Photo Series Focuses on the Expressions of Visitors at the WTC Site


When most people visit the site of the World Trade Center Memorial and the new towers, they point their cameras at the buildings or the pools where the original towers once stood. But when photographer Keith Goldstein goes there, he turns his camera on the people.

His series “Looking on, Watching the Building of the Freedom Towers,” captures the expressions of visitors to the WTC site. Most of the photographs seem to show onlookers in a state of quiet reverie, faces rapt as they contemplate the meaning of the buildings and memorial in front of them.

Speaking with The Inspired Eye, Mr. Goldstein explained his inspiration for the project:

This project sort of appeared out of my lunchtime photo walks. I work near the former site of the World Trade Center, which is now the site of One World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower, and found myself being drawn towards the people who come and visit the site.

Here’s a selection of photographs from the series:






This goes beyond a simple photo project for Goldstein. There’s a deeper meaning there, birthed out of the fact that he witnessed the attacks of September 11th, 2001 first hand:

After the first tower was struck, I headed downtown to see first hand what was happening. During that time the second tower was struck… I witnessed people jumping to their deaths to keep themselves from being consumed from the fire. When the towers began to fall, I, along with others around me, just ran as far as we could…

My intention was to capture a thought-provoking collection of expressions, emotions, and the diverse ethnic make-up of the visitors. To see how they reacted to what they were seeing – a place where people perished and a new place that was being rebuilt out of the ruins.

To read the whole short interview, hear more about how Goldstein shot the series, or see more photos from it, head over to The Inspired Eye by following the link below. You can also visit Mr. Goldstein’s blog and portfolio directly by clicking here or here, respectively.

Photographer captures the expressions of visitors at WTC site [Inspired Eye]

Image credits: Photographs by Keith Goldstein, courtesy of The Inspired Eye and used with permission.

  • SwedishKiwi

    At first I thought it sounded like an interesting idea. To see people’s emotion when they are actually there, where all those lives were lost. Where that enormous tragedy happened.

    But the people in the images, at least the ones shown here and in the links, just… look up. They watch. As if watching some ordinary skyscraper or Times Square in NYC.

    Now I don’t see the point in it.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    Exactly how I feel about it as well.

  • superduckz

    I look at it and say “Hey! people looking up at the sky with their mouths frowning or slightly open.” Decent idea, poor execution.

  • ML Donovan

    My thoughts as I looked at these pictures was exactly the same as those below, but I don’t fault the cameraman. Does anyone think the subjects would be looking so casually if they were looking up at Twin Towers — that were obviously not the “old” towers or a denial that 9/11 ever happened, but beautiful, new, better than ever Twins that were real symbols of our resurgence and resolve?

    It was so possible — officials had to bend over backwards to avoid doing what the people wanted and the country deserved — and then they spent much, much more of the public’s taxes and tolls to give us what next to no one ever wanted.

  • Oskarkar

    The photographer has a good idea but a totally wrong approach: the most pictrures look like they were taken with a wide lense, so the photographer stood closed to the subjects making them aware of being photographed. Hence we do not know if they really look in that wasy or they simply act for the camera. A good example is photographer Philip Lorca di Corcia and his series Heads.

  • Chris Malmberg

    Just an opinion, but maybe that’s part of it. People are disconnected from reality nowadays and so seeing something powerful, like this site, doesn’t effect them like we would expect.

    Disclaimer: I know that’s not what the photographer was going for, but it’s what I’ve taken away from it. I imagine other people will have a similar thought as they look through these.

  • Keith Goldstein

    Oskarkar, the majority of the onlookers had no idea they were being photographed until I walked away. While some might have felt my presence since I was close, hardly anyone was aware of me. No one acted out for me. I could never with a clear conscience have viewers look at this work that way. I choose to use a wide lens to be close to what I photograph. I don’t like street imagery that is taken with long lenses from a block away. I am not one to be disconnected from their subjects. There were always so many people around, I had to navigate through the crowd to get a relatively close view of what I wanted to photograph. I like to be close anyway, as an observer, as a participant.

  • Keith Goldstein

    Most of the visitors to the WTC site are tourists. They are as disconnected from the reality of the event as anyone could be. Listening to them as they look upon the site, most do not even know or comprehend what they are really looking at or what was there before. I am a native New Yorker. I witnessed people jumping to their deaths. I was there when they, the Towers collasped. I lost a friend there. The event effected all New Yorkers.

  • Chris Malmberg

    Right, I was just saying that the series could be a comment on how people can’t really comprehend the reality of the events that took pace there (since most of them have those emotionless looks on their faces).