Exercise 3.3

Late photography

Read David Campany’s essay ‘Safety in Numbness ’ (available in your student resources). Summarise the key points of the essay and note down your own observations on the points he raises.
Look at some of Meyerowitz’s images available online from Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive (2006). Consider how these images differ from your own memories of the news footage and other images of the time. Write a short response to the work (around 300 words ), noting what value you feel this ‘late’ approach has.

LP&E, p.114

[8Feb22] This was considered at some length in C&N.

Central to Campany’s essay is Joel Meyerowitz’s work at Ground Zero after 9/11. Meyerowitz was given exclusive photographic access to the site and his project was, necessarily aftermath photography: Campany sees this as reflecting an increasing trend towards the late / aftermath treatment of subjects in still photography, ‘They assume an aesthetic of utility closer to forensic photography than traditional photojournalism’. I drew a comparison in my C&N analysis to  Weegee’s work, photographing crime scenes.

Viewers of news reports have come to expect live video coverage of events, wherever and whenever they occur and so stills assume a different role, rooted in traditional newspaper reports, of creating a single frozen image that encapsulates an event and can, to some extent, oversimplify it.

As I wrote in C&N, ‘This leads to the emergence of the more interpretive (and more subject to interpretation) post-event, aftermath, late photograph‘.

Campany considers the history of event photography that can be summarised as,
pre 1920 — photography and communications were too slow to be relevant in this context.
1920s+ — the rise of print journalism and technical advances in photography, it became the medium by which the knowledge of events were disseminated, shared and understood.
late 1960s+ — with the availability of portable video cameras, print gave way to TV journalism, the public expects events to be reported in real time, many reported still images are frames from video and the role of photography has become the depiction of the effects of events. †
[Nowadays —many of the public obtain their news and information through social media rather than news media, but Campany’s essay was published in 2003, before this latest transformation had taken place.]

Looking more specifically at war photography:
Campany mentions  Fenton and Brady, but notes that similarities to late photography are superficial, because this was a technical restraint rather than an aesthetic choice.
Capa‘s work in Spain and WW2 is WarPhot‘s equivalent of the decisive moment 
The Vietnam War was, perhaps the zenith of stills war photography, this time largely because of the changing nature of the way war is waged rather than technical or aesthetic considerations (see McCullin).
Thereafter, again, waging war changed, first to more secrecy and then the current practice of embedding journalists and photographers.

In summary, the public’s expectations for events reporting changes to take advantage of technological enhancements and this has left stills photography behind, forcing it to find a new role in more interpretive, late, aftermath coverage.

† As noted in Part 3, “Writing in 2005, Campany states that ‘almost a third of all news photographs are frame grabs from video and digital sources. The proportion increases in the coverage of international conflict.’ (p.130 in the Green edition) but does not clearly state a source for this statistic.”

Turning now to the Meyerowitz project, Aftermath: World Trade Centre Archive and contrasting this with the live coverage on 11th September 2001, I suspect that no-one who was near a television that day will forget the repeated showings of the airplanes impacting the towers. They happened at 8:46 am and 9:03 am (EDT, 9/11 Memorial & Museum, n.d.), lunchtime in London, and I recall watching continual repeats on the screens at work.

24-hour TV news was invented with the launch of the CNN news channel in 1980. It developed a following with the Persian Gulf War in 1991 (History, 2009), and came to real prominence with coverage of the OJ. Simpson case in its various stages in 1994 and 95 (Gordon, 2021). In the UK, Sky News launched in 1989 and BBC News 24 in 1997. My recollection of the BBC news in the first few years is as a trumpet waiting for a tune, but 9/11 gave it a purpose that it has rarely found since. Rolling news relies on gradually evolving spectacles to justify its existence.

My other memory of the coverage is picking up my 11-year-old son and a friend from school and trying to explain the meaning and significance of the event because neither paid much attention to current affairs and they were more used to consuming fiction than fact on TV.

Another significant personal 9/11 media impact is seeing Richard Drew’s Falling Man for the first time. As I described in C&N, it can take a while to actually understand what is depicted: at first glance it looks like a photograph of 1970s wallpaper with something on it and it is only when you read the title and the date that its true meaning and horror is revealed.

This is the context in which the Meyerowitz project takes it place: immediate and continuous video repeated endlessly, then isolated, startling still images and finally more considered, contemplative coverage from Meyerowitz.

Meyerowitz was the only photographer allowed on the “crime scene” site after 9/11, although only after repeated efforts, “In the first few weeks, he was chased off the site repeatedly, but over time, with the help of officials on and off site, the use of forged workers’ passes, and by assuming the ‘uniform’ of hard hat, goggles, respirator, gloves, boots and duct taped pants, Meyerowitz became ‘woven into the fabric of the site’.” (Bunyan, 2011). He spent 9 months taking 8,000 photographs of the damage, the clearup and the personnel involved.

Although it was named a relatively long term project when compared to the live video and stills coverage of TV stations and photojournalists which had to be live, Meyerowitz started with what might be termed not-long-after-math, as time was of the essence to capture the immediate aftermath. As Meyerowitz came to be accepted on the site, he could extend his range of subjects and treatments. An exhibition of 24 images toured the world and a book of the archive was published in 2006.

Sally Miller (2020, p.68) briefly quotes a range of comments on the project, from Liam Kennedy who regarded it as “propagandistic” to László Munteán who described some images as “sublime”.
Stephen Bull (2010, p.118) notes the danger of beautiful photographs “anaesthetising” the horror of the event and quotes Mike Rhinehardt’s description of “beautiful suffering”.

All these comments are, of course, correct because mass suffering and death is bound to be terrifying, yet photographers will often seek to apply their aesthetic and professional standards, whatever the object, and viewers will bring their own sensibilities and preconceptions to bear on what they see. Subjectively good photographs of subjectively bad events will always be prone to this dilemma.

LPE Exc 3.3 References

9/11 Memorial & Museum (nd) 9/11 FAQs [online]. 911memorial.org. Available from https://www.911memorial.org/911-faqs [Accessed 9 February 2022].

Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Bull, S. (2010) Photography. Abingdon,Oxon: Routledge.

Bunyan, M. (2011) exhibition: ‘joel meyerowitz – aftermath’ at the miami art museum [online]. artblart.com. Available from https://artblart.com/2011/11/03/exhibition-joel-meyerowitz-aftermath-at-the-miami-art-museum/ [Accessed 9 February 2022].

Campany, D. (2003) Safety in Numbness: Some remarks on the problem of “Late Photography” in Green, D. (ed.) (2003) Where is the photograph? Brighton: Photoworks, pp.123-132.

Gordon, K. (year) HOW BILLIONAIRE CNN FOUNDER TED TURNER INVENTED THE 24-HOUR NEWS CYCLE [online]. maxim.com. Available from https://www.maxim.com/news/how-ted-turner-invented-24-hour-news-cycle/ [Accessed 9 February 2022].

Green, D. (ed.) (2003) Where is the photograph? Brighton: Photoworks.

History (2009) CNN launches [online]. history.com. Available from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/cnn-launches [Accessed 9 February 2022].

Miller, S. (2020) Contemporary Photography and Theory. London: Bloomsbury.