Description Life-sized Polaroid photograph taken by Joe McNally depicting family member, Joanne Foley Gross, dressed in black and holding a cowboy hat in one hand and the fire helmet belonging to her brother, Thomas J. Foley, Rescue 3, in the other.
Historical Notes McNally’s portrait of Joanne Foley Gross depicts her dressed entirely in black. Tears are seen welling in her eyes. In her left hand, extended down the side of her body, she holds her deceased brother’s well-worn, white cowboy hat, a testament to his love for the rodeo and bull riding. In her right arm, Joanne cradles Tommy’s Rescue 3 fire helmet. Joanne’s husband, K.C., a Mount Vernon, NY, firefighter, also reported to Ground Zero on 9/11 to look for his brothers-in-law, Tommy and Danny. He connected with Danny and joined in the daily search to locate Tommy's remains. “Every morning it was like sending them off to war,” she told McNally. Joanne went on to create a documentary of her brother’s life, titled, Legacy of a Young Hero.
Curator's Comment In the weeks after September 11th, LIFE Magazine photographer, Joe McNally (b. 1952), invited rescuers, recovery workers, survivors, and bereaved family members to a studio in Manhattan’s Bowery district, not far from Ground Zero. Here, the participants were memorialized by a unique Polaroid camera - dubbed the Moby c - equipped with a lens from a U-2 spy plane. This room-sized instrument could capture an exposure of singular clarity on an 8-foot tall piece of film in the blackened studio. Each 90-second session required meticulous staging and absolute stillness. Whereas most photographers were concentrating on documenting the devastation of the attacks downtown, McNally was interested in recording the heroism and sorrow etched into the human faces at the center of this national tragedy. Those who confronted the camera were mostly everyday people who sought no special recognition. “They came only with the intention of participating in a project, telling their story, and sharing in the telling of others,” McNally reflected.
In less than a month, McNally produced several hundred giant Polaroids. Early in 2002, a survey of 150 from the series was installed at Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. Visitors could walk among them, confronting the figures at life-scale. A companion book published to commemorate the project gave the collection its enduring title: Faces of Ground Zero: Portraits of the Heroes of September 11, 2001. The exhibition toured widely thereafter. On the first anniversary of 9/11, a smaller assembly of the Polaroids appeared at Rockefeller Center. For the 10th anniversary, a larger exhibition was organized for the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle.
The 9/11 Memorial Museum has enjoyed a long association with these arresting images. In 2006, McNally donated his portrait of FDNY Ladder 20 firefighter Adrienne Walsh to support the Museum’s nascent permanent collection. When the outdoor Memorial opened to the public in 2011, a selection from the series was borrowed from the photographer and rotated onto view in the temporary Visitor Center at 90 West Street. Annual acquisitions from the Faces of Ground Zero archive have continued, often as gifts arranged by McNally. In 2017, the Museum assumed custody of the balance of the Polaroids in an agreement that will result in the collection’s completed donation by 2027.
The image in this record is the product of a color transparency from a Mamiya RZ 6x7 Pro II 120 format camera that McNally positioned to record a shot simultaneous with the Polaroid Moby c’s flash of light. The unique, original Polaroid exhibits a more subtle and creamier tonality. HIDE