WASHINGTON (June 20, 2011)—Crumpled police cars, scorched and blistered fire trucks, twisted metal beams, a rack of reading glasses, an airline slipper, a shoe, shredded clothing, a red-haired doll — all are objects salvaged from the 1.8 million tons of debris removed from the World Trade Center site after 9/11. The remnants and fragments from Ground Zero that were considered worth preserving were housed at Hangar 17 at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. In the spring of 2009, Spanish photographer and artist Francesc Torres was given rare access to the hangar to view and document these items.
Publishing 10 years after the World Trade Center attacks, MEMORY REMAINS: 9/11 Artifacts at Hangar 17 (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-0833-1; Aug. 16, 2011; $50 hardcover) is the only complete photographic record of Hangar 17. It is a searing testimony to the violence of 9/11 and the human toll of those unspeakable acts of destruction.
Complementing Torres’ images that demonstrate how time and the world stopped on 9/11 are essays by several commentators, including Newsweek magazine writer and editor Jerry Adler, who tells the story of Hangar 17 and the efforts to conserve and analyze the remains; Yale historian David Blight, who places 9/11 into the context of American and world history; Jan Seidler Ramirez, curator of the National September 11 Memorial Museum opening at the World Trade Center site in 2012, who writes about the artifacts as art; and Clifford Chanin, acting director of education and senior program advisor at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, who writes about the memories and meaning of the artifacts. Torres also provides an essay on the experience of photographing the objects.
The foreword to the book is penned by Joe Daniels, CEO and president of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum; Alice M. Greenwald, director of the National September 11 Memorial Museum; and Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “Entering the hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport, one was not prepared for the experience that would follow,” they note. “Everywhere lay monumental pieces of steel columns that were twisted and curved, or folded like an accordion, or shredded and curled like a piece of ribbon. There were vehicles, human scale and achingly familiar — fire trucks, an ambulance, a K-9 jeep, cars that had been parked on neighborhood streets or in the Trade Center garage, a yellow taxi — each bearing the scars of unfathomable destruction.
“Entire PATH train cars were there, as were pieces of the 360-foot-high communications antenna that once stood atop 1 World Trade Center, the north twin of the ‘Twin Towers.’ There were enormous elevator motors, concrete portions of parking garage floors, and hundreds of sections of aluminum cladding that had once comprised the exterior skin of the Towers. Bent fragments of a once clean-lined sculpture by Alexander Calder were set onto tables in a separate room, and the detritus of merchandise that once filled store shelves in the bustling Concourse level now filled its own space: fragments of clothing, an optician’s display of eye glass frames, even a nine-foot, three-dimensional figure of Bugs Bunny from the Warner Bros. store, completely surreal in this setting, and even more so in juxtaposition to nearby fragments of a sign whose painted letters, when put back together, read chillingly: ‘That’s All Folks!'”
In his essay “The Museum of Unnatural History,” Torres writes of the “stillness of the contents” that seemed to embody, in an inverted sequence, the calm that precedes an earthquake. “Here the earthquake came first. As I concentrated on an object, the emotional tension between that landscape of quiet, mutilated artifacts and the chaotic memory of the day of the attack was sometimes overpowering. Everything, down to the smallest residue, was of the utmost importance, I felt: the objects, their textures, and the dust that in some cases still covers them; that dust, a mixture of pulverized debris, ash and human beings.”
Among the objects featured in the book are two composite blocks, measuring around 10 feet by 6 feet, which appear to be meteorites, but are actually compressed floors from one of the towers. On one, the striations of four floors are faintly visible, compacted to just a couple of feet. On the surface are clusters of black carbon. These are compressed sheets of office paper, and, although they are pure ash, one can still read the words imprinted on them.
There are also beams with multiple cutouts of Stars of David and Christian crosses, carved out by blowtorch by the rescue workers and given as mementos to relatives of the victims.
Also pictured is “The Last Column,” the last structural beam removed from ground zero. It is covered with words, pictures and mementos attached or inscribed by the workers who salvaged it. It is now the centerpiece of the National September 11 Memorial Museum that will open next year and house many of the objects pictured in this book.
“Through Torres’ eyes, we see the potential for resilience and the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. This body of work invites all of us inside the Hangar. Once you see these photographs, you will never forget them. They are indelible,” write Daniels, Greenwald and Ward.
MEMORY REMAINS is the official book companion to photographic exhibitions opening in several cities later this year to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. They include New York, at the International Center for Photography; London, at the Imperial War Museum; Madrid, at the Palacio de Cibeles; and Barcelona, at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània.