Every day, thousands of tourists take snapshots of the World Trade Center site in Manhattan’s busy Financial District, where the cloud-piercing One World Trade Center tower has been under construction since 2006. But it’s rare that these camera-wielding visitors get photographed themselves. In his series Looking On: Watching the Building of the Freedom Towers, photographer Keith Goldstein becomes a spectator of spectators, capturing tourists’ unguarded facial expressions as they stare skyward–mouths agape, necks stretched, contemplating the significance of the immense silver skyscraper before them.
“This project sort of appeared out of my lunchtime photo walks,” Goldstein tells Co.Design. He works as a photo editor near the World Trade Center site, and found himself drawn to its visitors. “My intention was to capture a thought-provoking collection of expressions, emotions, and the diverse ethnic make-up of the visitors,” he says, “to see how they reacted to what they were seeing–a place where people perished and a new place that was being rebuilt out of the ruins.”
The series stems from a deep personal place: Goldstein lives, works, and is raising his son with his wife in New York City. “I had friends who worked there prior to 9/11, friends whom I would visit there when I found myself downtown,” he says. “I also had a couple of acquaintances who perished in the attack. I knew quite a few people who had friends and family working there at that time, who lost their lives.”
Goldstein also witnessed the events of 9/11. “After the first tower struck, I headed downtown to see firsthand what was happening,” he tells The Inspired Eye in an interview. “During that time, the second tower was struck… When the towers began to fall, I, along with others around me, just ran as far as we could.” It takes courage to confront such a personal and national trauma in art, and Goldstein’s work adds to the evolving photographic legacy of this tragedy from a new and poignant perspective.
More of Goldstein’s photography is available here.