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Anthony Whitaker's 'Standing Steel' captures NYC history

JUAN ESPINAL Special Correspondent to the AmNews | 9/13/2012, 10:33 a.m.

Days after the catastrophic World Trade Center terrorist attack, Anthony Whitaker stood in front of the 24-story facade of tower No. 2. He was equipped with his camera, and he began snapping pictures.

"I feel like it was a message," he said. "I didn't draw or create this. God left this symbol as a symbol of inspiration."

One of the shots is now the centerpiece in Whitaker's "Steel Standing," which commemorates that chapter in New York history. The photo is of a "monolithic" free standing wall of the south tower after all the surrounding elements lay in ruins on the ground. The steeple-like shape is reminiscent of a cathedral, irregularly climbing to the sky. The black-and-white image struggles with itself.

Looming shadows from the neighboring buildings frame the structure and serve as a rigid contrast to the building's illuminated skeleton and the arm of a crane. This image, riddled with symbolism and emotions, carries a deeper meaning when paired with the artist's title, "Steel Standing," which he says spoke to him at the moment.

"I heard it in my head, like a mystic voice," admits Whitaker. "'I am steel,' because that's what it was, and 'I am standing,' because that's what it was doing."

The "universal principle of perseverance" embedded in the opus is now available on T-shirts and posters. Whitaker acknowledges that he does receive royalties from the image, as he owns the trademark on the photo and a copyright on the expression. Nonetheless, he donates a portion of his proceeds to the 9/11 Memorial Fund and the Wounded Warriors Project.

Whitaker has not been a photographer by profession. He is a district operator for Con Edison with the responsibility of distributing power to our five boroughs. But as the artist behind the only recognized and trademarked commemorative image for the decade memorial of the 9/11 tragedy, Whitaker bears the responsibility of expressing our history to current and future generations.

And while he has made most of his income working for Con Edison, the Harlem resident has been celebrated for the past 13 years. A tour through his studio exposes a mind that's equally well-read and creative. Original artwork and countless tomes line the entirety of the relaxed apartment.

As a Con Edison employee for the last 22 years, he finds himself in a major control room with jurisdiction over entire districts, instructing workers on the street while also insuring their safety. It was while doing his job that he found himself at the epicenter of this city's greatest catastrophe and the uncertain times that followed.

While the image he photographed is a portrayal of a dismal and chaotic scene, there is a strange sense of serenity and order echoed in the regular geometric motif of the structure. This reflects Whitaker's artistic spirit, which has been heavily influenced by ancient Egyptian art.

"I vividly remember in kindergarten I came across a book called 'Tomb of Nakht' with all these pictures of Egyptian paintings and carvings," recalls Anthony of his artistic beginnings. "Later, I got into fashion design because it's definitely an artistic expression, but there's a few more opportunities."