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The cellphone used by New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Sept. 11, 2001 (NPR)

Sept. 11: Finding Objects Through A Filter

by Claire O'Neill
Sep 7, 2011

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There are objects currently on display at the Smithsonian that, without much context, might look a lot like trash. But what makes these melted calculators and soggy notebooks special is that they were recovered from the three sites attacked on Sept. 11: New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. Many of them are personal effects.

For something as monumental as Sept. 11 — for something so difficult to process — maybe focusing in on the details is one way to make sense of it. There's an obvious significance to these seemingly banal objects, but how do you get at it?

NPR photographer John Poole was inspired by Tomatsu Shomei's stark photos of objects found after the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. His tool of choice: a smartphone. In his words, though 10 years have passed, it somehow doesn't seem that long ago; in many ways, we're still living in the direct aftermath of Sept. 11. Perhaps the grainy haze of a phone app suggests an indefinite passage of time and allows us a necessary distance for understanding.

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