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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel

Stolen Images

Sept. 26, 2001--Now that the towers are gone and we try to get on with our lives, we have to start thinking not only of the victims, their families and those businesses that have now lost everything–but about some of the other, perhaps less obvious, effects the loss of the towers will have as well.

For instance–and I’m not being crass here, I think it’s a legitimate point–how will future generations of movie viewers react to films like Escape from New York, the 1976 version of King Kong or even the title logo for Woody Allen’s Manhattan (all films in which the World Trade Center played a crucial role)?

What about all those neon skylines in windows all over the city (like the one at Veg-City Diner)? What about all the business logos that feature an image of the towers–or all the stock footage and photograph houses? Or the computer-generated intro to Channel 11’s weekend movie? And that’s only scratching the surface.

More importantly, what’s going to happen to the tourist tchotchke industry, those companies that produce postcards and snow globes and ashtrays and coffee mugs and other souvenirs that featured the WTC?

As we all know, in the hours after the attack, sidewalk vendors were snatching up everything they could find that featured an image of the towers and selling it off card tables or blankets at markups of 500 percent or more. I passed a card shop last week that, apparently taking their cue from the sidewalk vultures, had made enlarged color copies of a New York skyline postcard (the words "We Must Never Forget" printed underneath), selling them for $5 apiece. Inside, the only postcards left were of the United Nations building, panoramas of Brooklyn and various shots of local bridges.

So what happens now to those legitimate postcard companies, the ones who, for the past 30 years, had been depending upon images of the Twin Towers to say "New York" for them? Of course there are hundreds of potential images that still say "New York" just as well–the Empire State Bldg., the Statue of Liberty, the Chrysler Bldg., the Brooklyn Bridge–but few did it so boldly and so simply.

While there is some early, insistent talk about rebuilding the World Trade Center exactly as it was, when and if that does happen it won’t be for another decade at the very least. In the meantime, what happens?

According to Brad Packer, from Long Island City’s Alfred Mainzer Inc. (one of the foremost producers of postcards featuring New York imagery), the mood over there now is mixed.

"It seems that not only the tourists–however many are still left in town–but almost every New Yorker wants to retain some memory of the Trade Center, and I guess the least expensive way to do that is through a postcard," he said. "So the business is, unfortunately–or fortunately–very booming at this point."

But what about a few years down the line, when tourists want to mail their friends a postcard that says, "I was in New York today"? The future of New York skyline postcards is less certain.

"What we’re doing at this point is following what New Yorkers want us to do," Packer said. "They seem to want to have something, so we are supplying it. We’ll see what the future dictates and what people want, and certainly we want to be sensitive to the situation. So at this point we don’t know what it’s going to be like in the future–whether people will continue to want the Trade Center pictures as they were before, or if they’ll want something else, or if there just won’t be any Trade Center pictures. We have not made any determination."

One cold way of looking at it, I suppose, is that the events of Sept. 11 have transformed those postcards into immediate antiques–and the world of antique postcards is, itself, quite a profitable one.

Like Mr. Packer, Jeff Prant, a photographer from Brooklyn who distributes his own line of postcards, is witnessing a similar demand for his WTC cards.

"I have one that shows the Brooklyn Bridge prominently, which also shows the Lower Manhattan skyline with the World Trade towers–which lately has been my best seller," he said.

Unlike Packer, though, Prant doesn’t see recent events as having any potential effect on what he does in the future.

"Why, because it’s obsolete?" he asked. "At least at this point it doesn’t seem to be deterring people from buying it. I think if people need that to memorialize what the skyline was, then that itself is worth continuing it."

While saying that, yes, at some point down the line, he would be taking new skyline shots to reflect what New York looks like now, he had no intention of discontinuing his WTC cards, adding, "It might be nice to keep it as a memorial to the World Trade Center, and how things were. And people do like vintage things. I’m sure for that reason, it will continue to be somewhat popular."

Given Prant’s photographic style, it may even work to his advantage in an odd way. His pictures, however contemporary, have an Old World sensibility to them, looking as if they could have just as easily been taken 80 years ago.

"A lot of people have said that about my cards or my images in general," he said, when I brought this up, "that they have a look that’s reminiscent of another time. And yeah, I kind of like that. In a way, the loss of the World Trade towers makes the skyline more reminiscent of how it looked then. I know this is sacrilege, but I’m not sure it’s a loss. I think the dominating presence of the World Trade towers, in a way, diminished some of the other great buildings in Lower Manhattan. So in that narrow sense, I’m not sure it’s the worst thing."