New York City: The Year After

 
 
 

INTRODUCTION

 

“New York City: The Year After” is a photographic book about the consequences of the 9/11 attacks on the everyday people of New York City. The images were shot from 9/11/2001 to 9/11/2002. This book is a personal, subjective, and expressive study of the consequences of 9/11 within the social landscape of the city. It is a comprehensive view of the many facets of the post 9/11 experience at its` core.

New York City changed enormously during the year after 9/11. The fear of new terrorist attacks, the Anthrax scares, and the War on Afghanistan were some important factors that contributed to one of the worst social and economic crisis in the history of the city. A dark cloud hovered over New York during the year after the attacks. An atmosphere of pain, fear, and hopelessness weighed on people’s minds. The smell of the death –both literally and metaphorically- expanded itself over New York City for several months.

The main purpose of this book is to document and describe the different reactions of the people of New York City during the year after the attacks. This book aims to be a mirror where we can look at ourselves as a society that was hit by terror with an intensity never experienced before; a mirror where we can see ourselves as a society that, after many years of sleep, woke up and saw what was going on in the rest of the world.

This book investigates the psychological consequences of 9/11 on the common place New Yorkers, the people that we see every day in the streets or at the subway stations. Depression, anxiety, and paranoia were some of the psychological manifestations of the un-measurable fear that affected the population of New York City during a long period of time. This book visually analyses the complex processes of introspection and isolation that many people living in New York went through after 9/11.

NATIONALISM: 1 a) devotion to one’s nation, patriotism b) excessive, narrow, or jingoist patriotism; chauvinism 2 the doctrine that national interest, security, etc. are more important than international considerations 3 The desire for or advocacy of national independence.

This project also contains a visual research on the nationalism (do not confuse with “patriotism”) that arose in NYC during the months following 9/11. New York’s visual landscape was transformed by thousands of American flags and patriotic signs. The community expressed its grief in merchandising items, like posters, stickers, t-shirts, baseball caps, pizza boxes, etc. This book also documents the visual icons that inundated the city shortly after 9/11.

“New York City: The Year After” also contains comprehends a photographic documentation of the political reactions of the citizens of New York after 9/11, as well as some of the peace rallies that went to the streets. Other issues described by this book are the stressing and overwhelming security measures and the situation of the racially-profiled Muslim-American population in New York City during that sensitive time.

This book is aimed at the people that, all around the world, are interested in a non-official version of what happened to New York City during the year after. The people who are tired of the news coverage by the mainstream media and are looking for different, independent, objective and even critical points of view. This book is aimed at the millions of people that protested all around the world against the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; people with a political conscience who are interested, rather than in the tragedy itself, in its human implications. This book is aimed at the millions of people that protested all around the world against the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The people who were tired of the news coverage by the mainstream media and kept looking for different, independent, and critical points of view.

The role of the US media was shameless. The corporate news media generated fear and panic in the people of NY. They announced fake Anthrax cases to cover the bombing of Afghanistan. And they were the ones who, almost a year after the attacks, contributed (along with the government) in the creation of a false link between Iraq (Saddam Hussein) and the 9/11 attacks. Such link never existed, but it was artificially created by the government and spread by the manipulated media in order to justify the future invasion of Iraq. It was the same kind of lie as the one of the weapons of mass destruction.

Most Photographic books published after 9/11 focused on the tragedy itself and on the aftermath of the attacks. “Here is New York” and “9/11 by Magnum Photographers are collective attempts to tell a photographic story directly and obviously related to 9/11. Many photographers explored the big and concrete cloud of smoke that came from the twin towers. But this book, instead, explores the subtle but dense emotional fog that covered the city during the year after. This book does not contain mainstream images of the 9/11 attacks or anything like that... it does not attempt to show the outcome of the tragedy.

This book focuses instead on the midterm reactions of the community of New York City and the social and political consequences in the context of the everyday life of the citizens. Ultimately, this group of photographs constitutes a subjective and poetic testimony from the point of view a Peruvian-American journalist/photographer who had lived most of his life in Peru, but who was living in New York City during and after the tragedy. It is a personal documentation and a critical description of what he saw around him during the year after.

September 11 was for me nothing but a flashback of the years of terrorism that I had to live in Peru as a child and as a teenager during the 80`s. When I was in Queens watching the attacks live in TV, they immediately reminded me of the terrorist bombs that happened when I was living in Lima. The images of destruction that the media showed me were somewhat similar to the ones I watched in Peru very often in those violent times. They were images of death, desperate family members of the victims, immense pain and unspeakable fear.

Right after the 9/11 attacks, NYC was dead. The streets and avenues of Manhattan were empty and desolated. The smell of death was literally in the air during several months after the events. During that time, a deep and overwhelming sense of fear was floating everywhere over the city.

During the same period of time, most of the American news media blatantly supported the nationalistic campaign of George W. Bush, who directed the whole country towards a terrible desire of revenge in order for the American people to stand for what the media called “America`s New War” (or sometimes the slogan was “America Fights Back”). The most important media outlets, like Fox News and CNN, played with the most unlawful strategies. A few minutes after the attacks, CNN showed people in Afghanistan celebrating “live” the results of the attacks on American soil. Later on, it was proved that those images were fake, they were taken from old footage shot in a quite different situation a few years before.

