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"9/11 TRIBUTE 2013"
by Scott "Genghis" Wong
Photo by Genghis
CIRCA MID-1980s: "WORLD TRADE CENTER"
It was a clear warm day, with the sky as blue a robin's egg, as blue as it was on the morning of September 11, 2001. This was in the mid-1980s. I stood there at the base of the World Trade Center tower, thinking of how to compose this picture, as I cradled my Nikon F3 SLR, armed with my beloved 28mm f/2 Nikkor lens. I wanted a dynamic and emotionally-impactful exposure, visually showing the expansive base of the tower diminishing to an infinite point on the photographic border's horizon, as it ascended up seemingly forever toward heaven. I manually focused the 28mm lens on an element of the tower about thirty feet up from my position at ground zero. It's always been my contention that such pictures always looked more right, when focus was localized to a nearer element in the foreground of the photo---rather than the farther elements off into the distance. Such an exposure grounds you, forcing you to wistfully appreciate how far, far really is.
I truly loved this 28mm lens. The only Nikon lens I might love more than the 28mm, is the 20mm f/4 Nikkor "pancake" lens that graces my Nikon D1x DSLR, now. On that bright sunny day in the mid-80s, I decided to take a shot straight up, setting my 28mm lens to wide open at f/2, for maximum depth of field. I was standing only a few feet from the footprint of the tower, causing me to crane my neck as I aimed my F3 up at the tower, and the ultra-blue sky above it. My F3 was loaded with Kodak Tri-X Pan, and I was shooting at 400 ASA. These were the days before we transitioned into this ISO nonsense. I remember so clearly, looking at the tower through the voluminous viewfinder of my F3. It seemed like I was fitting it all into the confines of my camera, to be lovingly etched into my memory, the film plane---and into photographic history.
I remember 9/11 very well. I was in fact, working in my home darkroom on the morning of September 11, 2001, in my 21st floor apartment on South Street in lower Manhattan. I happen to have a magnificent view of where the towers stood, from one of my bedroom's windows. However, I've written extensively in other articles about the details about how I witnessed "9/11," and it is a fact these days, that when I remember that infamous act of terrorism---I tend to reflect more on that day in the mid-1980s when I photographed the World Trade Center tower. I like to think of the goodness that surrounded that sunny day when I made this exposure, for it reminds me of how good it is to be an American. In fact, when I stood there that day in the '80s, I thought to myself, "What a magnificent building, what a great symbol of how good our life is here." The view of the tower from ground zero near the base looking straight up, was breathtaking.
On the morning of 9/11/01, I had a darkroom at home, but in the mid-1980s, I had a fully equipped wet darkroom in the research wing of the Edward S. Harkness Eye Institute of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Washington Heights. In this darkroom, I had a state of the art Omega "point-light source" enlarger. This was a different time, and a different America than post-9/11. It was an America full of optimism and hope, celebrated with photographs such as "World Trade Center." I had this enviable darkroom at the Eye Institute, with this great Omega enlarger. This is the enlarger that my former employer let me take home with me when he retired, in 1991. It is the enlarger that I exposed the "World Trade Center" print with, and the same enlarger that I was working with on the fateful morning of 9/11/01, when the planes hit. In this digital age of shooting and digital darkroom technique, this Omega enlarger sits in my apartment as a tribute to a film era gone by--an era of innocence before innocence died.
When I worked at the Eye Institure, I bought my supplies at a small camera shop called Harry's Camera Shop on Broadway, between 164th and 165th Streets. The Eye Institute was located on the corner of 165th Street and Fort Washington Avenue. A couple of years before I took "World Trade Center," I bought my Nikon F3 body from Harry, the proprietor of Harry's Camera Shop. Harry was actually named Zvi Glick, an orthodox Jew who would give me occasional rides home in his station wagon. Harry would drop me off at the South Street exit of the FDR Drive, before he headed home to his seven children in Brooklyn. Harry and I would often have these philosophical discussions on the way home, when he would say things like, "Scott, you only have two children. You should have more, like me." Harry was a good guy with a good sense of humor, who gave me a good deal on the F3 back.
On the anniversary of 9/11/01, it is inevitable for me to think of the declaration of war that Islamic radicals imposed on us, on that fateful morning of September 11, 2001. It was the day that innocence died, a day that ushered in an era of perpetual vigilance. I'll never forget that, and know that our struggle with terrorism will never end (witness Benghazi, Boston, the shoe-bomber, the Times Square bomber)---in spite of the delusional narrative dispensed by the current administration. It will never end as long as a sizeable segment of the Muslim religion is hell bent on destroying America--and this latter will never disperse.
However, after a somber period of mourning those senselessly who lost their lives in the twin towers, and those in our military who honorably and bravely lost their limbs and lives fighting our terrorist enemies overseas---I eventually drift to a memory of what it was like on the sunny day that I photographed the tower, and remember with fondness, the America that was. Remember 9/11, and the goodness that was and is America. I'm gazing at the tower through the finder of my Nikon F3 film camera. The ethereal image reaches the retina of my dominant eye. I trip the shutter, and the exposure is forever etched into my film's emulsion. The image is then transferred to a paper print, and that image exists for all in the future to see. Later.