Jersey City resident Zelda Shuster, a nurse at the A. Harry Moore School on Kennedy Blvd., volunteered for the triage units that were set up at Liberty State Park on Sept. 11 to treat the World Trade Center attack victims who were sent across the Hudson. She remembered being transported to Ground Zero, which she described as a “war zone.”
Memories still bring her almost to verge of tears, and she tries to forget. But in viewing pictures on Monday that photographer Joel Meyerowitz took of Ground Zero, she see saw nothing but positives in his body of work.
“I think that they are meaningful for history,” Shuster said. “They captured the essence of the area.”
Meyerowitz was the featured speaker in the opening lecture of this year’s NJCU University Lecture Series. The photographer, a native New Yorker, delivered his lecture, “Inside The Forbidden City – Eight Months Photographing Ground Zero,” along with a digital slide show of some of the 8,500 photos that he had taken between September 2001 and May 2002.
Meyerowitz still remembers that day in September 2001 when he tried to take a picture of what remained of the World Trade Center and the surrounding area.
“I was looking through my lens when this female police officer punched me in the shoulder, saying ‘No photos, this is a crime scene,’ ” said Meyerowitz to an audience at the university. “There were those words resonating in my head. ‘No photographs.’ That means no history.”
The color photos he would eventually take documented the cleanup of Ground Zero, the people who worked on the cleanup detail, and the items left behind. Meyerowitz provided anecdotes Monday, supplying the stories that made the pictures come alive.
A photo of a bombed-out children’s nursery in Building 7 was eerily juxtaposed with one of children’s toy ambulances on a dusty floor.
Meyerowitz saluted the Arson and Explosion Squad of the NYC Fire Department. “When I told them I was getting thrown out every day,” he said, “they said to me ‘Oh, no, we need this record. This is history. We will protect you.’ ”
Meyerowitz had an almost daily routine of hauling 35 pounds of equipment for two miles from his work studio, and working 10 to 12-hour days and longer depending on what transpired.
The photographs of Ground Zero will have a permanent residence at the Museum of the City of New York, and then there are talks with New York City government on having photos on permanent display in different parts of Ground Zero.
Critical of some structures
However, Meyerowitz was critical on the subject of the various structures that have been or will be constructed on the site, such as the recent World Trade Center PATH Station.
“I don’t think they should be built on hallowed ground,” he said. “I understand the practical reasons, but I think it shouldn’t have happened.”
Praise was evident at the end of the lecture, as Meyerowitz received a standing ovation from the audience.
Shandor Hassan, a photography teacher at the International Center of Photography in New York who resides in downtown Jersey City, had studied Meyerowitz’s work as a photography student at the University of New Mexico.
“There’s a tendency for these photographs to be used for patriotic and romantic reasons. But he gets past that with his photographs. What helped was his personality as a storyteller,” said Hassan.
John Levin, NJCU’s vice president of advancement, whose office organizes the NJCU University Lecture Series, was surprised by the immediacy and power of the photos.
“Seeing all these photographs, one realizes that you never really come to terms with the magnitude of that day,” said Levin.
The NJCU University Lecture Series, which has been in existence since 1984, has seen such luminaries speak on campus as the late tennis star Arthur Ashe, writer Joyce Carol Oates, journalist Seymour Hersh and now Meyerowitz. As John Nevin humorously described it on Monday, it may be the best lecture series “west of the 92nd Street Y.”
Future speakers for this year’s series will be novelist Michael Cunningham (“The Hours”) in February 2004 and scientist Robert Sapolsky in April 2004. The lectures are free to the public and usually start at 3 p.m. For more information on the series, contact the NJCU Office of Public Information at (201) 200-3426.