Archive for the ‘New York’ Category
Paros- Four years ago today I finished this decade-long documentary project about what was then called ground Zero in lower Manhattan. When 9/11 took place in my city, I told myself I would follow the story wherever I could for as long as I could. It took me to Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Hamburg, the Republic of Georgia, Jordan, Iraq, Bangkok, Malaysia, and countless other locales as the “War on Terror” unfolded. I then kept returning to New York City, my home, for each subsequent anniversary.
Ground Zero is now the site of One World Trade Center, a hub for New York City’s tourism industry. The city has been rebuilt where it was thrashed by the largest suicide attack in history. Ground Zero buzzes with curious visitors posting the requisite photos to social media but the memory lays there, heaving with silent grief underneath flowing water and cool black stone.
9/11 unequivocally changed our world. We are living in a less safe, less just world today in my judgement. Freedoms have been curtailed as the United States has evolved into a low key surveillance state in response. Afghanistan is still in a state of war. Iraq has been broken likely irreparably. Then the ‘Arab Spring’ happened. It resulted not in a well spring of democratic growth as many initially hoped but inadvertently acted as an enabling factor for the spread of cancerous salafi-jihadi ideology to the point of holding territory by the most vile of non-state actors.
9/11 must be remembered with calm dignity, not be opportunistically exploited with jingoism or crass populism. A vigil of the spirit.
New York- I recently interviewed Ambassador Vlad Lupan, Moldova’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, here in his Manhattan office for IHS Jane’s Intelligence Review (subscription required). Though the finished product was a succinct summary of the present day challenges Moldova faces between Putin’s incipient Customs Union project and the hopes of its Western-leaning coalition government of joining the EU’s common market, our discussion went far beyond the first half of 2014 and the upcoming signing–along with Georgia–of the EU Association Agreement this week.
Our lengthy discussion into some detail on the ‘frozen’ Transdniester conflict along Moldova’s eastern frontier with Ukraine as well as the nature of the Turkic Gagauz minority’s autonomous politics in Moldova’s southeast. Moldova is a country often little understood in the broader Western mind (and is still referred to by some rather anachronistically as ‘Moldavia’ which can result in a degree of collective confusion).
One of Ambassador Lupan’s concern’s involved the influence of pro-Kremlin or outright Kremlin-controlled media outlets. As his country grapples with the prospect of broader European integration, Moldova’s separatist-minded peoples or those hailing from rural or elderly demographic cohorts holding on the the vestiges of what he termed “Soviet nostalgia” may feel that they have much to lose should their state turn its back on Russia by leaning too far West too rapidly. s We’re witnessing to this wistfulness for a Soviet time gone by to some degree in swaths of Ukraine’s industrial and mineral-rich Donbas region in a good many media reports this year.
Ukraine is currently plagued by an incredibly unhelpful lexicon that draws from everything from the battle for Stalingrad to the Russo-Chechen wars. With competing sides painting their opponents as ‘fascists‘ and ‘terrorists’ respectively, a civil society-based solution to the crisis-cum-conflict seems increasingly unlikely from a pessimistic-inflected vantage.
The Republic of Moldova most certainly has a stake in the outcome of events in Ukraine. The port city of Odessa is Transdniester’s oxygen valve to the wider world. After Crimea, Tiraspol’s retrograde Soviet-esque authorities have made known their separatism for accession to the apparently now expanding Russian Federation.
Though a non-contiguous sliver of land that cannot connect to Russia unless all of Ukraine were to somehow become a constituent region in a kind of Crimea scenario writ large, perhaps Transdniester elites imagine their unrecognized state as an outpost of Russian rule akin to Moscow’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad. Kaliningrad currently sandwiched between EU and NATO member states Poland and Lithuania. exists today essentially as a geopolitical relict of the aftermath of the Second World War
Between the agreement to be signed this week and elections scheduled for the end of November coupled with no end in sight for the violent conflict in its eastern neighbor, Moldova may be entering a period of heightened uncertainty as its pro-EU leadership attempts to move toward Brussels while Putin’s Customs Union awkwardly coalesces.
