Monday, September 16, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Making Medicine of Our Grief

The website of On the Media (a WNYC radio podcast) featured a fascinating photo (see lower left) taken on the infamous morning of 9/11/01 by Melanie Einzig. The background of the picture shows some familiar sights: the perfectly blue sky, smoke billowing from the Twin Towers. The middle of the photograph shows some horrified spectators, presumably looking on with incredulity and awe. But it is the foreground that really makes this photograph unique. There, a UPS man is delivering a parcel, apparently oblivious to the horrifying spectacle behind him. That he is walking toward the camera, and that the narrow street seems to corral him in an alley of shadow (is he literally in the dark?) offer competing details to the all-too hideous  scene behind him.

I think it would be a mistake to read this man as unfeeling. It seems to me he is simply doing his job (and doing his job simply): he is not paid to gawk. His uniform is striking — a contrast to the casual clothes of the people behind him — reminding me of Paul Fussell's book Uniforms: Why We Are What We Wear. Is he merely a company man, a victim of institutionalization? Remember Thoreau: "If the engine whistles, let it whistle till it is hoarse for its pains. If the bell whistles, why should we run?"  This man lets nothing deter him from his task. He is a mail carrier and, while on duty, he will [only] think of the mail, which he cradles in his right hand.

The photographer, Ms. Einzig, felt it would be unfair to release this photograph too soon after 9/11. Its narrative is hard to read, and similar "life-goes-on" photos led to stormy controversy. But to what extent might this photograph be useful in capturing the day's events? What images are clearest in your mind? Why are those images so clear? Who chose to feature those pictures and how do they frame the story of that day's events?

Monday, September 09, 2013

An American Studies: Photos

"Heading West" by madsterr1

"Untitled" by middlenorthamerica

"Untitled" by cbungles606