Wim Wenders travelled to Ground Zero in November 2001, in the midst of the clean-up operation following the 9/11 attacks. At the time, the eerily upright remains of the South Tower’s steel facade had just been dismantled, and the first official memorial service for victims’ families had taken place, with loved ones being presented with commemorative urns containing earth from the vicinity.
The German filmmaker shot several wide-angle photographs capturing excavation vehicles and emergency service workers overseeing the site. Dust and smoke rises from the wreckage, giving the buildings in the distance a hazy sense of unreality. It was not until 19 December that New York Governor George Pataki announced that all fires at Ground Zero (known at first to emergency responders as The Pile) had finally been extinguished.
In taking the photographs that make up Photographing Ground Zero at the Imperial War Museum, Wenders had begun treating the site as one of hope rather than pain, a process in which the rest of the country would slowly share. “Please let this not become a ground for more hate,” he later reflected. “Let this place be forever a symbol of peace and healing.”
Ravi Ghosh is Elephant’s editorial assistant