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The New Yorker‘s Nick Paumgartner’s “Take Picture” describes some remarkable photos of the World Trade Center taken just months before the complex’s destruction.
In June, 2001, Konstantin Petrov, an immigrant from Estonia, got a job as an electrician at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the north tower of the World Trade Center. He was given a little office without cabinets, and after he built a shelf there, by bolting a steel plate to an exposed steel girder, he sent his friends a photograph of himself lying across it, and boasted that if the shelf ever collapsed the building would go down with it.
Petrov worked the night shift. This suited him, not only because he had a day job, as the superintendent of an apartment building at the other end of Manhattan, but because he was an avid photographer, and the emptiness of the Trade Center at night, together with the stunning vistas at dawn, gave him a lot to shoot, and a lot of time and space in which to shoot it. In the summer of 2001, he took hundreds of digital photographs, mostly of offices, table settings, banquettes, sconces, stairwells, kitchen equipment, and elevator fixtures. Many shots were lit by the rising sun, with the landscape of the city in the background, gleaming and stark-shadowed, more than a hundred floors below.
Paumgartner’s evaluation of Petrov’s photos elsewhere strikes me as correct.
Petrov’s photos, viewed now, contain the premonition of obliteration. It’s amazing to behold this ordinariness and know that it will soon be consigned to dust. The dawn glow in many of the shots makes the arrival of the planes seem imminent. There’s something apocalyptic, too, about the absence of people, as though these were dispatches from a different calamity, of the cinematic kind, in which the cities endure but the citizens do not—just a few survivors roaming around, foraging for food. Here is the hideous décor of Windows on the World, in itself a kind of aesthetic innocence; it didn’t know any better. You half expect to see Burt Reynolds. But fate imbues the restaurant with a retroactive dignity. These aren’t the bygone glories of, say, the old Penn Station, but all of lost New York has a corner in the kingdom of Heaven.
Konstantin Petrov’s Fotki photo archive is all online.