Friday, August 13, 2010

James Nachtwey

In a recent image search for work from September 11th, 2001 by photographer James Nachtwey, I came across this infamous image attributed to Nachtwey on a Time Magazine archival page titled "September 11, 2001 Photographs from the archive of Time photographer James Nachtwey," one of a group of 15 images he took that day posted there.

I had been unfamiliar with this collection, even though dates its debut online as being September 14, 2007. I was familiar with an alternate Time Magazine collection of Nachtwey's images from 9/11, which also consisted of 15 images, named "Time Exclusive SHATTERED a remarkable collection of photographs of photojournalist James Nachtwey," an online posting which dates to September 14, 2001.

While the two collections overlap to some degree, each contains six images not found in the other.

I was previously familiar with the above image itself from a weird vanity web page about Fireman Christian Waugh, who is the second figure from the left in the photo above. I had wrongly attributed the 13.74KB thumbnail found there as being a screen grab from a video televised by MSNBC that day. (See my Father Mychal Judge: Icon in a Can.) Rereading the Waugh web page, this would seem to be the intended inference, but since MSNBC's coverage from 9/11 cannot be found archived online, there was no way to verify the fact.

Regardless of the image's origin, its simple existence established one important fact---that in addition to the world-famous images taken by Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton of Father Mychal Judge's lifeless body being carried away from the Trade Center, a second news source had also been present on the plaza or thereabouts and also captured the scene.

However, an attribution to the celebrated Nachtwey is an infinitely more serious matter, both in what it establishes in his timeline of movements that day, but also in how his media bosses at Time Magazine chose to play the compelling image---by including it in its printed edition, but neglecting to feature it in their online coverage in the immediate aftermath. Compared to the fame which accrued to Shannon Stapleton for his shots of Father Judge's portage, Nachtwey's powerful view is almost unknown to the general public.

Nachtwey had another ironic coincidence concerning a different iconic shot taken that day---by Thomas Franklin of The Bergen Record (in Passaic New Jersey.) This image, of three firemen raising an American flag amidst towering destruction, became even more famous than the shot of the Iwo Jima flag raising, which it evoked. Nachtwey also took a shot of this heroic moment on 9/11, but, sadly, he missed including the firemen in his view, so it only serves as a sort of second-rate validation for the Franklin image.

Although Nachtwey has been a contract photographer for Time Magazine since 1984, he is primarily a freelance agent whose work was handled by the Magnum Photo agency. Since obviously 9/11 wasn't a contracted assignment (being not only a surprise event, but an unimaginable one at that) why was Nachtwey's work limited to publication in Time Magazine? The Bergen Record resold its image around the globe.

The Digital Journalist web page for James Nachtwey posts 13 images, several of which show firemen searching the rubble of the North Tower while Building 7 is seen burning in the background. At least one image of Nachtwey's is marked with the Magnum Photos logo, which is a proof that some of his images went out under their license.

Nachtwey was one of the founding members of the VII Photo agency, which was formed when he left Magnum in September 2001.

These results appear to me to be examples of journalistic collusion rather than competition, and further evidence of a master controlling power, which dictated and oversaw distribution of the media coverage that day and thereafter. The system wasn't foolproof, as the historical record was amended by the inclusion of the fuller Nachtwey portfolio---but not until six years later, and I would imagine, coming under some duress. There are many other examples of such manipulation in the record of the record.

The Nachtwey image showing the body of Father Judge being carried out of the South Tower would likely be the third image he took on September 11th, as evidenced by the public record. His first image that day places him at a specific place, time and gestalt---in front of St Peter's Roman Catholic Church on Barclay Street east of Church Street.

His second image is little known, but it won him a second-place prize in the World Press Photo contest---maybe for its similar religious subtext.

This image provides some important information that helps us locate the Nachtwey image of Father Judge as having been taken somewhere on Vesey Street near the foot of the famous "Survivors Staircase." I will get back to this point more fully later.

A central incongruity of Nachtwey's movements on September 11th, have him placed a block away from the north-east corner of the trade center site as the first tower fell, and then moving toward the disaster as everyone else was fleeing away. I think someone was aware of this as a narrative problem, because in the Peter Howe essay at The Digital Journalist, Nachtwey addresses the matter directly---albeit very poorly:
The chaos hit street level when first one and then both buildings collapsed. People who had been drawn towards the scene now started fleeing in panic in a futile attempt to outrun the enveloping cloud of smoke and ash. It was at the point that the second tower fell that Nachtwey almost became a casualty himself. He tells the story in a calm, almost matter-of-fact tone of voice:

“Once the tower fell, the people really disappeared. They all ran away or were trapped. So my instinct was to go to the place where the tower had fallen. It seemed to me, absolutely unbelievable that the World Trade Center could be lying in the street and I felt very compelled to make an image of this. So I made my way there through the smoke. It was virtually deserted, and it seemed like a movie set from a science fiction film. Very apocalyptic. Very strange ambiance of the sunlight filtering through the dust and the destroyed wreckage of the buildings lying in the street. As I was photographing the destruction of the first tower, the second tower fell and I was standing right under it, literally right under it. Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for people on the west side it listed to the west. But I was still underneath this avalanche of falling debris, of structural steel, the aluminum siding of the building, glass; tons of material were falling directly down on to me. I realized that I had a few seconds to find cover or else I’d be killed.

