Just ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., will debut a new exhibition of photographs by the celebrated, Chilean-born essayist, photographer, and urban documentarian Camilo José Vergara. Comprised of 52 photographs from 1970 through this year, the exhibition will focus on the shifting skyline of the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan, including Minoru Yamasaki’s twin architectural marvels that were felled that tragic day and the cloud-touching new towers that have risen to replace them.
“For more than 30 years, the World Trade Center defined the Lower Manhattan skyline and became truly iconic in ways that few buildings have,” said Aileen Fuchs, president and executive director of the National Building Museum, in a statement. “And in their absence after that terrible day in 2001, a new skyline has emerged. Vergara’s camera and keen eye have captured this unique downtown space across five decades, and we are proud to partner with him to share them with the public.”
The forthcoming The Towers of the WTC: 51 Years of Photographs by Camilo José Vergara exhibition opens on September 4 at the museum’s recently reopened second-floor galleries is far from the first time that Vergara’s keen eye has been the subject of a show at the National Building Museum. Vergara, the recipient of both a MacArthur Fellowship grant (2002) and a National Humanities Medal (2012), has shown at the museum as far back as 1996, with highlights including a 2012–2013 exhibition focused on Detroit and Documenting Crossroads, a three-part online exhibition launched by the museum last year. That show documented the outsized impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on disadvantaged urban communities in New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Newark, New Jersey.
The Towers of the WTC is the latest manifestation of a longstanding partnership between the museum and Vergara dedicated to documenting the World Trade Center, a site of optimism and ingenuity, destruction and despair, regeneration and rebirth. In November 2001, shortly after the attacks, the museum presented Vergara’s Twin Towers Remembered, which ran through March of the following year and featured an accompanying catalog co-published by Princeton Architectural Press.
As Vergara writes in an essay accompanying the new exhibition:
“I closely followed the construction of the towers, watching heavy trucks bring in steel or haul away dirt amid the noise of jackhammers and clanging metal. As they rose to become the tallest buildings in the world, I regarded them as a wild expression of mistaken priorities in a troubled time. […] Eventually, my early resentment faded, and I grew to see them as great human creations. As I traveled farther away to photograph the towers from distant boroughs, they seemed to lose their solidity and become mysterious, fantastic, and alluring. […] There has been much rebuilding and renewal since [9/11, and] I’ve photographed the rise of new skyscrapers built around the memorial pools honoring those who died. This exhibition is dedicated to those who perished, those who responded, and those who are rebuilding after September 11, 2001.”
The Towers of the WTC opens on September 4. It will remain on view through March 6, 2022.