Gary Suson holding a calendar found at ground zero
Gary Marlon Suson is passionate about his work. Suson, the official photographer of the World Trade Center site, spent many months documenting and assisting in the cleanup efforts following September 11, 2001. His photographs, in addition to artifacts from the site, are on display at his Ground Zero Museum Workshop, which opened in September 2005. Suson created the museum to showcase in a "tasteful manner" the day-to-day work and moving discoveries that workers made.
The Ground Zero Museum Workshop is located in the meatpacking district on West 14th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues in a second floor loft-style space. Inside, no detail has been overlooked. Photographs line the walls in the same fashion used by European museums, leaving little space uncovered. Some of the artifacts, displayed in glass cases, provide tangible
reminders that September 11 began as just another work day. Others, like a wall clock removed from the rubble of the second tower, its hands forever frozen at 10:04, illustrate poignantly that for so many, it was a day when time stopped forever. In an attempt to provide a balance to the powerful images on the wall and ultimately create a "warm environment," Suson decided to use white as a backdrop throughout the museum.
When asked why he built the museum, Suson responded, "My purpose is to help people heal." He spent endless hours digging alongside firefighters, many looking for family members, and won their trust and appreciation. The rapport he built with the firemen enabled him to capture the moving images in the museum and in his book, Requiem: Images from Ground Zero. Among them, shots of the honor guard removing flag-draped bodies from the site, looks of defiance and desperation, and personal moments of reflection.
Suson was granted access to the site under the conditions that he not photograph human remains, that he not sell or distribute the pictures until the recovery was completed, and that he share any proceeds from the sale of photos with the firefighter union's Widows' and Children's
Fund. With the proceeds from museum admission ($15 is the suggested donation) and the sale of posters and postcards, he also supports four other charities: the September 11th Families Association, which will host walking tours of the WTC site; Hugs Across America, which delivers teddy bears to children of natural disasters; the Brian E. Sweeney Memorial Fund, which was created to assist children with learning disabilities; and the Firefighter Ralph Geidel 9/11 Fund, which was created to help rescue worker Ralph, who after spending nine months digging for his brother Gary has developed throat cancer and amassed more than $100,000 in medical bills. Suson is adamant that no family member pay to see his work.
Family members, in turn, express their gratitude for his contributions. As Arnold Roma, a retired NYC police officer whose son Keith was killed on September 11, said at the museum's opening, "I think Mr. Suson's museum is very tastefully done and should be seen. People should never forget."
Suson also stresses that there is a difference between the artifacts on display in the museum, most of which are on loan, and victims' identifiable personal belongings, which he does not display.
There are a few select photographs in the exhibit that Suson is particularly proud of. For these, he has extracted the images of individual rescue workers, creating layered 3-D scenes in plastic that give the photographs additional depth.
An actor, playwright, and photographer, Suson can now add another title to his list. On January 22, 2004, he was honored for his work by New York City Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, who appointed him to the rank of Honorary Battalion Chief. He hopes to contribute some of his photographs to the World Trade Center Memorial, scheduled to open in 2009.
Ground Zero Museum Workshop
420 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10014
$15 suggested donation
Please call to make an appointment