"I dashed into the lobby of the Millennium Hotel, which was directly across the street from the North Tower, and I realized instantly that this hotel lobby was going to be taken out. The debris would come flying straight through the plate glass and just destroy it. There was no protection at all.

"There was no other place to turn, certainly no more time. It was about to happen any moment. I saw an open elevator and dashed inside. Put my back against the wall, thinking that it would afford some protection, which it did, and about a second later the lobby was taken out. I had seen someone standing outside, and there was a construction worker who dashed inside the elevator with me just as the debris swept through the lobby and it instantly became pitch black, as if you were in a closet with the light out and a blindfold on. You could not see anything. It was very difficult to breathe. My mouth, my nose, my eyes were filled with ashes. I had a hat on. I began to breathe through my hat. And together, this other man and I crawled, groping, trying to find our way out. I initially thought that the building had fallen on us and that we were in a pocket because it was so dark. And we just continued to crawl and I began to see blinking lights…. small blinking lights… and I realized that these were the directional lights of cars that have been destroyed and the directional signals were still on. And at that point I realized that we were in the street, although it was just as black in the street as it was in the hotel lobby, and that we would be able to find our way out. It took a couple of blocks to get clear of the smoke and we made our way out.”
The illogic in Nachtwey's statement is extreme. He acts as if the first tower's collapse was a minor event. He doesn't tell us how or where he survived the first ash and smoke cloud, nor does it seem sufficient to have prevented his solo jaunt toward danger. He says his "instinct was to go to the place where the tower had fallen," and, "[a]s I was photographing the destruction of the first tower, the second tower fell," but apparently Nachtwey never made it closer then the vantage point seen in these images on Vesey Street.

Speaking of the first tower's collapse, Nachtwey says, "It seemed to me, absolutely unbelievable that the World Trade Center could be lying in the street and I felt very compelled to make an image of this." However, he has no images in the public record that depict debris from the first tower's collapse, as seen before the second tower fell.

What is unbelievable is his failure to mention his shooting an image of the single corpse we were to see from that day!

The round cement planters, which are a feature in Nachtwey's image, were traffic control barriers erected along the parameter of the trade center site. We can spot them in images along Vesey Street, West Street, and Church Street. But since we know that Father Judge's body was left in the gutter on Vesey Street, we can safely assume the Nachtwey image was taken there. In all likelihood, Nachtwey never got anywhere near sight of the debris field of the South Tower.

Shannon Stapleton's images have no distinguishing background features. I had always assumed they were taken somewhere on the plaza, near the entrance to the North Tower. However, they too may have been taken down here at Vesey Street. The reason the record is ambiguous on this detail, is probably because the fact would indicate that Father Judge's body was weirdly carried up one staircase only to be carried down another one shortly thereafter.

This is a central vexing question that has remained unaddressed in 9/11 studies to date. Every single fireman who entered the North Tower on 9/11 did so through the entrance on West Street near the fire department command post as seen in the image below. Every single fireman who escaped the North Tower that day also exited through this location, except for the handful responsible for removing Father Judge's corpse. So what would possess this group to decide in the tumult of the first tower's collapse, with visibility near zero, to travel over 200 feet to the northern face of the North Tower with their heavy load...

...then to take a non-working escalator up a flight to the mezzanine level, to a place where they knew debris impacts were landing, as recorded in the Naudet Brother's film... order to escape out this exit onto the dangerous plaza level...

...even though civilians were escaping DOWN the escalator, as seen in this John Labriola image...
...only to then sneak around to the side of the complex to this staircase and lower their load back down into the gutter on Vesey Street?

I'll tell you why: it was done to avoid witnesses.

The serendipitous recording of the ordeal by two top photojournalists also wasn't by accident. In the same way that when the lobby of the North Tower was evacuated, fire department officials forgot to carry out the Command Board, which recorded the floor assignments of their brothers, thereby losing this central documentation, also was no accident.

For further reading about these matters, refer to my previous posting about Mr. Nachtwey (I've corrected my spelling of his name! Let's go Google!)

James Nachtwey: Or Jesus Christ: How Much Evidence of Foreknowledge Will It Take?

Or refer to three blog postings about Father Judge:

Who Gets The Last Laugh Now?
Father Mychal Judge: Icon in a Can
Highlighting a Father Mychal Judge Update

Lastly, if you care, read my posting on

Chief Joseph Pfeifer/Pfeiffer and Deputy Chief Peter Hayden

Does anyone else note the very strange presence of Chief Pfeiffer in both the Stapleton and Nachtwey images? This is in direct conflict with the narrative as established in the Naudet Brother's film, 9/11, which plainly indicates he fled across West Street on the elevated walkway.

1 comment:

  1. i use to respect him not anymore because of the picture he got for the wife of the syrian dictator shame on you.this pic explain exactly that the wife of the dictator own the country of syria.shame on you and shame on vogue magazin and shame on joan juliet buck .shammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmme