A privileged witness
History for an international reporter is not always on the other side of the world. It can also be just around the corner. Gilles Peress one of the great concerned photographer of the XXth century photographed the unthinkable a few feet from his doorstep in New York city.
"Is it really useful to go back on the details of a morning ten years latter ?" The eyes of the photographer are sensitive, from the first he gives the tone to talk about september 11th? I was so close to it that it is not easy. On that day a little before 9am images on television are the first alarms. Gilles Peress is at home in Brooklyn he gets a phone call from his daughter who runs his studio, and from David Remnick at the New Yorker.
I leave right away, take a car but am quickly stopped near the Brooklyn bridge, I give up the car and cross the east river on foot. He is engulfed in smoke , the crowd flee the place when the first tower collapses From then on Gilles starts working and as always when he is on the spot photographs the people running , those covering their face not to smother, the fireman disabled by the scale of the drama, he immortalized a symbol a stand that advertise now serving brewed decaf coffee. As a rule I never think about my pictures it is the same on that day. For the ex president of Magnum to be on the spot does not mean entering a working mood, every thing is personal with me.
Shortly after the arrival at ground zero, the second tower collapsed Gilles had not had much time to photograph less than 30 mn. He stays there all day and mix with the firemen near the wreckage. He goes to the lab then to the New Yorker were he is a regular photographer ,there it is total panic, the art director is in frenzy she thinks an other airplane will hit the Condé Nast building and only wants to go home helps with the lay out his and others, on that day New York is a deserted ship.
The After september 11th
Gilles Peress will go back to ground zero all week long witnessing the solidarity among man, the making of memorials and shrines. the rituals created to help fight sorrow, the fear. he described a life that became more difficult, the strong psychological impact.
What touched him? The sadness of people in the days post attack. New York is a city in mourning. Gilles Peress braved dangers, he covered mortal conflicts, he has seen the worst atrocities man is capable of. In spite of all that and with rare exceptions, I have never seen such intense destruction from one minute to the next the towers were there and gone.
From an architectural point of view it was a monumental sequence a real phenomenon. From this experience of war his way of taking pictures has surely evolved .One does not go thru events and history without being affected. It was an emotional jolt, but also the beginnings of the shake up that would precipitate the collapse of the press. The duty today is not only to remember 9/11 and the 3000 victims but also to think of the many dead , displaced, tortured afterward in Afghanistan and Iraq.