[Mb-civic] NYTimes.com Article: Ground Zero, the Long View
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Ground Zero, the Long View
September 8, 2004
By SARAH BOXER
In the fall of 2001 when the dust and ash from the World
Trade Center were still in the air, Jim Whitaker, a
documentary filmmaker, decided to photograph everything
happening at ground zero. By the spring of 2002 three
cameras were pointed at the pit, each taking one shot every
five minutes, round the clock. Months later, three more
cameras were added.
That was the beginning of Project Rebirth, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to creating a historical record of
Today www.projectrebirth.org, a Web site produced with the
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and AOL , opens for public
viewing. The site includes links to the architects who are
building at ground zero; profiles of 10 people whose lives
were altered by Sept. 11; an interview with Kevin Rampe,
the president of the Lower Manhattan Development
Corporation; the view from a live Web camera at the site;
and a timeline that you can click on to watch short movies
of milestone events there.
But the main attraction is the time-lapse photography,
showing (on a very tiny screen, 3½ inches by 2½ inches)
what the six cameras have been seeing all along. Each
camera has a distinctive view and a different reason for
One camera, on the roof of 30 Vesey Street, at the corner
of Church Street, gives a wide view down from the northeast
corner of ground zero. The weather comes right at the
camera: rain, mist and snow. And the shadows from the
buildings nearby often upstage the activity in the pit.
Another camera is 47 stories up, in the American Express
Building at 3 World Financial Center at the northwest
corner of the site. It "has an omniscience to it," Mr.
Whitaker, the director of Project Rebirth, said.
So far this camera has provided the most complete view. You
can watch the PATH station going up: the girders, the
tracks, the first layer, the second layer. And when the
Freedom Tower starts to rise, Mr. Whitaker promised, it
will look as if the new building were heading right for the
camera. As the tower ascends above the lens, the camera
will tilt up to watch.
The camera on the roof of 115 Broadway, the current home of
the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is at the
southeast corner of ground zero. Because you can see the
building's old stone parapets, the pictures from this
camera have a nostalgic feel. The snow accumulates and
melts on the stonework while the construction unfolds
But the grandest view comes from the southwest corner. Here
a Vista Vision camera, the very camera that Cecil B.
DeMille used to film "The Ten Commandments," is perched on
the ninth floor of the Dow Jones Building, where there is a
memorial for Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter
abducted and killed in Pakistan in the aftermath of Sept.
11. The picture is crisp and very wide. "You see New York
life passing by, cruising by," Mr. Whitaker said. The shots
hum with traffic and cloud drift.
That covers the four corners of the site. What was missing,
said Thomas Lappin, the director of photography for Project
Rebirth, was a camera at ground level to show "the human
scale." So a camera was planted 18 inches off the ground in
the graveyard behind St. Paul's Church. Its pictures are
filled with tombstones, trees and sky.
"It's a little reprieve from the full site, the big wound,"
Mr. Lappin said.
Another close-up camera was installed on the roof of the
firehouse that was closest to the World Trade Center:
Engine 10, Ladder 10. Nicknamed "1010," the camera is there
partly for symbolic purposes, Mr. Whitaker said, to
represent the "heroism of the firehouse." It also shows
details well: girders going up, cranes turning crazily
round and round and a flag flapping in the foreground.
That same firehouse perch is now also being shared by a
digital Webcam that has just been installed.
Originally, Mr. Whitaker said, he planned to photograph at
ground zero for seven years, but now he thinks he will keep
the cameras running for at least 10, at a cost of some $8
million (and this is with the film being donated by Kodak
and the processing by Deluxe). He said he was hoping that
Project Rebirth would be one of the institutions
represented at the World Trade Center site. If it is, he
wants to install six screens in one room so that viewers
can see the whole building process from all six angles over
the course of 20 minutes.
If not, though, no shot will be lost. Mr. Whitaker, the
president of Imagine Entertainment, the movie production
company founded by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, plans to
make a documentary with the time-lapse footage. (You can
watch a trailer of the movie at the Web site.) And
eventually everything that the six cameras have seen,
millions of feet of film, he said, will go to the Library
At first Mr. Whitaker approached ground zero with dread and
anxiety, he said. But when he saw the pile of rubble
visibly diminish in a matter of days, he started feeling
more optimistic. He wanted to capture that feeling, he
said, and the speed with which the cleanup was taking
place. Time-lapse photography was the ticket.
What is most striking now from the time-lapse view, though,
is just how slow the rebuilding has been. The days, the
weeks, the snow, the rain, the shadows, the day, the night,
the traffic, the seasons all pass. Meanwhile the pit
remains. It is the most stable thing in the pictures. And
that is the view that has been edited for the Web site. The
unedited dailies, Mr. Lappin said, are "incredibly
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