By JEREMY ADAMSON
During the past year, the curators of the Prints and Photographs Division (P&P) have been engaged in an intense and highly focused campaign to collect a broad range of pictorial images that both factually document and creatively interpret the terrible events of September 11, 2001. The division's goal was to build visual archives that, spanning all collection formats, would accurately represent the nature and scope of artistic expressions prompted by the terrorist attacks on America. Many are on display in the exhibition, "Witness and Response: September 11 Acquisitions at the Library of Congress," which opens in the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building on Sept. 7.
The acquisition process was often distressing: reviewing hundreds of photographs recording death and destruction proved deeply disturbing. But recognizing the courage of the rescue crews amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center and the heartfelt patriotism of everyday Americans in so many of the photographs proved uplifting. Energizing, too, was the extraordinary generosity the curators encountered in their search for acquisitions. Excited to discover that the nation's oldest cultural institution was wholly committed to building archives of current creativity, artists of all kinds, as well as their supporters, were eager to assist in the process. An unusual spirit of collaboration–part of the spirit of unity that blossomed in the aftermath of the attacks–spontaneously developed, and an extra-ordinary number of creators either donated their works or offered them to the Library at cost. As a result, the Library now has several thousand works by a wide array of artists, photographers, graphic designers, print makers, architects, illustrators and editorial cartoonists. At the beginning of the quest, however, the curators had no idea where it would lead or what it would contain. But they knew they had to start quickly. All manner of creative responses, both traditional and unconventional, were appearing on the horizon daily. If the division didn't move quickly, the Library would lose opportunities to collect vital materials.
As an important first step to orienting the acquisition process, division chief Jeremy Adamson and head curator Harry Katz assembled all the special memorial issues published by weekly news magazines. Looking at hundreds of published photographs allowed all curators to assess the work of photojournalists and to recognize the unique and terrible iconography of the 9/11 disaster–airplanes being flown into office buildings and the resulting fireballs; collapsing towers; storm clouds of pulverized concrete; ash-covered survivors; burned and twisted structural steel; and exhausted firemen and police.
Curators learned to make critical distinctions among the photographs, to identify qualities that made one picture more compelling than another and determine what constituted a truly iconic 9/11 image. Later, this initial review of published work provided the experience and confidence to make significant acquisitions among the many unpublished images the staff soon encountered.
In late October, photography curator Carol Johnson saw the first of a series of ten, full-page photo essays published in USA Today titled "Courageous Americans." Sponsored by the Burger King Corporation, they featured stark, black-and-white portraits of rescue personnel taken by famed New York photographer Richard Avedon, along with short descriptions of the rescuers' personal courage. She contacted a friend in Avedon's studio to discover whether the original photographic portraits were available. They were not, but her initiative ultimately led to the donation by Burger King of a unique set of the photo essays, printed as a suite of posters especially for the Library. Two are on display in "Witness and Response."
In December, following up on a previous trip, Katz, with Adamson and Johnson, visited the Bolivar Arellano Gallery in New York to review an extraordinary display of some 250 color images of Ground Zero taken during and immediately after the attacks by 20 local news photographers. Typically, the work of New York photojournalists is not publicly exhibited. While a handful of their images taken on assignment appear in newspapers and magazines, the vast majority of their work remains unseen. But the indispensable role of photojournalism in recording the destruction of the World Trade Center and the selfless acts of bravery by emergency personnel altered the status quo entirely. Every still photo shot that day is now critical, historical evidence.
A news photographer himself, Arellano had opened his small exhibit space specifically to display the September 11 photos taken by his friends and colleagues, as well as his own. All wanted their work to bear public witness to the shocking tragedy–the biggest story they would ever cover–as well as to honor the dead and the actions of the living. When P&P staff visited, the out-of-the-way gallery had become a spontaneous gathering place for rescue personnel, the participating photographers, and victims' family members, all still struggling to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster and its impact on their lives. The Library recognized the significance of the little-advertised collection, and the 126 riveting images that Johnson selected for the collection reveal photojournalism at its best.
By late November, a variety of 9/11-related exhibitions had been quickly organized, especially in New York where local audiences were in need of collective, therapeutic relief from the trauma they suffered. The displays were constantly crowded. Some, like a museum show that featured the work of members of the elite Magnum Photos news agency, were exclusive; others, like "This Is New York: A Democracy of Photographs," were radically inclusive and unedited. Any snapshot taken that day was accepted. These and other concurrent 9/11 shows in Manhattan greatly assisted P&P curators to survey the nature and range of creative artworks as well as documentary images, and acquisition-related trips to Manhattan became frequent.
