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2006 05 31
Angle of Incident - 6
Photo by Sheila Metzner
untitled, 2000

from the series, New York City
24" x 16" ed. 3/25
platinum/ palladium

By Gary Michael Dault

This image of the World Trade Center—or, at least, of one of its towers—is by New York-based photographer Sheila Metzner, and is part of her New York City series from 2000. It was taken, therefore, one year before the convulsive events of 9/11.

I saw the work yesterday at Toronto’s Corkin Shopland Gallery, where it is one of the photographs making up a really superb exhibition called American Icons, a remarkably successful exercise in curatorial inventiveness and subtlety by which, within an aggregation of 54 great photographs—from Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Stand, Margaret Bourke-White, and Walker Evans to Berenice Abbott, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston and Robert Frank, and other 20th century masters (marshalled into interlocking, overlapping categories such as the “First Thirty-two Years”, “The Depression Years”, “Mid-Century”, and “Contemporary” — is assembled, as the gallery’s exhibition statement puts it, “the images and photographers that defined a century”.

There are magnificent images of the city here—New York skyscrapers and skylines from Abbott, Brett Weston, Andreas Feininger, for example. And this one, of the WTC by Metzner.

The fact that Metzner labels her photograph “untitled” serves as a recollection of those days in which the Twin Towers were seen merely as an emblem of the strange melding of structural hubris and architectural anonymity. These two towers were merely big, and that was pretty much what there was to say about them. The WTC was the doubled ur-skyscraper.

Here, Metzner has photographed only one tower, with the shadow of the second tower falling upon it (it is difficult not to recall the hallucinatory bridge if time stretching between the destruction of the first tower on 9/11 and the falling of the second—when, for a short, dislocated, grotesque period, there was, in fact, only one tower).

Since it is unlikely that the single, slabby building itself could have been sufficiently absorbing to require Metzner’s attention, we must assume it was the shadow or reflection of the 2nd tower that generated the photograph. Oddly, the photo seems to have melded both towers, presenting them almost as a kind of interlocking two-part puzzle in which the dark section fits snugly together with the bright section.

Shadows on buildings constitute an entire sub-genre within photography (and film). Looking at Metzner, and clearly conflating shadows on tall buildings with the two fatal airplanes that hurtled towards the WTC, I remembered Parker Tyler’s book The Shadow of an Airplane Climbs the Empire State Building: A World Theory of Film (1972).

It is probably best not to muse too elaborately upon the Metzner shadow. For it is possible to see it as a core, as a dark lozenge located within the otherwise bright tower. And while it us admittedly self-indulgent to let oneself go further in this direction, it is almost inevitable in the light of what would happen to the building a year later, to see the photo as an image of a building thinking about itself, or harbouring a premonition, or nursing some intrusion of doubt. Such a reading is foolish and sentimental and fuelled, yes, by nothing but hindsight. Nevertheless, it’s the first thing I thought of when I looked at the photograph.

American Icons continues at the Corkin Shopland Gallery, 55 Mill Street, bldg 61, until the end of June. 416-979-1890.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 05/31 at 11:32 AM

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