9/11 – Dead Birds. On the Ground. Lost

2001 (after 9/11)
C-Prints
20 x 25 cm – 24 x 30 cm – (8 x 10″ – 11 x 14 “)

This series is about dead birds from glass collisions at the World Trade Center buildings, which occurred primarily during spring and early fall migration 2001 – (see text below)


Die Bilder zeigen tote Vögel der Frühjahrs- und frühen Herbstmigration 2001, die rund um das World Trade Center in New York jeweils frühmorgens von Volunteers der Audubon Society aufgelesen wurden – (siehe Text unten)

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In May (2001), I came across an article in Metropolis about bird-glass collisions at the WTC. Having done already two series with (living) birds (Coordinates. Nomads / Nomads II) I was very interested in that subject. I got in contact with volunteers from the Audubon Society in New York, who every morning during migration, collected the dead and injured birds, which have crashed into the tall buildings.

To me, the symbolic potential of a bird, its myth, which also consists of the idea of freedom, its beauty, its closeness to the sky, to the ‘Gods’, its – at least to me – almost mysterious (or let’s say incredible) sense of direction suddenly stood in contrast with what happened to some of them on their migration. They collided with another symbol – the Twin Towers: proof of the human will and ability to build, to build skyscrapers (almost literally), to create, to shape, to form or transform man-made material into three-dimensional space.

Even though glass collisions occur everywhere and birds are not primarily killed at skyscraper sites, the WTC was somehow more lethal than other sites due to its specific environmental conditions such as open site, lighting environment, amount of glass sheets, visible habitat through the glass, reflections, and the nightlights on top of the buildings.

The birds killed at such sites are primarily nighttime migrants. Usually steering by the stars, they get irritated by city lights or their reflections in the glass when the sky is covered. Unable to recognize glass as an obstacle, they fly into it and crash. In addition – birds always tend to fly towards the light – they got very disoriented by spotlights atop of the WTC towers, they circled these lights for hours and hours until exhaustion, fell to the ground, got injured or died.

By the end of May, I asked if I could join the volunteers on their daily task of collecting the birds and I decided to start the new project in fall – for the spring migration was almost over anyway. Back in Europe, during the summer break, I was often thinking about the new project with a certain wonder and also with a little discomfort. I got the E-mails from the volunteers – read about the direction of the winds, read about the skies, saw lists of ‘casualties’ and found out, what was going on on the site. (*)

  didn’t have any exact vision yet what I was going to do.  Those dead birds just somehow touched me. It might have been that I saw a parallel between the irritations of the birds and my initial experience with living in this city.

Back in NY at the beginning of September 2001, I was looking forward to start the project. Then September 11 came and with it, the project got immensely transformed.

For a long while, I was shocked – we were shocked – the world was shocked. I thought, that the project was over – it got buried. I somewhat also was a bit scared, I must say, because what happened on September 11  and the project about dead birds, appeared to me as a weird coincidence – suddenly the project had become a very uncanny, eerie, unsettling one.

Nevertheless, after several weeks, I decided to continue with the project. I knew that the volunteers usually kept the birds in a freezer for a while before they were sent to Washington for research. I called and asked if they still had those dead birds, which crashed into the WTC before September 11. They brought all of the remaining dead birds together and I was able to photograph them.

The pictures now look very different from how I initially saw them in my mind. The experience of September 11 changed my perception completely , – it changed everything  in a very profound and lasting way.

I want to thank the Audubon Society for their help. Special thanks also go to D. Klem Jr. for answering all the questions  I had about bird-glass-collisions etc.
(NYC, 2002/2004)



*Some E-Mails:

May 17 2001
“… were on the site from 5:40 t0 @7:40. Despite a night of mostly south winds, almost
no casualties were found.”

