Jeff Mermelstein, Photograph of sculpture by J. Seward Johnson, 2001.

Just five years after the World Trade Center rained down on lower Manhattan, this image by Jeff Mermelstein, which appeared in the New York Times Magazine on Sept 23, 2001, often reappears in my memory. I am astonished by it in the way that Edmund Burke explains this principle in relation to the sublime: “The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature… is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror.” I’m less interested in the formal qualities of the image as a photograph than in the power of the image as a document of a specific day, of a specific sequence of events, and everything that this document calls up even now: the indistinguishable detritus of lives past and present, alive and dead, strewn throughout a park emptied of people. Central to the monochromatic ashen scene, and to the emotion that the image calls up for me, is the statue seated on a park bench, himself covered in debris and hunched over what appears to be an open suitcase. He is unmoved, unflinching, suspended in time just as everything else has collapsed around him. The photographic record of this statue in the midst of chaos is an anomalous symbol both of hope and despair, of permanence and inescapable change.

Susan Silton, Visual Artist

 

 

Further Reading