Philippe Petit, September 11, 2004 … and George

Philippe Petit, it can be said, put the Twin Towers on the map.

In 1974, when he walked the wire between the two buildings, he brought a city, deep in the doldrums, a great deal of joy.

It was a CRAZY stunt, but just the ticket to spark a lot of attention to anything other than the economic conditions of the moment.

NYC was in serious trouble back then, but everyone was captivated by the madness… and Philippe became a folk hero in an instant.

On September 11, 2004, we saw a calendar event for Philippe Petit in Washington Square Park. We wouldn’t miss it for the world. We recalled with great fondness his 1974 caper, and were eager to see him again.

We scheduled an Access Project shoot in the same time frame, so that George would be in town to join us. 

Both men, Philippe and George Forss, owed their fame, to a large degree, to their connection to the Towers. Philippe, with his walk as a Man on a Wire, and George by his extraordinary photographs of the Towers starting in 1977.

It was a great day and TONS of people showed up at the event. Philippe hung ropes and did some walking between trees. He did some tricks. He rode a unicycle. He juggled. He did some of those things simultaneously!

To be honest, just that he was there…and we were all together…was wonderful. Some of us thought, just three short years before, that as New Yorkers, we might never smile again.

I had brought with me George’s postcards that had been published by Nouvelles Images in France. They had George’s images of the Towers…I thought that Philippe might like to have one.

He immediately started a line drawing from one image of the towers to the other…almost like a smile…and another from one tower to the other in the photographs…and then signed his name. 

It was so touching, so moving, so unexpected. Then he handed it back to me. I was SO happy to have brought another, which he kept.

In 2004, we were still so very sad and heartbroken, but Philippe gave us a gift that day.

He worked his magic…and brought those of us old enough to remember…back to before… when he was so beloved by New Yorkers that they dared not press charges for all of the madness that his walk generated.

Nouvelles Images in France became aware of George’s work as a result of his 1994 solo show at the Musée d’Orange in France.  They had printed several of his images as postcards and one for a calendar. After September 11th, we communicated with them. I had sent them images from the Access Project that we had been working on with George for almost ten years.

I also sent them one of my images. I had photographed George working throughout the project years. As I gathered all of the Tower images together to send, I included one of mine…a very simple image of George’s view camera with the Towers in the distancealmost more as a frame of reference. I was quite amazed when they put it in the center of George’s two images in this three-image card. They chose Scale in NYC, another one of my very favorite of his images, and Triple Exposure NYC.

QE II, George Forss

From the Daily News:

Tolerant authorities said they would drop criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct charges if he would stage similar performance for the public, possibly in Central Park, and at a less dizzying height, within a week. He agreed.

Phyllis Wrynn 

Summer 2021

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