Podcast: American Graffiti

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Virtual Memories – season 3 episode 18 – American Graffiti

Jonathan Hyman is the first guest of our two-part 9/11 special! Jonathan began photographing 9/11 murals, tattoos and other memorials immediately after the attacks and continued the project for 10 years, amassing a collection of 20,000 photos, as well as field notes and interviews. (We first met when a mutual pal told him about my 9/11 tattoo.)

University of Texas Press recently published a collection of critical essays about Jonathan’s work, The Landscapes of 9/11: A Photographer’s Journey. The book includes more than 100 of his amazing photos, including 32 pages in color (so you can see this guy in full splendor). Jonathan co-edited the book (along with professors Edward T. Linenthal and Christiane Gruber), and wrote one of the essays as well as all of the captions.

We had a fantastic conversation about his decade-long project, the notion of these mementos mori as American folk art, the reticence of non-New Yorkers to let him photograph them, his own 9/11 experience, how he became a photographer, and his struggle to keep this work from defining him as a person.

Jonathan Hyman talks 9/11 on The Virtual Memories Show

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! Part 2 of the 9/11 special will go up on Sept. 10, featuring a conversation with author and law professor Thane Rosenbaum on revenge!

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About our Guest

Jonathan Hyman is a freelance photographer and Associate Director for Conflict and Visual Culture Initiatives at the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at Bryn Mawr College. A graduate of Rutgers University, he earned his Master’s degree in Fine Art from Hunter College in New York City where he studied painting and photography. At Hunter he was an Eagelson Scholar and a Somerville Art Prize recipient. His main areas of interest include memory, memorialization, social class, the American funerary tradition, vernacular and folk art, and public speech. He has lectured widely in the U.S. and Europe about his work and experience documenting the folk art made in response to the 9/11 attacks. His photographs have been exhibited in solo exhibitions at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, the National Constitution Center, the Duke University Library, and the Wald/Kim Gallery in New York City Hyman’s work has been published in Time magazine, the New York Times, and featured on television on the PBS NewsHour and other print and online media outlets in the U.S. and Europe. He lives in the upstate community of Bethel, New York, with his wife, Gail, daughter Jane, and German Shorthaired Pointer, Quincy.

Credits: This episode’s music is America by David Bowie (covering Simon & Garfunkel). The conversation was recorded in Jonathan’s studio in Smallwood, NY on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. There was some trouble with mic placement, so I apologize for all the plosives. I tweaked the EQ to try to reduce them without damaging the overall quality of Jonathan’s conversation. The intro and outro were recorded in my home office on a Blue Yeti USB microphone. File-splitting is done on a Mac Mini using Audacity. All editing and processing was done in Garage Band. Top photo copyright Jonathan Hyman. Photo of Jonathan by me.

Fables of the Reconstruction

I’m no knee-jerk fan of either major party, so the ugliness of this election season has triggered one of my depressions. For me, these are characterized by what I call “wheels within wheels” phases, in which the world seems to reduce to the meshing of an impossibly complicated set of gears. I get stuck probing away at the mechanisms, trying to make sense of a planetary gearset that leaves no room for randomness, irrationality, or serendipity. It’s paranoia both grand and personal, but I’ve gotten better about getting it under control.

More importantly my wife helps ground me and elevate me, and that’s why I love her so.

This morning, I considered what I want to share with you about 9/11 this time around, and that’s when I reached the conclusion that the reconstruction of Ground Zero should remain perpetually in progress. After all, anything that actually gets finished will only be a letdown after all this buildup. Plus, it’ll boost employment among construction workers, city-state-federal lobbyists, starchitects, and Sheldon Silver.

And most importantly, it’ll be a fitting symbol of our state of endless war.

In the words of James Brolin, “Happy 9/11!”

In the words of my wife, “I hope Josh got his mom’s brains. Whoever she is.”