New York- As I attempted to chronicle the major events of the first decade of the 21st Century, I scurried all over the world applying for visas through arcane processes at hard to find embassies and consulates, felt the thud of earth shattering ordnance , and did my best to get an intellectual grasp on all that was unfolding around me. Most of what I had shot in New York revolved around events at Ground Zero, but this milieu of civil disobedience was something different yet ultimately related to 9/11 in the larger scope of things.
In late August 2004, a time that was arguably the zenith of neoconservative power with Bush on the cusp of his second term, conservatives were rallying in New York of all places. According to its detractors New York was/is the cradle of comparatively liberal media save for Murdoch’s media properties. But New York was also where 9/11 principally happened which neoconservative operators used to consolidate their hold on executive power in D.C. In other words, these were strange days in the city.
That year I pragmatically stayed home to financially recover from the chaos I’d created for myself from 2000-2003. Wars don’t wait and when you run off to one after having made a decision from one day to the next, it is to your own detriment upon your return home unless you come from an old money or nouveau riche background. So that year I looked inward to shoot a story at home and along came the Republican National Convention protests that August.
On August 30, 2004, I followed hordes of people from Dag Hammarskjold Plaza to Madison Square Garden where the convention was being held. Next thing I know I was shooting shoulder to shoulder with James Nachtwey, Antonin Kratochvil and many of the other war photographers from the VII and Magnum agencies (all with the latest digital SLR cameras bestowed upon them by corporate sponsors I guessed).
I was in a weird place with relation to money and technology: I could get to events and shoot them but as I was an analog holdout I couldn’t compete with everyone else who’d already long since made the switch to digital well before Iraq in 2003. I could just afford to shoot and develop actual film but not buy a digital body and lens kit. Meaning that I couldn’t file ultra competitive breaking news stories. I therefore had to take a long view of history as it was happening since while I had the access to world events, I didn’t have the technology to get my work out there at the time. So I have this large analog film archive that I treasure to this day.
By August 2004, the Iraq war was in full swing with American troops battling Jaish-e-Mahdi men in Najaf while the Afghan war was a forgotten backwater. Even though New York and DC were attacked by salafi-jihadis on 9/11, GIs were somehow fighting Shia militiamen instead. Sure I’m being rather simplistic in pointing that out, but purposefully so.
Thira- Two years ago when I was here on this island, the principal of the Santorini archipelago in Greece’s Cyclades group, I was quietly reading the Eleventh Day The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. That book was a2012 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in the History category. When nearing the last chapter and scanning the footnotes I was delighted that one of my articles was cited in them.
Here I am two years later catching up on some much needed personal writing. Seeing as we recently passed yet another 9/11 anniversary, it is clearly not one of those topics that will ever be “over” like the endless accounts–each one claiming to be more definitive than the last–put out by publishing houses each year on the Second World War (a.k.a. The Great Patriotic War).
I will never forget taking my photojournalism portfolio by an agency in Manhattan in early 2002 after coming home from six weeks in Afghanistan and Central Asia and a photo editor telling me: “sorry but Afghanistan is kind of like, over…” I heard similar things regarding 9/11 less than a year after it took place. But it is obvious these events will never be “over.” They steered the course of world history in our lifetime. It is simply arrogant to think otherwise. Short sighted people working in fast-paced New York media may have been eager to move on to the next story but I was not. I covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, sure, but even at the time I saw it all as a unified story where each successive event was linked to previous ones to form a continuum of globalized conflict that didn’t respect the Westphalian state system.
I recall talking to a close friend here on the island two years ago and telling him about the book I was then reading and the writing I was doing. His first reaction was “but what about building 7 (WTC 7)?” WTC 7 is the lynchpin of 9/11 conspiracy theorists often known as “truthers.” The perfect pancaked collapse of WTC 7 lead skeptics and the paranoid to insist WTC 7’s collapse was what is called a controlled demolition–meaning it was premeditated which would then imply that perhaps all of 9/11 was some sort of “inside job.”
