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 images populating this Feature Gallery are the products of color transparencies 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. These were used for production of the related publication spearheaded by AOL Time Warner book group. The unique, original Polaroids exhibit more subtle and creamier tonalities.