The Destruction of Lower Manhattan, 1967

In the future, when people will look back at Sept 11, 2001, they might well say, it was the high point of the American Empire.

New York City has been for many years the center of the New Rome, and we are the Romans. Ironies abound of course, as New York City is perhaps the most democratic city in the Republic and one of the most democratic cities the world has ever known. Never the less, as the Romans before us, there are plenty of people who despise our power, and plenty of people that will never be, nor do they ever want to be, citizens.

Thirty four years ago Bleak Beauty’s photographer recorded the demolition of mostly 19th century buildings located below Chambers street in Lower Manhattan. On the east side of the island, near the fish market, room was being made for a new ramp onto the Brooklyn Bridge and for the expansion of Pace College. On the west side, over 12 blocks of buildings were brought down to make way for the future World Trade Center. In 1967, the year these pictures were made, sixty acres of buildings in these two areas were demolished. The photographs were published as a book, sadly called, “The Destruction of Lower Manhattan.”

The pictures presented here were all made on the west side of Lower Manhattan, on or near the site of the WTC. They are presented here out of love for the city. They are also presented out of respect for the practice of photography, and the warning that now especially, in these perilous times, photographers must exhibit integrity in the use and control of their work.

The tragic attack on the Trade Center was among the most photographed events of all time. Photographers rushed to the scene. The catastrophe was photographed from every spot and angle. Some ran towards it, some away from it, but the bravest stood their ground as the cloud of destruction swept over them. Within days Time Magazine had published a special issue, including pictures by journalists as fine as Jim Nachtwey and Angel Franco, both friends we have enormous respect for.

The fine pictures of these dedicated and brave journalists are used to lure readers as the editorial voice of Time Magazine beats the drum beats of war. The result could not have been more twisted if it had been edited by Joseph Goebbels. The issue stands as a monument of media depravity, that can only make you wonder if the Empire is worth saving. (“Time Inc.” has not been “worth saving” for fifty years.) Time’s full page editorial calls on Americans to unite in hate. “Let us have rage”, writes Lance Morrow “a policy of focused brutality”. “America needs to relearn … why human nature has equipped us all with a weapon … called hatred.” That the Empire might not be worth saving is not an original thought with Bleak Beauty. It is a common idea among many young people today.

Photographers and journalists of the world, unite and fight. You have nothing to lose but your jobs. If you do not agree with the ideology presented along with your work, then take your work elsewhere. Present it yourself. Create your own magazines, your own networks and your own channels. Write your own text and captions and editorials. Do not serve the gods of war.

– Bleak Beauty

Picture Essays