One of the things people can never accept about 9/11–especially those who were not physically in lower Manhattan that particular day–is that even though it was a televised and well-documented tragedy is that there are some things that all of us will simply never know and we must accept this fact. There were so very many moving parts in the 9/11 attack and ensuing tragedy that it will never be possible to know everything. In a city of 8.5 million in an event with thousands of simultaneous deaths, many people cannot accept that everything about this event cannot be known or understood in its entirety in our time.
For those who actually witnessed the horror that day, not much more need be said in many cases. For those who were far away or too young at the time, they have the luxury of viewing 9/11 as some sort of theoretical abstraction to be neatly dissected by its various anomalies in the realms of physics, chemistry or engineering. I witnessed WTC 7 engulfed in flames when I arrived via bicycle well after the collapse or the South Tower.
Of course the U.S government, particularly the Executive Branch has done virtually nothing to quell those of a conspiratorial bent. So many documents remain classified or partially redacted. Any why, we must ask? To protect princes and princesses in the Saudi regime in order to not disrupt the flow of oil to U.S .shores? Or is it merely the bureaucratic culture of secrecy continually perpetuating itself? In the era of wikileaks and Edward Snowden, one may wish some dusty 9/11 documents be released rather than, say, embassy cables from Mauritius. There was a grandiose conspiracy behind 9/11 and it was cultivated in a suburb of Hamburg, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, San Diego and Tarnak Farms outside Kandahar and a litany of other locales rather than at Langley or at Larry Silverstein’s office in Manhattan.
Why certain people prefer to entertain conspiracy theories is often a broader question involving human psychology. The conspiracy theorists are correct on something though. The American government is hiding things about 9/11 from its citizenry. But it is to protect its own tragic incompetence and ego-driven buffoonery than its dark hand in the 9/11 plot. The U.S. government is not made up of an underground lair of dastardly super villains hatching fanciful plots.
Anyone who has spent anytime in the corridors of Washington knows that it is made up of individuals, some of them intelligent, some of them quite ordinary, who have had often disproportionate power bestowed upon them by a ballooned security clearance system. Some of these individuals have their own spirited agendas such as the preservation of Israeli military superiority in the Middle East, the promotion of hardline Protestantism, retrograde Catholoicism or more mundane concerns such as procuring defense contracts to keep or bring jobs and thereby votes back home in their respective districts. OK, so calling something the “Office of Special Plans” certainly doesn’t help the matter in the eyes of the avidly skeptical. But Douglas Feith was and is an idiot, not Lex Luther.
I very belatedly stumbled onto this 2008 documentary regarding the mystery surrounding WTC 7 by the BBC entitled 9/11 – The Third Tower.
New York- I normally wouldn’t photograph something as seemingly ordinary as fourth of July firework celebrations. In my early days as a photographer, I morphed from a landscape/cultural focus to war/third world internecine politics after 9/11 became an all encompassing catalyst. So on the evening of July 4th, 2002 I decided to shoot the first post-9/11 fireworks show along the East River from a north Brooklyn vantage in the context of New York’s symbolism of resilience in the wake of thousands of deaths.
Shortly after this I would be off to the next war zone in the summer of 2002–for the “War on Terror” was unfortunately well underway.
New York- So weird. A week ago today I was getting thrown around Long Island City by 90 mph gales as Hurricane Sandy thrashed Queen’s over gentrified littoral while NYPD barked on loudspeakers through sheets of rain not to get near the piers while shooting photos. In the interim, houses were smashed and burned, whole boardwalk areas ravaged and now tens of thousands of people are not homeless from one day to the next. But most of the lasting damage was hyper localized to where people in midtown and uptown areas of Manhattan had their lives interrupted only when the subways were demobilized all over the city as a precaution. I trekked around in an effort to do what I could to document the crisis–with an image from this blog getting selected for New York Magazine’s Sandy portfolio “What We Saw When the Lights Went Out.”
Many, many improvements have been quickly made, particularly in the areas of Manhattan that were politically and economically prioritized. But in the outskirts of the so-called outer-boroughs, people may likely freeze tonight, out of sight, out of mind from the rest of this city. People will shiver in the cold shadow of tomorrow’s mega ego election where a wobbly incumbent who’s carried out highly dubious extra-judicial assassinations of American citizens in Yemen, faces off against a “weird Mormon billionaire” as an old friend of mine put it (though he’s only worth a paltry reported $250 million).
