‘A blistered FDNY here, a melted AMBULANCE there’


Photograph by Francesc Torres, from Memory Remains: 9/11 Artefacts at Hangar 17  

From London Review of Books:

Long resident in New York, the Catalan artist Francesc Torres was two blocks from the WTC when the first jet struck the north tower, and he witnessed the collapse of both buildings from his studio rooftop ten blocks away. Commissioned by the 9/11 Museum, Torres photographed the 80,000 square-foot interior of the hangar every day in April 2009. His pictures, which proceed from broad views of the hangar to close-ups of individual objects, are now gathered in a book entitled Memory Remains: 9/11 Artefacts at Hangar 17; they are currently on view at the International Center for Photography in New York and the Imperial War Museum (until 26 February 2012).

It is difficult, as one looks at the photos, not to judge the remains in terms of iconic value. Already prized in this respect is ‘The Last Column’, a 37-foot piece of an interior support from the south tower, so named because it was the final object to be removed from the site. Covered with pictures of victims, badges and tags from fire and police departments, and notes and mementos from friends and relatives, the column now lies flat, supported on steel beams of its own, like an industrial version of the True Cross. (Last out of the site, it was the first thing in the 9/11 museum, which had to be constructed around the column owing to its size.) In this same semi-sacral register, there are also beams with little crosses and stars of David cut out by metalworkers for families and friends of the dead.

Most evocative of the fallen buildings are the fragments of the 360-foot antenna that once stood on top of the north tower, and most telling of the heroic response are the battered vehicles of the aid professionals who responded. Torres was moved in particular by two large blocks of material – cross-sections of four floors compressed under enormous pressure of heat and weight. What struck me were his close-ups of torched insignia, on trucks and cars, of rescuers turned victims: a blistered FDNY here, a melted AMBULANCE there. At the same time Memory Remains includes photos of things that convey the arbitrary nature of the event, such as clothes and tchotchkes from the underground mall (including an Elmer Fudd doll from the Warner Brothers shop, along with a sign that reads ‘That’s All Folks’). It turns out, as the journalist Jerry Adler writes in the book, that ‘the objects with the best odds of survival were those small enough to have lodged safely in a crevice: keys, coins and rings’; along with golf balls, these things shall inherit the earth.

“The Last Column”, Hal Foster, London Review of Books