Bird tally, August 16 , 2001
“… dead northern waterthrush at WTC2 … Time 0600

… dead ovenbird … between WTC2 and the Marriott. Time 06:45″

Aug. 28, 2001
“…. The dead bird looks like it might be a flycatcher, a bird I’ve never id’d. It had a shorter (non warbler-looking) beak, an eye ring, and wing bars. It had an unmarked white breast and belly, grey around its eyering  and a yellowish cap and back feathers. It’s about 4”. Suggestions welcome, but remember I do have it available for later id. …
4 a.m forecast Mostly sunny. High in the lower 80s. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph”

“September 4 2001 02:20:42 PM Subject: Re: Saturday, 9/1
I saw no birds at all. There was much more activity than I have ever seen on a Saturday. The Wintergarden area was starting to be cleaned at 6 AM (very early for Sat.), music was piped loudly from WTC4, there was the noise from plaza from the pressurized water cleaning, and the homeless were sleeping at the chairs and tables by WTC5 or walking about …

September 9 2001 11:41:32 AM
” … On my second round of WTC, I saw a falcon flying high over the plaza. With my binoculars, I saw it land near the top of the ornate old building NE of the plaza, which I believe is the Wolworth (
sic!) bldg. From there, the falcon has a view of the whole plaza and the front on the WFC. Little wonder that we’re getting competition for the little birds.”


Zugvögel orientieren sich nachts auf ihrem Flug nach den Sternen. Ist der Himmel bedeckt, werden sie über Städten oft durch Lichtspiegelungen in Scheiben und Glasfassaden irregeleitet. Beim WTC gab es nicht nur viel Glas, sondern auch Scheinwerfer. Da Vögel jeweils Richtung Licht fliegen, wurden sie von diesen Scheinwerfern angezogen, kreisten in deren Lichtkegel oft stundenlang bis zur totalen Erschöpfung und fielen dann zu Boden.

Darauf aufmerksam geworden, bin ich im Mai 2001 durch einen Artikel in der Zeitschrift METROPOLIS, der über diese Glaskollisionen beim WTC berichtete. Die toten Vögel wurden dort jeweils in den frühen Morgenstunden von Freiwilligen der Audubon Society aufgelesen. Ich nahm daher Kontakt mit dieser auf und vereinbarte, dass ich sie ab September auf ihren frühmorgendlichen Rundgängen begleiten würde, da die Frühjahrsmigration eh schon fast vorbei war.

Da ich zuvor schon zwei Serien mit lebenden Vögeln gemacht hatte, beeindruckte mich dieser Artikel sehr. Der symbolische Gehalt von Vögeln, ihre Nähe zum Himmel, ihre Fähigkeit zu fliegen und sich am Licht und im Raum zu orientieren, ihre Schönheit ,- ihr Mythos, der in der Idee der Freiheit besteht- , stand für mich im Gegensatz zu dem, was einigen von ihnen auf ihrem Migrationsflug geschah. Sie kollidierten mit einem anderen Symbol: dem World Trade Center und auch ‘Wall Street’.

Den ganzen Sommer über – ich war in Europa -, war ich via E-Mail mit den Leuten der Audubon Society in Verbindung. Ich las, woher der Wind wehte, ich las wie viele Vögel sie aufgelesen hatten; ich las, um welche Arten es sich handelte, und es freute mich, wenn die Statistik an einigen Tagen überhaupt nichts vorzuweisen hatte.
Was genau ich mit diesen toten Vögeln machen würde, das war mir zwar noch nicht ganz klar. Ich war davon einfach irgendwie bewegt und berührt.

Anfangs September war ich zurück in NY und war bereit, mit diesem Projekt anzufangen. Doch dann kam der 11. September 2001 und niemand dachte mehr an ‘Projekte’. Es machte da nicht grad vieles Sinn.

Erst Wochen später entschied ich mich, das Projekt dennoch zu realisieren – nun aber unter grundlegend veränderten Gesichtspunkten. Ich wusste, dass die toten Vögel jeweils in Gefrierfächern aufbewahrt wurden, bevor sie zu Forschungszwecken nach Washington verschickt wurden. Ich bat die Leute der Audubon Society alle noch vorhandenen toten Vögel der 2001 Migration zusammenzubringen. Sie haben dies freundlicherweise getan, und so habe ich die toten Vögel fotografiert.
(2002)

Ich danke der Audubon Society NY sehr für deren Unterstützung.