As largely toothless idioms like “the new normal” and neologisms like “superstorm” were thrown around all week by politicians and media figures, significant change will not occur until long outdated thought paradigms are cast aside forever, a highly unlikely proposition. Americans have been brainwashed for the last decade that Sunni terrorism of the Salafi-jihadi strain is the biggest threat to their survival (or messianic Shia Twelver state warfare from Iran if one is a Likudnik).
This narrative is only remotely believable if one narrowly views the struggle for and within humanity as amongst various interpretations of monotheisms. Rubbish. The fundamental threat to human survival is a catastrophic misreading of the environment, human and animal evolution, and the development of the solar system we inhabit. The media and politicos are extremely unhelpful in this regard describing the violent characteristics of a terrifying natural occurrence like Sandy using terms like “deluge” and “biblical proportions.”
Not to say these forces in the world are not genuine threats but they are a mere blip during the long evolutionary march of history. The terror wars have spawned a vast and mostly unregulated and hence unaccountable security industry that is now here to stay. Fear Inc. has been very profitable for some but has provided little palpable public benefit beyond those personally enriched by constantly over stating imminent threats on the horizon. In this period, the global environmental crisis has carried on untended to as the proverbial ‘elephant in the room.’ Developing a smarter, faster drone air force to chase finite “bad guys” in the world’s ungoverned geography is far less challenging than confronting large scale glacial meltdown and rising sea levels.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo encapsulated my point perfectly the other day with this quote: “[Utility companies] They’re regulated by the public service commission. The utilities were not created in the Bible. They’re not in the Old Testament. They’re not in the New Testament. God never said, ‘New York shall have these utilities forever, and Con Ed is the utility, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s really not in the Bible.” Here is a case of a frustrated, angry political leader–perhaps without giving such a statement much rational forethought–injecting and legitimating Abrahamic themes into the public discourse thereby doing a great disservice to his millions of constituents by obfuscating the real history and nature of…nature.
Figures like Cuomo are not wont to offhandedly riff on the Jurassic Period or the Mesozoic Era during such a public tirade but perhaps they should. Referencing Noah in an era of bitter and confused climate change debate certainly isn’t helpful. Western observers scoff at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for hailing the sought after return on the Mahdi–the promised return of the Twelfth Imam who has been in a state of occultation since he ‘disappeared’ during the year 874 A.D. But are American leaders pandering to the masses really all that different in this respect?
We need more reasoned, empirical science and far less politicized seance if people are to grasp the environmental threats that lay before them and realize the inherent grand context of such events. It shall be no easy task. The “March of Unreason” continues.
New York- Finally made it into Manhattan yesterday after nearly a week of storm imposed seclusion in the outer boroughs of the city. Subway service was partially restored to Midtown and I decided to hop on one of the inbound trains and explore what I’d heard from friends via text and the media. I walked from 33rd Street and Herald Square down to Houston and Broadway, from there to Avenue C, and up to 20th Street and First Avenue.
Most of lower Manhattan felt deserted like some lame Will Smith movie. Bicyclists were having a field day ruling the streets. In Union Square, there was a weird dichotomy where apparently those with cash ate a trendy food trucks doing a roaring trade and those without waiting in long food distribution line monitored by police. Walking around during the light of day was a bit eery but entirely manageable. Once I reached Avenue C as the dark descended, despite the heavy presence of emergency vehicles, it still felt as if the area was on the cusp of lawlessness.
New York- I did a mission out to Breezy Point, Queens on the Atlantic coast of the Far Rockaway Peninsula yesterday that was the hardest hit area of New York City by ‘Superstorm’ Hurricane Sandy. A fire raged through the center of this community razing many dozens of homes in the densely developed beach community 26 miles from Manhattan. I haven’t seen destruction like this since I covered the anti-Uzbek pogroms in Osh, Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. The logistics of getting there were a story in itself but for now for the sake of time, I’ll let the photos do the talking.