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Top of the World

December 4, 2013

Thanks to a collaborative effort between BMCC and Silverstein Properties (SPI), the Shirley Fiterman Art Center in BMCC’s new Fiterman Hall is now presenting a special exhibit, Top of the World, which documents the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site after the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

The exhibit showcases the work of SPI Lead Photographer Joe Woolhead, as well as that of over a dozen other featured artists: Michael Bowles, Michael Calcagno, Kelsy Chauvinas, Fred Conrad, Carl Glassman, Ben Jarosch, Tim Hetherington, Chris Hondros, Noel Jefferson, Erika Koop, Elinor Milchan, Spencer Platt, Vicky Roy, Tim Schenck, David Sunverg/ESTO and Nicole Tung.

The exhibit’s opening on November 12, 2013 was timed to coincide with the opening of a new Trade Center skyscraper, 4 World Trade Center (4 WTC) just a block away, and a catered reception in the Fiterman Art Center—replete with jazz standards played by Raven Williams on the Center’s Steinway grand piano—was held on November 26.

An inspiring endeavor

Friends of BMCC, faculty and special guests attended the exhibit’s reception and viewed the photographs that capture the transformation that took place at the World Trade Center site—from the aftermath of the devastating attacks, to the rise and completion of 4 WTC, the first tower to open on the World Trade Center site.

A brief program was introduced by Doris Holz, BMCC’s VP of Development.

“BMCC provides academic excellence, affordability and a pathway to success for more than 24,500 students a year,” she told the evening’s guests, gathered in the North Gallery.

“Many of our students are the first in their families to attend college and for many, BMCC represents the opportunity to transform their lives and their families’ lives, for the better.”

BMCC President Antonio Pérez congratulated Joe Woolhead and the other photographers, and welcomed the guests.

“Many of you are probably here for the first time,” he said. “We’re the largest undergraduate institution in the city … and our past with Larry Silverstein and the World Trade Center really began back in 2001,” on the morning of 9/11.

At around 5:00 p.m. that day, he said, when 7 World Trade Center fell, “it was leaning against our building,” and the devastation to Fiterman Hall was irreparable.

“It took us 11 years and $325 million to take down the old Fiterman Hall and rebuild it to what it is today,” he said. “We will always be interlocked with Larry [Silverstein] and 7 World Trade Center, and now Larry has been generous enough to say that we can use Four World Trade Center’s top floor for our fundraising gala this year, and for those of you that are in the area, we’d love to see you there.”

Dara McQuillan, SPI’s Senior VP, Marketing & Communications, also spoke.  

“Larry Silverstein hired me ten years ago to make sure that everything was documented the right way,” he said, referring to the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site.

His first call, he said, “was to an Irish construction worker I had shared an apartment with in Sunnyside, Queens—that was Joe Woolhead. He’d spent ten years working in construction, was badly injured on a Chase Manhattan project, and had taken up photography as a hobby. I’d seen some of his photographs and said, ‘You should be a photographer. This is really cool stuff’—and he’s been photographing this project ever since.”

Joe Woolhead spoke last, giving an overview of the World Trade Center’s reconstruction.

“Two years ago Larry Silverstein and his team opened 4 World Trade Center, and members of the public were able to walk onto the 16-acre site for the first time since 9/11,” he said.

“At around the same time, One World Trade Center was proclaimed the tallest building in the United States. And a few months ago, the Port Authority opened the East/West connect—all giving us a spectacular sense of what’s to come over the next few years. I have had the privilege to follow and document the work that has gotten these projects to this point and I hope that these photographs give you a sense of the people and the effort that went into, and continues to go into that endeavor.”

A “spirit of survival”

Jim Miller, a helicopter pilot whose company, NJ Choppers, specializes in aerial photography, flew Joe Woolhead in for dramatic close-ups of the World Trade Center site.

“It was very historic,” said Mr. Miller. “We felt honored to be chosen as the helicopter company to fly Joe.”

One flight, on the day of the opening ceremony of One World Trade Center, is indelibly implanted in his memory.

“It was a beautiful morning, we took off about 6:30 in the morning,” he said.

“We were over the top of the building by about seven o’clock, and we flew for almost two hours around it, waiting for the program to start. I was kind of like a Nascar driver, just making left turns around it, very slowly, and I could see this huge bolt—you could almost see the writing on the bolt—and two guys with hammers were whacking this thing, and that was the first bolt they were putting into the spire … It was very nice to hear recently that the architects decided it really is a spire and it really is the tallest building in the United States.”

“It’s beautiful, very emotional,” said Sue Miller, wife of Jim Miller. “We were here for this. We lived this,” she said of the photographs, many of which show the aftermath of 9/11.

“We have a spirit of survival, that we’re going to come back better, and we’re going to come back stronger. It makes me very proud to be an American. The pictures are magnificent, and this is a magnificent facility. I’m truly honored to be here.”

The “inspiration to go forward”

The photographs in Top of the World encompass breathtaking views of Manhattan and New York Harbor, taken from the open cage of the Tower as it went up.

They also show moments of quiet pride as iron workers, scaffolders, engineers and others do their part in making happen, the rise of girders, glass and steel.

Joe Woolhead has photographed everything from the first pieces of steel being fabricated at Banker Steel in Lynchburg, Virginia, to the bolts on the spire of 1 World Trade Center.

He credits some of his insight as a photographer on the project, to his early career as a stonemason.

“The tools are different, the technique is different, but photography is still a demanding activity if you’re in the field, and you’re working on a construction site,” he said.

“I find that having spent many years working construction, I’m able to appreciate the work ethic on the site, and I can also appreciate the work that the workers are doing, and how hard it is, I can get into their mindset in a way and I’m able to get fairly good photographs sometimes.”

President Pérez commented that the exhibit is “a magnificent show of all the scenes and sights that took place in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, and there’s one special section that shows BMCC and Fiterman Hall being built. You’ll see things that you’ve never seen before. You’ll see New York City being rebuilt, and feel the inspiration that we can bounce back from setbacks, that we are inspired to go forward.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Top of the World at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center in BMCC’s Fiterman Hall, 245 Greenwich Street in Lower Manhattan, is open to the public on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 noon to 6:00 p.m.

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