months and six days later and we're not over it. Sometimes
we think we are, but we're not. And we shouldn't be.
At lunchtime Thursday, the lobby of One Market Street
was filled with ordinary Americans walking slowly and
reverentially through an exhibition of life-size
photographs of other ordinary Americans. The silence was
the same silence you hear at Washington's Vietnam War
The traveling exhibition is called "Faces of
Ground Zero." The 58 photographs of rescuers and
survivors of the attack on the World Trade Center were
taken by Time-Life photographer Joe McNally with a unique
16-foot-tall Polaroid camera. A short video shows McNally
at work, telling subjects to pose with the tools of their
trade and peeling back huge swaths of Polaroid film.
At the opening reception earlier this week, McNally
told me about Archbishop Demetrios, whose St. Nicholas
Greek Orthodox Church was destroyed in the attack. When
the film was peeled to reveal the archbishop's image, he
said, "This is perfection."
The photographs show people as they are at their best,
the way the viewers of the exhibition would want to be if
they suddenly found themselves on the front line of war in
their own city.
-- -- --
There's Joe Demczur, big as life in his window washer
overalls, holding the squeegee he used to open an elevator
door and break through a wall to save himself and other
passengers. A small eloquent quote accompanies each
photograph, and Demczur's is "I can't talk about
The photos were taken just two weeks after the attack.
"Joe is more voluble now," said McNally.
Katrina Marino lost her firefighter husband, Kenneth
Marino. In the photo, her 3-year-old daughter Kristin is
covering her eyes with her hand, probably because of the
flash, but the gesture has a sculptural eloquence. The
eloquence goes on and on.
There are firefighters who found no one to rescue,
nurses who had no one to treat, priests who had all too
many dead to bless and a humane society worker who rescued
There's Omar Rivera, a blind official of the Port
Authority who descended 71 floors of Tower One with the
help of his guide dog Salty. At the opening reception,
Rivera and Salty stood in front of their photograph, along
with Rivera's wife, Sonia, and their 9-year-old daughter,
"I realized that life is very fragile and I should
be giving more of me to the ones I love -- and even the
ones I don't love," said Rivera, when I asked how his
life had changed. "Life by itself is a gift."
-- -- --
By the end of the opening night speeches, there were
lots of red eyes in the crowd, which included many
employees of Morgan Stanley, which was the largest tenant
of the World Trade Center, and sponsors the exhibition.
Assistant Chief Earl Sanders of the SFPD said we
learned our enemies hate us just because we're Americans.
"Let us say to these enemies that all we have to do
to defeat you is be Americans."
Above all, Sanders said, we should live up to our own
ideals of liberty and justice for all.
San Francisco Fire Chief Mario Trevino said that the
connections between the New York and San Francisco fire
departments are "more than traveling to attend St.
Patrick's Day parades."
Indeed, I later met Jeff Moreno, who was one of 11 San
Francisco firefighters who flew to New York on Sept. 17
and stayed for eight days. They searched the rubble at
night and attended funerals during the day, because there
were so many funerals and too few New York firefighters.
When Joe McNally got up to speak, he said his subjects
would just say they were doing their jobs.
"Quite honestly, all I can do is shoot the
pictures," he said. Then McNally paraphrased
Archbishop Demetrios: "Out of the darkness of evil
came brilliance. "
You see the brilliance of plain people in the pictures
and hear it in their words. In comparing the simplicity of
this exhibition to the Vietnam Memorial, Chief Trevino of
the Fire Department said, "You wouldn't think that
names carved in granite would have that effect."
You hear that same silence in the lobby gallery, but
emotions behind it are different. The photographs are of
the living, for the living, and the war is not over.
"Faces of Ground Zero" runs until June 7.
It's open, free of charge, Monday through Friday from 7
am. to 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Rob Morse's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays,
Fridays and Sundays. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.