Today, I continued working on a series of photographs of Civil War monuments in Brooklyn–specifically Green-Wood Cemetery. There are a number of memorials here of celebrated generals, but also many of the unsung who died on the battlefield. There are many other famous New Yorkers buried here as well. As I was setting up a shot of the Civil War Soldiers’ Monument, I looked down and saw, at my feet, the grave of Leonard Bernstein, the conductor and composer.
Clouds moved in during the afternoon, and as I was packing up my camera I spotted a diminutive stone fireman surrounded by flags and flowers. The first line of the inscription read: On September 11, 2001, the rescuers at the World Trade Center not only saved over 25,000 lives – they saved America.
The fireman was depicted almost as a doll-like figure despite the detailed uniform and equipment. Less a hero, more a huggable object. It’s a curious need, to fetishize these heroes of 9/11 who were doing their jobs. Who acted as heroes as they did every day when confronted by burning buildings or other dangers. I was struck, however, by the face of the real firefighter in the laminated photos hung around the statue’s neck, his vitality a rebuke to the awkward carving and grandiose prose etched in stone.