Tiny Towers

The World Trade Center appeared in my photographs, but in the distance.

Ten years ago, the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center were erased from the Manhattan skyline. In 2009, Camilo Jose Vergara illustrated just how distinctive the imposing towers really were from almost any vantage point. Slate’s slideshow is reprinted below. More of Vergara’s photographs are on exhibit in “The Twin Towers and the City” at the Museum of the City of New York through Dec. 4.

I used to catch sight of the towers of the World Trade Center when driving north along the New Jersey Turnpike, approaching Elizabeth, a clear sign that home was near. I spotted them from the wildlife refuge in Jamaica Bay, Queens, and from struggling neighborhoods in the Bronx. When I photographed New York City as it appeared from Jersey City, the rational geometry of the towers contrasted with the expressways, factories, railroads, and cemeteries in the foreground. From Crown Heights in Brooklyn, the Twin Towers played second fiddle to the Williamsburg Savings Bank and its gigantic clock.

In the early 1970s, as the Vietnam War was raging, the Twin Towers rose up as the tallest buildings in the world. I thought of them as wild expressions of American pride, arrogance, and mistaken priorities, a point I emphasized by photographing them with homeless people in the foreground or in the harsh sunlight as blades of shining steel. But as I moved farther away from these behemoths, they seemed to lose their solidity, becoming mysterious shapes—an alluring fantasy hovering over otherwise ordinary neighborhoods.

From a distance, the Twin Towers were elegant silver slabs, larger than anything else on the horizon yet smaller than the smokestacks, bridges, and church steeples in the foreground. Appearing almost weightless, the towers disappeared into the sky, their rectangular shapes barely visible among the spires of the older skyscrapers and the darker forms of the newer ones.

Read more from Slate’s Sept. 11 anniversary coverage.