immediately following the destruction of the World Trade Center. Its original mission was twofold. The organizers wanted to mount an exhibition of photographs relating to the events of 9.11.01 that was as broad and democratic as possible, open to anyone and everybody. Secondly, by selling prints of these photographs they hoped to raise money for the surviving children of those victims who might otherwise not be adequately taken care of: children of restaurant workers, undocumented immigrants, and the like.
The exhibition began during the third week of September in a small vacant storefront on Prince Street in Soho. The first photograph, a nondescript picture of the World Trade Center, was taped up in the front window. The call for submissions went out, and the response was immediate and overwhelming. In those turbulent days, it seemed as if everyone in New York had a camera. Thousands of photographers donated pictures; hundreds of thousands of people visited the impromptu gallery to view and to buy them; literally millions of people have by now seen the website, www.hereisnewyork.org. Ultimately, photographs from the attack on the Pentagon, the downing of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, and of events in Afghanistan would be added. In the past year, here is new york has extended its audience, publishing a book and exhibiting the project worldwide. Its charitable aspirations have been successful beyond the organizers’ wildest hopes: to date, over $600,000 have been donated to the Children’s Aid Society WTC Relief Fund.
here is new york is subtitled “a democracy of photographs” because the images on display were taken not only by top photojournalists and other professional photographers but by schoolchildren, police officers, firemen, investment bankers, rescue workers, and amateurs of every stripe. In keeping with the project’s truly populist nature (which the organizers feel is not only appropriate to the events of 9.11.01 but intrinsic to understanding them) all the pictures are hung identically, unframed and without titles or the photographers’ names. The significance of the exhibition lies in its content, in its breadth and multiplicity, not in the source or relative value of any one image or group of images. Photography, it turns out, is the perfect vehicle to express what happened that day and in the days after, since the medium is democratic by its nature and the images infinitely reproducible.
The guiding principle of here is new york is simple: if one photograph tells a story, thousands of photographs not only tell thousands of stories but perhaps begin to tell the story, if they are allowed to speak for themselves, to each other, and to the audience. In the political sphere it is this principle, after all, which America’s founders advanced as they developed our democracy: wisdom lies not in the vision or will of any one individual or small group, but in the collective vision of us all.
When here is new york first opened, its organizers envisioned an exhibition that would stay open for three weeks. Now, one year later, it has become clear that the terrible events which unfolded in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania last September are part of a larger story. And so, besides announcing that these photographs represent the face of our tragedy, here is new york declares that we understand the problem of terrorism to be a global one that respects no geographic or cultural boundaries. After 9.11, New York is Everywhere.
This exhibition was underwritten by Target Stores.