Faces At Ground Zero
Queens resident and former Tribune photographer Jason Eskenazi hasn’t missed many historical events in his seasoned career as a documentary photographer.
has captured the end of Communism in Russia, the brutal battles in Chechnya,
and the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany. The Bayside resident’s
photographs have been shown in exhibitions and prestigious publications,
including Time Magazine, The New York Times, and Newsweek.
Sept. 11, Eskenazi thought he had missed one of the biggest events in United
States history – the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Instead
of being in his native New York, Eskenazi was in a small motel room in the
Ukraine on Sept. 11, “shocked” by the loss of the World Trade Center,
and disappointed that he would never get the chance to capture the emotions
of his New York neighbors following a tragedy that hit him close to home.
Eventually, Eskenazi got back to New York City and went to Ground Zero, where a lack of press credentials kept him shut out of the area. Still, he was able to capture the horror and loss felt by people at Ground Zero using a creative approach that never included the rubble that once stood as a symbol of American capitalism and success. His three week’s worth of panoramic black and white photos focusing on the facial expressions of Ground Zero visitors may soon be available for public viewing in a book entitled Vanishing Points.
Eskenazi first got to Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, he said he was,
“absolutely shocked,” and said, “Television and newspaper photos
cannot capture the enormity of Ground Zero. The smell, the site of the
rubble and the armed guards just make it seem surreal . . . It was
devastating as a New Yorker.”
tried to renew his NYPD Press card before returning to New York, but the
freelance photojournalist was unable to do so. He said, “It was
frustrating. There were fences around Ground Zero and guards everywhere to
keep people out. I was always on the outside looking in, and that made it
of taking photos of Ground Zero itself, Eskenazi improvised and examined the
faces of people passing the destruction. He said, “People’s reactions
were fascinating to me. People of all races were stopping and just staring
at the Trade Center. Some were crying, some were taking pictures, some were
angry. The reactions were very interesting, so I started shooting them.”
Bayside photographer snapped dozens of shots in three weeks at Ground Zero,
including photos of a woman taking a picture of Ground Zero from a taxi cab,
a woman sobbing in her hands, a baby staring at the site with his head
sideways as if he’s concentrating on it, a girl covering her nose from the
smell of the debris, a woman staring at the site in shock while a New York
Sightseeing bus passes behind her, groups of Jews and Muslims looking at the
site, and a group of people taking photographs of the destruction.
said he took the photos by holding the camera on his chest instead of
looking through the viewfinder so, “The subjects wouldn’t pay attention
to me,” he said. “I tried to capture every emotion at Ground Zero,
including the people who were taking pictures and treating the disaster like
an attraction. I wanted to show all of America in mourning.”
None of the photos actually show Ground Zero, but Eskenazi said, “[Ground Zero] is similar to the Sun – you don’t need to show the Sun to see its effects as light and shadow.”
has compiled his photographs of Ground Zero into a book, entitled Vanishing
Points. He called it that for several reasons, saying, “Vanishing
Points came about, I guess, by the panoramic effect that produced two
vanishing points – down the street and then down another perpendicular one
. . . It’s ultimately about loss, about the despair of loss, all kinds of
book is ready for publication, but Eskenazi is waiting for a publisher to
buy the rights. He said there will probably be no captions because, “I
want the photos to speak for themselves.” He did know that the first photo
in the book will be of a man holding his sleeping child on his shoulder. He
said, “He’s bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders. We all
felt that way on Sept. 11.”
Eskenazi is also trying to open an exhibition of his work, but nothing has been scheduled yet.
began photographing as a hobby at Queens College, where he received degrees
in Psychology and American Literature. He became photo-editor of the college
yearbook, and began working at the Queens Tribune.
then moved on to work at Newsday and several other papers before
becoming a freelance photographer. He works on a regular basis for Open
Society Institute (SOROS) publications.
received several grants to take photos in the former Soviet Union to
document the fall of Communism and in Germany to document the fall of the
also took photos of guerilla battles in Chechnya and other parts of Russia,
where he had to sleep in an underground bomb shelter at night to keep safe.
said, “I remember I would hear dogs, scared out of their minds, scratching
on the bomb shelter door while the bombing was happening. That was
he doesn’t consider himself a war journalist, Eskenazi said, “I have had
to go near combat. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but I do it. It’s
the thrill of danger, I guess.” He added, “Now with this Daniel Pearl
thing, everyone’s on edge. But you just have to keep working.”
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