By Caroline Barnhill
Even more than ten years later, Charles Moretz ‘72 cannot talk about 9/11 without becoming overwhelmed with emotion.
“I was leaving my home office to get a cup of coffee and out of the corner of my eye I saw the first tower smoking. I was transfixed like everyone else and watched live when the second plane hit,” Moretz shares with tears in his eyes. “Then I just sat in front of the television numb for the rest of the day.”
His emotion extended beyond his love of New York City, which he called home for 18 years, and the thousands of lives lost. He also mourned the falling of the World Trade Center buildings themselves, which had served as a sort of creative inspiration for the photographer over the years.
“Back in the early to mid ‘70s, I always found myself wandering to the Twin Towers. They were under construction when I moved to Manhattan,” Moretz remembers. “I know tons of architecture critics hated them, but I felt the opposite about it. I felt the towers soaring into the sky were inspirational. Two identical buildings offset in this large plaza. They had a certain symbolism graphically and visually. They were an artist’s muse for me for years and years.”
Moretz began to amass a collection of photographs of the Twin Towers as he would snap shots at night while walking his dog or during the weekends when everyone left lower Manhattan.
“In the early ‘80s, I was introduced to Guy Tozzoli, the president of the World Trade Center Association. He saw my portfolio and said they were the best photographs he had ever seen of the towers, and asked me to do a project for him,” Moretz says.
He was commissioned to photograph a series of six murals to hang in the building’s “Windows of the World” complex. The photographs, which would measure 2.5’ wide and 17’ tall, would become a permanent installation within the building. Moretz had the opportunity to explore the World Trade Center in a special way that few had.
“I was able to get on a window washing rig, and went up and down every side of the building and different times of the day shooting different angels. I spent a month or two exploring the building with my 35mm camera trying to find a set of shots that would work well as individual – tall and narrow – images, as well as grouped together,” Moretz says. He ended up deciding on a narrow color pallet – the bright blue of the sky against the silver metal of the building – that he thought best communicated the strength of the buildings.
But when the towers fell, so did Moretz’s priceless photographs.
“For everyone around here, it was devastating… devastating. After awhile, I knew I had a body of visual work of the Twin Towers that was unique to my experience with them,” Moretz. “I knew I wanted to something that would be meaningful but had no idea what. Zero. I watched that winter as there were a million books and calendars of 9/11 images, but these buildings were way too personal for me to do something of that nature.
“It was nine years after the towers were destroyed that I had one of those serendipitous epiphanies. I knew what I wanted to do,” Moretz remembers. “I wanted to create an installation that used a group of my photos at a large scale to communicate the power those photos had, and put them in a large, unencumbered space occupied within the World Trade Center’s plaza area to be a meditative, contemplative place. A singular group of these images could convey the dynamic of what those buildings were onto themselves, to Manhattan and emotionally to me as the photographer.”
Moretz brainstormed the idea with his wife, Nancy, and they came up with the name of the project – Genius Loci, meaning “the guardian of the spirit of the place.”
“This is a sacred space and it needs to be revered, guarded, protected and displayed in that way. But I did not want to be seen as an opportunist. This was going to be a donated project, not a money-making thing. A free, public-access memorial is what I wanted,” Moretz explains.
After speaking with family members who lost loved ones in the attacks and receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback, Moretz has proposed to design and build a permanent photographic installation commemorating the original Twin Towers of the World Trade Center with a series of images that are 40, 50 or 60 feet tall. He wants people to feel the physical presence of what that building is like, and scale –he feels – is the only way to accomplish it. He is currently seeking corporate sponsors to help bring his concept to life.
“I want to keep the light on, and not curse the darkness. This memorial will have no twisted metal and no death and no destruction,” Moretz explains. “This would be the light and life of that space.”
And for a man who has had a love affair with the Twin Towers for more than four decades, the idea is worth the wait.
For more information about the project, visit the Genius Loci site.
Hear from from Moretz:
Read more from “The Art of Remembrance: ‘Reflect’ sculpture makes weighty impact – Heath Satow and Tribute To The Fallen – Alex Isley.