Richmond Lam’s pictures of people photographing the 9/11 memorial – the so-called Freedom Tower, or the twin reflecting pools – attempt to capture the feeling of our collective memory responding to the absence of a point of reference that seemed fixed; coded into our thinking by images of the most famous skyline in the world. We look at Richmond Lam’s photos and we wonder, ‘what are these people taking pictures of?’ It’s certainly a strange pilgrimage to make: to go and see where the towers fell; a journey made not to pay respect, or to reflect on the hard conditions of the global order, but to admire the profound difference between what we see in our heads and what we see in the world. A kind of test of reality itself, or, equally bizarre, to photograph the absence of something. To provide proof to ourselves that something isn’t there.
But then again, if 9/11 taught us anything then the teaching was in the lesson itself, which used the image, played on repeat from countless angles, as both evidence for the event (whether the official story or not), and as the catalyst for the War on Terror (and, inevitably, the state of the world today). Therefore, it makes an odd kind of sense for people to make their own pictures of where the Towers used to stand, since, in a world of images, any other form of documentation is inequivalent and perhaps even illogical. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to talk about reality in relation to 9/11, since language fails in comparison to the infinitely detailed images of the buildings exploding and collapsing. It might be better to simply remain silent on the issue – which I think a lot of people do – until we have the opportunity to see the absence for ourselves, take a picture or two just to be sure, and move on. Looking back, if all we see in these pictures is the sky, nothing – which of course we will – we will have successfully provided the only acceptable point (that of the image), however redundant, in the non-conversation of contemporary reality.
WORDS: JOE MCMURRAY
ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER, NEW YORK CITY, SEPTEMBER 11TH, 2015
PUBLISHED BY THE EDITORIAL MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 2016.