On one trip in early 2002, Katz, a cartoon and caricature specialist, visited a show at Exit Art, a non-profit, cultural center and alternative art exhibition gallery not far from the World Trade Center site. It was an unusual display–original illustrations by leading comic book artists on the 9/11 theme. The comic book is a powerful and compelling storytelling medium, and in the aftermath of September 11, illustrators were among the first artists to respond to the terrorist attacks. In an unprecedented action, a coalition of publishers, writers and illustrators quickly joined forces to produce a remarkable, two-volume anthology, "September 11: The World's Finest Comic Book Writers and Artists Tell Stories to Remember." Original work for these books, as well as for another graphic publication, "World War III Illustrated," was on display at Exit Art. Impressed by the high quality of the cartoons on view, Katz and curatorial assistant Martha Kennedy immediately contacted the editors and publishers to inquire about possible acquisitions. All were highly enthusiastic and in turn contacted the artists who, in a remarkable display of generosity and unity, donated 335 original drawings to the Library.
Concurrently, Exit Art had mounted a second, more inclusive exhibition, "Reactions: A Global Response to the 9/11 Attacks." Recognizing that people everywhere had an urgent need to freely communicate their feelings publicly, the staff of the avant-garde gallery had sent out a worldwide appeal by letter and e-mail for individuals to send in creative responses. There was one simple criterion: each artwork had to be on an 8 1/2 x 11-inch sheet of paper. When Katz saw the show, some 2,443 original pieces were on view, hanging densely in rows from wires strung across the gallery. They included heartfelt and highly personal creations: drawings, paintings, photographs, collages, letters, digital prints, poems and graphic designs. The exhibit was American in spirit–completely open and democratic. Everyone was an equal participant; sophisticated work by internationally recognized artists hung side-by-side with drawings submitted by children.
These were ready-made, visual archives, revealing a wide variety of social, cultural and emotional reactions to the terrorist attacks; the same-sized works expressed strong feelings–grief, fear, anger, hope, patriotism, even strong antiwar sentiment. A critical and popular success, the unique show was an attractive, if unusual, acquisition for the division's growing 9/11 collection. Subsequently, Adamson and Katz met with the board of directors of Exit Art to present the case that the Library of Congress was the appropriate repository of this unique array of creative responses from individuals in 27 countries. They enthusiastically approved, and the Exit Art Reactions Collection was acquired at cost, rights-free. Representative examples are included in "Witness and Response."
In early 2002, another unconventional exhibition opened in New York, "A New World Trade Center: Design Proposals." In collaboration with the editors of Architectural Record, gallery owner Max Protetch had invited more than 100 architects worldwide to submit imaginative proposals for the redevelopment of the Twin Towers site. Sixty, including many internationally acclaimed practitioners in the field, sent sets of drawings, models, and photographs, as well as state-of-the-art electronic and digital presentations of their ideas. Freed from practical, real-world constraints imposed by clients, and incorporating radically different technological, economic, social and philosophical approaches, the proposals were highly creative and forward-looking. Taken as a group, they provided a remarkable "snapshot" of advanced architectural thinking at the beginning of the 21st century.
After it opened in New York, the architecture show attracted extraordinary media attention and unprecedented, standing-room-only crowds. Ford Peatross, P&P's curator of architectural, design and engineering collections, raised the idea of acquiring the unique collection, and in April 2002, when the show traveled to the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., (where it broke attendance records), it was carefully reviewed by the curators and Diane Kresh, director for public service collections. Recognizing its importance, Kresh authorized its acquisition. Adding to the growing critical acclaim of "A New World Trade Center" was the fact that it had been selected by the U.S. Department of State to be America's official entry at the 2002 Biennale di Venezia, the celebrated international architecture exhibition scheduled for this fall in Venice. Examples of the conceptual designs–including the well-known "Towers of Light" proposal–are digitally displayed in the Library's current September 11 exhibition.
Gallery owner Protetch also introduced Adamson and Peatross to the fine art photographer Joel Meyerowitz. Although best known for his exquisite, light-filled landscape and marine views, he was the only photographer officially authorized to remain on the World Trade Center site after September 11 and document the work. Until May 2002, when the debris was finally cleared, he devoted himself to photographing the steady demolition, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, and the retrieval of victims. His beautiful but haunting scenes of the ruins at all times of the day and night, along with his portraits of construction workers, police and firemen at Ground Zero, have attracted widespread national and international attention. After reviewing a selection with the photographer in New York, Adamson and Katz chose fifteen large-size, color compositions for the Library's collections, several of which are on view in "Witness and Response."
Another well-known photographer, Carol Highsmith, unexpectedly donated a stunning panoramic photograph she took of lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center from a helicopter on a clear day in early August 2001 (see photo, page 176). Almost a year later, she was invited to accompany the cross-country trip of the final remains of the Twin Towers, a massive piece of structural steel that will be melted down and turned into a memorial sculpture in California. Along the way, as the truck stopped in cities and towns, tens of thousands reached out to touch the damaged beam and personally share in America's collective grief. Highsmith documented the extraordinary journey, recently donating her set of color photographs, along with their rights.
