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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
New York's nightmare, through a lens
Here is New York
The exhibition is now so popular, there is a one-week wait for ordered prints
Ryan Dilley

The World Trade Center attacks and the horrific aftermath have been captured in countless photographs. New Yorkers are now flocking to an exhibition of images close to "Ground Zero".

While the air strikes on Afghanistan have only been seen by Americans as shaky images of distant flashes seen though the green murk of a night vision camera, the WTC tragedy which prompted this military response has been photographed and filmed from every conceivable angle.

"It is the most photographed and witnessed tragedy in history," says Charles Traub, one of those behind an exhibition which is bringing together professional and amateur pictures of the 11 September attack.

Sherry Silver holds up a print
Sherry Silver: "I don't know what I'm going to do with it"
On a street where the taint of smoke from "Ground Zero" is still strong in the air, the Here is New York exhibition is the only retailer doing a roaring trade.

"We set up at 116 Prince Street two weeks ago and we've had crowds from day one. We're seeing 2,200 people a day, maybe more," says Mr Traub.

The show is being called "a democracy of photographs". Inside, images familiar from the front pages of newspapers and the covers of magazines sit beside those snapped on the cheapest of throwaway cameras.

"We've had pictures brought in by fire-fighters, rescue workers, volunteers and high school kids as well as those donated by professionals," says Mr Traub.

Inside the exhibition
Images are by amateurs and professionals alike
So far the tally of photographs submitted exceeds 2,000 and shows no sign of slowing.

"I think people bring in their pictures because they want to bear witness. To say: 'I saw this. I witnessed it and I stand in testament to how dastardly an act it was.'"

Once submitted, the photos are scanned into a computer. Volunteers then crop and digitally clean up the images so they can be shown off at their best. Copies are sold to the public at $25 each, with the proceeds going to charity.

Image overload

Mitch Parnes - himself a professional photographer - mans one of the computers. "The actual images themselves are pretty disturbing. I try to distance myself from the subject matter as I'm working. It's not like I'm a fire-fighter down there. I'm just trying to do what I can to help."

I'll put it in a scrapbook for when we have children

Deb Walter
Another volunteer agrees. "However harrowing spending all day with the images is, staying at home near the site is far worse."

With the media saturated by images of the shattered towers, bloodied and dust-caked survivors and exhausted rescuers, it seems strange that New Yorkers should want to expose themselves to anymore representations of the horror.

Mr Traub suspects many visitors come because they still have not come to terms with the sights of 11 September.

"They want to make sure they really saw what they saw because the event was so incomprehensible. I also think the cumulative effect of seeing all these images in one place has a greater impact than seeing any single picture."

Rudy Giuliani
Mayor Giuliani: Gave the 'ok' for cameras
The issue of photography has been a divisive one in the wake of the attacks. Police officers have confiscated many cameras from the "shutterbugs" who flocked to "Ground Zero" before Mayor Rudy Giuliani reiterated that photography was perfectly lawful outside the cordon, with an air suggesting such activities were not the highest form of human endeavour.

Volunteer saleswoman Annie Shapiro thinks the exhibition offers people a "respectful way to own a piece of that day. But still when people come in they seem to be split between excitement and trepidation about buying pictures".

She points out the most popular pictures: a still life of a teapot, cups and saucers layered in ash from the collapsed WTC; a man rushing through the clouds of dust; and the so-called Towers of Light, a mock-up of a proposed memorial where columns of light fill the void left by the twin towers.

Help to explain

Deb Walter has just ordered a copy of the Towers of Light. "I was serving food to workers down there at night and I remember the floodlights. The glow seemed to sum up the spirit of the people there. That's why this picture just stopped me in my tracks."

Gallery wall
Pictures are scanned in and displayed
Ms Walter also selected a picture of the twisted debris topped with a Star and Stripes flag.

"It's not the destruction, it's the flag that attracted me, the symbol of patriotism. I'll put it in a scrapbook for when we have children. I think the image will help me explain the bad and the good of that day."

Clutching her newly-bought picture, Sherry Silver says her selection was guided by a desire to find a single image that summed up the destruction. She holds out a photo in which the remnants of the WTC look like the skin of a peeled banana.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with it. I'm not going to frame it. I suppose I'll just have it to say: 'Remember when?'"

Because of demand, there is currently a one-week wait between ordering and picking up pictures.

"Since I came last week there are so many more pictures to choose from. But now I can't look at them," says Ms Silver. "I'm not going to put myself through that torture again."

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