September 11, 2002, will be marked by a number of memorial events in New York City, and one of the most powerful promises to be the opening of Kaddish — 9/11/01, an exhibition of still images by lighting designer and photographer Mark D. Kruger. The evening will also include an ecumenical service at New York University's Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, where the exhibit will run for six weeks.
Kruger, an architectural and theatrical designer who is on the graduate lighting design faculty at Parsons, was heading out of his Murray Street studio — which is just three blocks from the World Trade Center site — on the morning of September 11. “I was going out to vote at about 8:40am,” he recalls. “I got into the elevator, and the first attack plane came roaring overhead, into the north tower. The elevator cab shook. I stepped out to the street to see the devastation, turned on my heel, and came back upstairs and loaded my camera. I went back down and started to photograph, and as I was photographing the tops of both towers, the south tower blew, and this ball of flame filled my viewfinder.”
Though Kruger documented the subsequent mayhem and panic, Kaddish — 9/11/01 mostly comprises images of Ground Zero in the days following the attack. The exhibition is made up of large- and medium-format black-and-white photographs of the World Trade Center's smoldering ruins, of the dust- and soot-covered surrounding streets, and of rescue workers desperately searching for survivors. Though his building was evacuated, Kruger stayed for six days following the attacks. “I was determined to stay, for a couple of reasons,” he says. “I genuinely did not want to give the terrorists the pleasure of going, and beyond that, there was a lot of need at Ground Zero, and I wanted to do whatever I could.” Donning a set of hospital scrubs left over from a costume party, and a chain necklace ID pouch containing his Parsons faculty card and driver's license, Kruger gained largely unlimited access to the area, passing out water and sandwiches to the workers, and photographing whatever he could.
In all, Kruger shot 144 images, which he winnowed down to 23 for the exhibit, accompanied by an artist's statement, or Kaddish: a Jewish prayer for the dead. Kaddish — 9/11/01 had its first showing starting in February at The Caitlyn Gallery in St. Louis, MO. “It was scheduled to run six weeks, and it ran three months,” says the photographer. “People in the thousands streamed through the gallery to see, and most of them left in tears.”
Kruger, an NYU graduate, says the exhibit's New York homecoming “could not be a better pairing of my alma mater and this exhibition and the dates. To have a memorial gathering and an official opening on the night of September 11 provides closure for me in a very powerful way. That I should be able to culminate a year's worth of anguish and effort to be a part of it, not just as a passive observer, but as an actual contributor to the healing process, is really a blessing I never thought I would have.”
The Kaddish — 9/11/01 memorial service will begin at 7pm on September 11, at the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life, 7 East 10th Street, New York, NY. For more information, call Bronfman Center administrator Randi Jaffe at 212-998-4113.