FACES of HOPE, my portraits of survivors of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Towers’ attacks is opening as an exhibition in Manhattan this week. Mounting a show is almost as challenging as taking photographs so I thought I would share my experiences – the obstacles and eventual triumph – that went into putting this show together.
The photos were originally shot for the National Geographic Magazine to commemorate the tenth anniversary of September 11. My picture editor and I thought that portraits of the people who made it out of the twin towers on that horrific day would show something positive about the event, as these courageous individuals have now moved on with their lives. And when the writer Luna Shyr interviewed them, we also found how luck and serendipity made the difference between life and death on that day. Faced with such compelling stories and images, I thought that in addition to the National Geographic’s story, an exhibition was a perfect venue for the work. Originally I wanted to mount an outdoor exhibit so it would be more available to the public. My thought was to place large format (6 feet x 3 feet) weatherproof prints in a great, natural setting. I found space at the southern tip of Manhattan, Battery Park with the assistance of The Battery Conservancy. I was able to raise money from a corporate sponsor which I thought would cover the costs of mounting the exhibit. But I was wrong in calculating the costs. Although I had enough money for the printing, I did not have enough to cover the custom built, metal stanchions which were necessary to hold the large prints. These supports were three times the cost of the printing.
My outdoor show, to which I had devoted a great deal of time, energy, and hard work evaporated. After recovering from this disappointment, I decided to hang a private show for my corporate sponsor and their employees. I did the exhibit at no charge, as the corporation covered the costs of prints and mounting. The prints were made in New York by Gotham Imaging, a small but very careful and concerned lab. If I couldn’t make the prints myself, Gotham was the next best thing. I was able to look at the test prints with the printer and to go over all the small details; this lab has no counter person who takes your order and passes it on to some unknown printer in the back.
The images were face mounted on plexiglass which looks great but is very costly. Gotham suggested a high gloss paper so the prints would adhere to the plexi without bubbles. But since I am not a fan of high gloss paper at exhibits, we used a ‘lustre’, non glare plexi glass to bring the gloss down to a more traditional looking surface. The corporate show, although internal was a huge success. The prints were returned to me when the corporate sponsor finished their exhibit.
Now, I needed a venue where the public could view the images. Traditional galleries were out of the question. They are in business to make money and to cover their expenses and I didn’t feel I could sell my images and make a profit from the September 11 event. I got very lucky when Fred Blake at Fotocare Rentals offered me space. He said that they had done one show in the past and were looking to do more.
When I hung the corporate show, the prints were sized for their space. At Fotocare, we had to arrange the space to fit the images. This worked well because the Fotocare space is open and there is a lot of flexibility. I also decided to include four additional images in the show, current scenes depicting the rebirth of Ground Zero that would add impact to and set the stage for the FACES of HOPE. The show will run from October 19 – November 10.
My next issue concerns the ultimate fate of these photographs. Living in New York City limits my storage space but more than that, I don’t want these images hidden away. Perhaps I’ll donate them to a museum. I welcome suggestions.