Spirit of 9/11
Faces of Ground Zero
It’s a warm fall day on the sidewalk of Liberty and Virginia St. A bus rolls up, a Sierra Spirit, and the giant image of a worn-out firefighter in a dusty suit wearing the look of a man who’s doing what needs to be done engulfs your view.
This firefighter, Danny Foley, was off-duty on Sept. 11. He rushed to the firehouse where his brother, Tommy, worked and began searching for him. He and his brother-in-law found Tommy’s body on Sept. 21. His story is on photographer Joe McNally’s Web site, www.joemcnally.com, for the exhibit Faces of Ground Zero: “First day, I searched for 36 hours. I had a hard time calling home. When I spoke to my father, I promised him, one way or another, I’d find Tommy and bring him home.”
We all have Sept. 11, 2001, stories—whether we were in New York City or in Reno. But Foley was in the thick of it. During the three weeks following the fall of the World Trade Center, he was one of 280 people McNally invited to stop for a moment to tell his story and get his portrait snapped by the biggest Polaroid camera in the world.
Reno’s RTC Sierra Spirit fleet of buses has carried images from McNally’s Faces of Ground Zero series of photographs since Sept. 11 in commemoration of that day and of the ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances because of it.
There are firefighters, asbestos handlers, priests, chefs, high school students, window washers, sons looking for fathers and many more.
McNally shot “The Future of Flying” cover story in National Geographic’s December 2003 issue and was a staff photographer for Life Magazine. Life also published excerpts from the Ground Zero series in two books, In the Land of the Free and One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001.
In the intro to a Life article, McNally wrote, “Asking someone to take time to be photographed on something other than a wedding day can be perceived as time-consuming and unnecessary or, worse, frivolous. Certainly in the days after the attacks, with the nation grieving and in shock, it might have seemed obscenely so. But that is what I do. I’m a photographer, not a firefighter or a cop or an ironworker. This, I felt, is all that I can offer.”
He thought the room-sized Polaroid, which resides in an East 2nd Street studio in New York, would capture most clearly the larger-than-life sense of these people. The camera’s lens is from a U-2 spy plane, and the exposure creates an 8-foot-tall image with little to no grain. McNally explained that because of the camera’s complexity, each subject was typically shot only once, not like in a “photo shoot,” where the best of about 100 images are chosen. This, he says, gives the portrait a sense of immediacy.
Between now and Oct. 11, the buses will show 84 of the 246 images ultimately selected for the series. McNally provided the display to RTC at no charge. The exhibit began its tour in January 2002 at Grand Central Station in New York. This is its first appearance in Nevada.