The most popular newspapers mysteriously united to the government`s campaign like if it was a vendetta. The media manipulation of the information, very similar to the one during the Vietnam war, was evident.

The bombings in Afghanistan and the death of thousands of innocent people was totally disguised by the American news media. Instead, they focused on Osama Bin Laden and on “smokescreens” like the Anthrax scares, which afterwards were proven to be fake news elaborated inside America.

I had plenty of experience in media political smokescreens from the newspapers in Peru during the time of terrorism that I mentioned before. It was very obvious for me that both Osama Bin Laden`s story and the one of the Anthrax attacks were manufactured by the government in conjunction with the media in order, not only to generate fear in the people, but to distract and misguide the American public opinion off the really important facts like the bombings on Afghanistan or the continuous mistakes and arbitrarities that were constantly committed by George W. Bush with the excuse of defending the security of the American people.

But let`s not forget the positive side of the Americans’ reaction, which basically consisted in a continuously increasing compassion and solidarity towards the people that were directly affected by the attacks. Another important and positive advance was that, since September 11, some Americans had to look for the first time outside of themselves and turn towards what was going on in the rest of the world.

But on the other side there was the exaggerated patriotism and nationalism that aroused in the whole country. Nationalism can be dangerous. And, during the year after, it got to a scary point. Nationalism began to be worrying in the moment when the American country lost the values of freedom and democracy that was supposed to be built over. The main war propaganda slogan, “United We Stand”, was the typical nationalistic phrase that was used all over the place in order to create in the American people a unanimous support on Bush’s war endeavor.

What a better excuse than a terrorist attack in order to create a nationalistic campaign from coast to coast. “You are either with us or against us”, the president literally said. And then, from one moment to the other, the American flags invaded the visual landscape of the whole country, getting to an almost baroque point of saturation. All the house facades, the businesses, the automobiles, the corporations as well as the media followed this nationalistic American-flag-fever that quickly infested the whole place. In this sense, it is necessary to observe such phenomenon… I accept the possibility that those American flags initially rose as a sign of mourning and compassion towards the victims of the WTC attacks… but, a few months after the events, those flags changed meaning as an icon and turned to be a symbol of an unstoppable desire of revenge. The popular support for Bush`s war campaign was fed by this almost surreal and frightening nationalistic feeling. An American flag was no longer just an American flag. It became an important visual icon which could be assigned different meanings depending on the context. The question is: what did this American flag mean during the year after September 11: Was it a sign of mourn after the tragedy? Or was it instead a national sign of support to the War on Afghanistan?

One month after 9/11, during a commemorative ceremony at the Madison Square Garden, the famous actor Richard Gere was brave enough to stand in front of the crowd and to ask them for peace. Gere, a Buddhist himself and a personal friend of the Dalai Lama, simply said that it would be great to channel those revenge energies in a more positive way and to look for peace between the nations. But, almost immediately, the crowd started yelling and whistling at him until he had to leave the stage. Since the following day, that fact turned the media against him, qualifying him as an “Anti-American”. The same term was used later by the media to call the famous intellectual Susan Sontag, after she wrote an article in Italy describing this American nationalistic fever. When asking for peace in the world and love between each other countries becomes an attitude qualifiable as “Anti-American”, it means that something is starting to go very wrong.

The only two American writers who were not afraid to speak out their thoughts during this over-sensitive time were both Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, each one of them with their own particular character. Both of them were very brave indeed, risking their lives given the dangerous nature of the whole situation.

From my Peruvian/American point of view, the United States is like a gigantic corporation that, under an imperialist model (inherited from mother England) dedicates itself to exploit the people of the third world countries, but not anymore as the physical slavery practices they used before. Instead, there is a new kind of slavery, which hides itself under the mask of the so-called “globalization” process. Globalization is nothing but the expansion of the American Empire in the rest of the world. How does this empire expand? It expands like a huge octopus with several tentacles spread all around the planet. One tentacle is the one that spreads luxury, materialism and over-compsumption all around the world. The other tentacle holds the world with exploitation due to economic ambition. But the most important tentacle is called neoliberalism, the economic and political doctrine that rules during this time of decadence of the whole capitalist system. The IMF and the World Bank are the most important imperial institutions that work exploiting the rest of the world under the premises of such unfair and unequal doctrine. Thanks to both of them, the US keeps the third world in an eternal situation of debt, exploitation and poverty.

But the main questions are: What freedom are we talking about? What kind of democracy are we talking about? Does that have anything to do with the infamous “double moral standards” preached everywhere in the world by the USA? How can there be freedom and democracy in a country that is ruled by the power of huge corporations where money is definitely the most important thing? How can there be freedom and democracy in a country where the information spread by the media is totally manipulated by the government itself?

