The attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 shocked the whole world. Within hours after the attacks many volunteers, including ironworkers, contractors and engineers, rushed to the World Trade Center site to support firefighters and police in the search for survivors.
After the recovery in May, 2002, the New York Times was allowed to publish some of Suson’s images for the first time. They were presented in a feature called “From a Camera at Ground Zero, Rare Photos of an Agonizing Dig”. Later on, “this collection was turned into a coffee table book by Barnes & Noble Books in September of 2002, called Requiem: Images of Ground Zero” [INT02].
Suson got this inspiration of establishing a ‘private place’ for his images from his visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam in 2004. In the Anne Frank House, Suson experienced that “[w]ith each room that I entered and each artifact that came into view, I began to care more and more about Anne and her family. By the end of the tour, I had a deeper understanding of what transpired during that turbulent period in world history” [INT03] and that is what he then wanted to achieve with his images and since that day it has become a mission for him.
When Suson was back in New York City, he found a storage box which contained 9/11 remnants and realized that “[e]ach one had meaning in its own right” [INT03]. The following images show some of the remnants displayed in the Ground Zero Museum Workshop which he though where important in the process of understanding the events of 9/11.
He decided to talk to family members and firemen about his thoughts and these conversations led to the idea to open a small museum in order to educate people about 9/11 and to raise money for charities. As a result, the Ground Zero Museum Workshop was able to open in 2005 and on the website of the museum Suson states that “[o]n April 11, 1944, Anne Frank wrote in her diary, ‘I’ll make my voice heard.’ Exactly sixty years later, I read that passage in her diary and it struck a chord – And so, in July of 2005, Ground Zero Museum Workshop will open and 3,000 voices will be heard” [INT03].
In its flyer, the Ground Zero Museum Workshop is described as the ‘Biggest Little Museum in New York’ and it truly lives up to its name. The building in which the museum is situated, is simple and since it deals with a very emotional topic I think it is appealing that we do not have a large, colorful signboard. It is located on the second floor of the building and consists of one room. The whole room is kept in bright colors, which makes the room sort of ‘homey’. Especially the big, white couch invites the visitor to make himself/herself comfortable. In my opinion that is exactly what the founders were trying to achieve because it is such an emotional and private subject that it is easier to deal with it in a comforting surrounding.
The images and remnants themselves are very poignant but also very thoughtfully and tastefully chosen. Suson succeeds in depicting the ‘true’ recovery in all its phases without dishonoring the victims. On the contrary, through his images he is able to illustrate true brotherhood and how people came together when as he said a “big city became a little community”. In an interview we were able to ask Gary Marlon Suson about the workshop part in the museum and he replied that “it is an interactive museum”. He explains that in his museum you get a private tour, you get greeted, there is someone available to talk to and you can ask questions. In addition, you are able to touch selected artifacts like steel and glass from the World Trade Center, so the workshop part is that you can actively do something in the museum”.
On the museum’s website Suson tells the story about a picture he just could not take and this story really describes what kind of images he took during the recovery and how highly emotional that whole experience was for himself.
I am often asked what was the single, most important image I ever snapped at Ground Zero was. I always reply the same way: “Why don’t I tell you about the most important photo I never took.” It was of a woman who had lost her firefighter husband on September 11. She was there at the site all day after the word was out that her husband’s entire fire company had been located, so it was just a matter of time before her husband was found. One by one, each firefighter was found, until there were just two left missing. Yes, everyone was found except her husband and her best friend’s young, firefighter son. She paced back and forth nervously, until she couldn’t take the pressure anymore, finally blurting out, “I can’t take this anymore! I can’t! Why hasn’t he been found! My children are at home and keep asking me where their daddy is and what do I tell them!” At that moment, a retired FDNY fireman whose own son was missing walked up and held her in his arms as she wept on his shoulder. Later that day, her best friend’s son was found and in an unprecedented act, the woman asked and was granted permission to stand in the Honor Guard on behalf of the boy’s family. She was given a helmet that engulfed her small head and she did her best to stand still, her knees knocking while she lifted her hand to salute on behalf of the fireman’s mother, who was at her home. I stood there, watching her knees and elbows shake as she saluted, tears pouring down her face and her lips quivering. I saw what was, in my opinion, my Pulitzer Prize-winning image. Images like this rarely, if ever, come along in a lifetime. I never knew what I had inside myself until that moment when I lifted the camera, looked through the lens at her-and changed my mind. I couldn’t do it-I just couldn’t. I had an enormous lump in my throat and what I wanted was to hug her, not photograph her in this moment of vulnerability [INT03].
Gary Marlon Suson risked his own life at Ground Zero to capture all the images of the recovery. Through the Ground Zero Museum Workshop people get a deeper understanding of what actually happened. It was also a ‘healing’ place for family members, fire fighters and other people who were involved in the attacks. We came to New York City in order to find out how people remember the events of 9/11 but we did not only find out about how they remembered, we also reached a deeper understand of what happened. We all know the pictures of the collapsing towers, but the pictures Gary Marlon Susan presents in his museum show the true dimension of this tragedy. In his pictures we see men digging for friends, sons and fathers, we see Lee Ielpi holding the helmet of his son, who was a firefighter as well and died on September, 11, and we see pictures of shoes from which we do not know if they belonged to an individual or if they just came from one of the shoe stores.
The visit to the Ground Zero Museum Workshop portrays that people still remember 9/11 but whereas everyone knows it was a tragedy, one also tries to see what ‘good’ came out of it. In the interview, we were able to ask Suson this exact question. He answered that the events after 9/11 were “an example of camaraderie, people coming together, the world came together, to support this tragedy”. On the question of how one should remember 9/11 he said that “[e]veryone memorializes the victims in their own way. The Tribute Center has a lot of wonderful qualities about it. It is a helpful, healing, educating place for people to come and it serves it purpose. And the Ground Zero Museum Workshop is a wonderful healing place that educates people. We all are a little piece of the puzzle, the puzzle being remembering those who died.”
At the end of the interview we talked about the play Gary Marlon Suson wrote in 2003 – 2004. It is called American Brother and takes place at Ground Zero on Christmas Eve of 2001. The play deals with guilt and redemption. The protagonist, firefighter, Leo Camp lost his brother on 9/11 and is obsessively searching for his remains as he feels guilty for his death. However, “it is really about the relationship between Leo and a female Ground Zero chaperone who tries to help him come to terms with the feeling that he’s having”. Suson hopes that “this play will help visitors to understand what it is like to be inside Ground Zero during the recovery. And I hope the play will be a source of healing for many”.
In summary, it can be stated that people still want to remember 9/11. There are many different sources to educate even the generation which did not actively live through the events. Nevertheless, people do not concentrate on the sadness anymore, but rather on the aspects which were positive like the heroes of the recovery and the solidarity of the whole world. Being in New York City on September, 11, 2010 one noticed that people do not want to forget about this tragedy. They want to remember the victims and what terrorism can do to the world.
Additional Information on the Ground Zero Museum Workshop:
[INT01] “Marlon Suson History.” Ground Zero Museum Workshop Tours: New York City Photo Exhibit of Sept. 11 – 9/11 Memorial. Web. 5 January 2011. http://www.groundzeromuseum.com/history.htm
[INT02] Suson, Gary Marlon. “SeptemberEleven.net.” SeptemberEleven.net. 2002. Web. 5 January 2011.
[INT03] Suson, Gary Marlon. “Introduction.” Ground Zero Museum Workshop Tours: New York City Photo Exhibit of Sept. 11 – 9/11 Memorial. June 2005. Web. 5 January 2011.
Last updated: February 17, 2011