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May 10, 2014

How They See Us: The World Trade Center

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Well, photographer Dolly Faibyshev isn’t a foreigner — but her parents are Russian immigrants and her project, “I Love New York,” is about envisioning the city through the eyes of the foreign tourist. That being the premise, I think we can take this photo — and the rest of the pictures that ran on The New Yorker’s Photo Booth — as a foreign view.

Another reason we could say that is because, how many Americans would consider documenting the Freedom Tower a a satiric sidekick? Or better yet, what serious American media site — particularly such a highbrow one — would dare doing the same thing (without a twist such as Dolly’s)? If the photo is hilarious, what makes it so is the way it plays off the apocalyptic provenance of the tower (or, replacement tower) as well as the sacredness of the site. Flirting with blasphemy in the anonymous way that photography can, we see the police officer — symbol of the venerated “first responder”— not just scaled to Lilliputian size beside The Tourist Tower (I’m not positive, but I believe that’s Dolly herself in the role) but he’s also behind bars. (And, in spite of how patriotically incorrect it is to bring up, what isn’t uncommon is the tendency, in human nature, to become reduced by our own suffering.)

But that’s not the key part. As much as the Freedom Tower has been and is a gargantuan statement of American resolve and recovery, the competing tower of the Russian tourist so repurposes the other one that all that 9/11 business becomes instantly relegated to some peculiarly American head trip. And as much as the Freedom Tower is all about America’s will and America showing “its true colors,” to the Russian on holiday (and let’s pay homage to Dolly for playing off “the Reds”), here it’s just one more stop between the Chrysler Building and Liberty Island.

The fact The New Yorker published this story and this particular shot, however, does make me wonder. In Bag’s yearly coverage of 9/11 anniversaries, we’ve grown increasingly interested in how the cataclysm shifts (and weakens) in impact and meaning over time — especially after the events on 9/11 caused many to seriously consider the death of irony. If the Freedom Tower is really off limits to satire, is it possible here that The New Yorker is sending up a trial balloon?

(photo: Dolly Faibyshev. caption: “Lady in Red.”)

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