Had Americans ever look at itself at the mirror before and thought why do they hate us? Why are they burning American flags all over the third world? The first American answers to these questions were: “Who gives a shit about the rest of the world? I have a nice SUV, I have my children in a decent school. I do not have anything to complain about what America does all around the world… because I live in this little bubble that is pretty, neat, clean, and secure for my family and me”.

The American people is being manipulated and lied systematically by the corporate mainstream media. TV is one of the biggest American diseases. It constitutes a system of constant stupidization that is a perfect mechanism of social control which keeps the people ignorant is the way the government wants them to be, so they can not even think clearly about the whole situation. In the same sense, the news media are, as we just said, incredibly manipulated by the government and used as war propaganda outlets. My own conclusion is that the USA did not wake up during the year after September 11. Most of Americans kept sleeping in their own self-contained dream for many more years.

So, again, let`s ask ourselves what freedom are we talking about? We Americans are nothing but slaves of the system. What freedom are we talking about if the media is controlled by powerful corporations and all the content of the information they spread responds to lobbies and special interests?

I believe in the photographic medium as one that documents the social landscape, but also as one that expresses internal emotions. Photography for me is an artistic and expressive medium which allows me to explore a social reality. In the context of this book, I try to analyze certain visual aspects of a social environment that was living in a time of an overwhelming after-shock crisis.

During that time, I was photographing mostly around the neighborhood where I was living: Astoria (Queens, New York), which is one of the richest communities in the world in terms of cultural and ethnical diversity. But the coincidence was that Astoria was also the home of a huge crowd of Arab, Muslim and South-East Asian families. This is why Astoria became for me a small version of the United States of America. The picture of the old man watering his yard/land is very symbolic in this sense. He is a typical individualistic American, isolated from the outside world, and surrounded by his beautiful yard/property until the white fences, that are symbols of the borders of his valuable piece of land. The American flag was also there, like in almost every American frontyard after 9/11. This image was the first one I shot that conceptually contributed to define what would later become the main subject matter of this book.

The September 11 attacks meant a breaking point in America’s History. Since 9/11, the traumatized America has seriously changed and the American social landscape has been significantly transformed. Important part of this change has been the exacerbated feeling of patriotism -which ultimately became nationalism. that has grown considerably since that date.

The documentary method of this work is based on a quite eclectic way of research. Every situation that I have documented has passed through the filter of my subjective experience. Objectivity does not actually exist, and we can confirm that if we look at the ridiculous coverage of the Afghanistan war by most of the American media. Since I am aware that objectivity doesn’t exist, I have decided to create this photographic work as what I call “a subjective documentary photographic research”. Part of my method was observing the everyday life of American people. I have been carefully analyzing the attitudes in the American people in relation to the 9/11 tragedy.

We need to put aside our emotions and to ask ourselves some questions in order to analyze the nature of our level of patriotism. It is a positive and inclusive patriotism that creates a special and positive collective energy? Or is it an exclusive nationalism where nothing matters but the security of our country? Or is it a neo-nazi nationalism which discriminates people from other cultures or races, like it is the case of the muslim community living in the US? Or is it a feeling of affection for the people that share your culture and your same way of living?

As we can see, this “American flag syndrome” could mean many different things, positive or negative. It could be an attitude of patriotism which could be perfectly sane and healthy for the development of our country and our people… or it could be a scary chauvinism with a deep desire of revenge no matter what the cost is…But nobody can deny that those American flags were everywhere in the country… and that is why there are everywhere in this book.

This body of work is a visual and subjective analysis of the increasing nationalism that I saw in America during the year after the event that changed the world forever.

The purpose of this book is not to give answers, but to ask ourselves some questions about the reactions of the American people after the September 11 attacks. How radical can this nationalism get? Can it get out of proportion or not? Can it become a negative and/or aggressive nationalism? In this sense, the fact is that when patriotism becomes nationalism, then it becomes really dangerous for everybody.

During the year after, very few people questioned what it really meant to be an American. Very few people asked themselves at that moment a very simple question: “Why do they hate us?”. Very few people opened their eyes for the first time, but the ones who did reached some kind of “enlightenment” that came for those who realized the truth. The government was lying and manipulating the information in which the people naturally believed. The media kept preventing the people that something similar could happen again in New York. Spreading fear in the heart of the Americans was an important purpose of the George W. Bush administration. And they succeeded to the point of having the American people letting him get away with signing the Patriot Act and they gave up plenty of their beloved civil rights in the name of their safety.

Another expression of this fascist nationalism was the racial profiling of Muslim-Americans. A big number of them were put in jail just for being Muslims, without the right of contacting their families neither their lawyers.

The security measures where overwhelming to the point that America became some kind of Police State where nobody had the same rights anymore. The war propaganda was everywhere. The most popular Hollywood movies playing in the theaters were, of course, war movies like the case of “Black Hawk Down”. It was not the first time when the government had used the Hollywood system as a war propaganda tool.

The combination of consumerism and nationalism was quite graphic and interesting. The American corporations proceeded to use the disaster as advertising for their own benefit. It was then when patriotism became a powerful marketing tool, especially in the case of the blatant merchandising of American-flagged items.