After the trip, Highsmith put Peatross in touch with company officials in charge of recycling the steel from Ground Zero. For the Library's current memorial exhibition, they especially saved the last burned and crushed fragments of structural steel and metal cladding from the World Trade Center. A strong supporter of the Library, the energetic photographer also helped to arrange for another gift–a piece of limestone torn from the Pentagon (see article, p. 176). On display in the exhibition, these artifacts are tangible records of the physical devastation suffered on September 11, 2001.
As the curators continuously reviewed the division's growing acquisition, they realized that important images were missing. While scores of photographers had documented the destruction of the World Trade Center, few were on hand when the Pentagon was attacked, or when hijacked Flight 93 crashed in a rural field in Shanksville, Pa. Intent on filling gaps, in the early spring of this year, photography curators Carol Johnson, Beverly Brannan and Verna Curtis visited the Newseum in Arlington, Va., to view an exhibit of Pentagon-related images. Among them were several dramatic, eyewitness shots taken by a local amateur photographer, Daryl Donley. An administrator at the National Symphony Orchestra, he had been caught in a traffic jam directly opposite the building. The doomed passenger jet passed directly over his car before exploding in a fireball inside the immense office complex. After recovering from his initial shock, he reached for his camera and took a unique series of photographs of the burning structure immediately following the impact. Resourceful photo curators tracked down Donley and arranged to acquire a selection of his extraordinary views.
To obtain images from Shanksville, Beverly Brannan telephoned area newspapers, the local volunteer fire department, and even contacted the rural electric cooperative, eventually locating several independent and amateur photographers who had documented the crash site, the activities of Red Cross and other volunteer workers, and the memorials to the victims which had appeared spontaneously. From online databases, she also identified relevant Shanksville and Pentagon images from photographers employed by Associated Press, Reuters and the Knight-Ridder syndicates. Assistant curator Maricia Battle then followed up, contacting various newspapers and photojournalists and carefully negotiating the acquisition of 58 copyrighted images, along with their exhibition rights. While documentary photos predominate, Verna Curtis, curator of fine art photography, recommended the acquisition of a number of symbolic and poetic images taken by leading artist-photographers. In one mournful instance, a photographer digitally manipulated a vertical format, architectural view made in 1994. He removed a shot of the soaring Twin Towers above ground, but retained their reflection below in a puddle of water on a deserted street.
In the field of posters and related graphic design, a variety of New York artists produced works intended to boost spirits and heal emotions in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. For a collaborative project called "Time to Consider: The Arts Respond to 9/11," poets, architects, artists and designers submitted 100 designs. Four were finally selected for printing and were distributed all over the city. Poster curator Elena Millie ensured they were donated to the Library, along with a CD-ROM containing the entire series of submissions. In addition, Millie discovered five compelling 9/11-related poster designs in the annual springtime Communications Graphics Show sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Art. They, too, entered the Library's collections as gifts.
A startling series of 23 posters, expressing an entirely different point of view, was acquired through the Library's overseas operations office in Islamabad, Pakistan. The garish designs all include the looming face of Osama bin Laden surrounded by exploding U.S. warplanes, tanks, rifle-toting child warriors and holy Islamic sites, along with superimposed Koranic exhortations and Jihad slogans in Arabic and Urdu. One especially chilling poster situates bin Laden's head against a photograph of the World Trade Center in flames. Repellent as they may be to Americans, these graphic images are a part of the historical context that must be preserved.
Like her colleagues, fine prints curator Katherine Blood searched for artworks related to the September 11 theme. Fine artists were slower to respond creatively than illustrators and graphic designers, but an exhibition presented in early 2002 by Meridien International Center in Washington, D.C., "True Colors: Meditations on the American Spirit," brought together a variety of creative responses, several of which she recommended for acquisition. Another local show, "Artists Respond: September 11," staged at the Rockville (Md.) Art Center, likewise provided a source of new acquisitions. Blood also tracked down two memorial print portfolios that were added to the collection: "9/11. Fear, Fate, Faith" by students and faculty at the Corcoran School of Art + Design (P&P also acquired a matching portfolio of photographs by Corcoran students) and "September 11th" published by artist members of New York's Manhattan Graphics Center. In all, 83 artists' prints and drawings were acquired, again, many by gift. The majority of these artists had created their work not for the art market, but out of an inner need to express and allay their own personal feelings of anguish, mourning and disbelief. The examples of recent P&P acquisitions on view in "Witness and Response" reveal not only the wide-ranging approaches taken by creative individuals to documenting and interpreting the terrible events that occurred on September 11, 2001, and the feelings they aroused, but also the commitment of the curatorial staff to ensuring that such works remain a vital component of the historical record preserved in the Library of Congress. Looking back, the division's still-growing 9/11 archives is not unlike the great collection of Depression-era Farm Security Administration photographs that reveal so poignantly the strength and resilience of the American people in times of duress.
Jeremy Adamson is chief of the Prints and Photographs Division.