One Day After at Ground Zero

Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME
Peter van Agtmael—Magnum for TIME
Ground Zero, New York City. May 2, 2011.

Like many photographers based in New York City, Peter van Agtmael rushed to the World Trade Center site to see how people would react to the news of Osama bin Laden’s death last week. After photographing the scene, which had been overtaken by media and young revelers, he decided to head home to sleep. Confused by the reactions of the crowd, he awaited to see what the morning would bring.

Upon returning early the next day, he saw that the party was over, but something lingered in the expressions of those passing by. He slowly captured the faces of tourists, commuters, security personnel and residents of the nearby community as they walked past the site, clearly trying to process what happened there.

Like Kevin Bubriski in his book Pilgrimage: Looking at Ground Zero, which records the faces of people visiting the site in the weeks immediately following 9/11, van Agtmael noticed in people’s reactions something less visceral though clearly noticeable.

When looking at photographs of the aftermath, such as the hallowed ground of the World Trade Center site, one begins to question how a photographer attempts to depict a landscape loaded with so many layers of meaning to so many different people. Unlike projects such as Joel Sternfeld’s Upon This Site, which show the quiet, undramatic landscapes of famous and lesser-known scenes of brutal deaths, van Agtmael’s images deny viewers a look at the scene of the crime. He carefully observes the reactions of visitors at the place for one full day, creating a series that contemplates the need to look, or why people can’t look away from the past.

In this multimedia presentation, the photographs are combined with the sounds recorded at the site for a sequence showing one full day at Ground Zero.

Peter van Agtmael is a regular contributor to TIME, the author of 2nd Tour, Hope I Don’t Die and a member of Magnum Photos. Recently, van Agtmael photographed a series on dignified transfers for TIME, which can be viewed here.

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