Sara and I are often asked the question - “So, when did the Wooster Collective begin? How did it start?”
Usually we say “In January of 2003” as it’s the date when we uploaded the first article to the Wooster website. But the real answer to this question is a bit more complicated and hard to tell someone in just a sentence or two.
So on this 5th Anniversary of September 11th, when all of us are remembering that day like it was just yesterday, here’s our story of what lead up to the creation of the Wooster Collective website:
Five years ago today, Sara and I were living on Morton Street in the West Village of New York. We had not yet married, and had recently moved in together. Hudson, our Weimeraner, was still a puppy.
On September 11th, Sara had left early for work. She had just begun a new job and was commuting to White Plains each workday. I had stayed at home that morning because I had a meeting in New Jersey in the mid-afternoon and it was easiest or me to work from home. I had recently purchased a new digital camera during a trip to Tokyo and was taking a ton of photos around the house.
After Sara left, I turned on the news. The local station had just broken in to say that a small plane (perhaps a Cessna or something) had crashed into one of the top floors of one of the World Trade towers. It was a strange thing to see, because what the television was showing, I could actually see by myself just outside my living room window. The Towers were only a mile or two away.
Seeing the fire on the television, I went outside to see it for myself. As others will tell you, that morning was one of the most “picture postcard” days of the year. The sky was bluer and the colors were more vivid than all Summer.
It was standing out on the street with a handful my neighbors that I watched as the second plane came across the Manhattan skyline and slammed into the the second of the two Towers.
It’s impossible to compare that moment to any other in my life, as it was something beyond comprehension.
After seeing the second plane hit the tower, I tried calling Sara on her mobile phone but I couldn’t get through. People were now coming out of their apartments and shops crying and looking around for someone to speak or hold onto. Sirens began blaring and I watched as the firetrucks from our local station all left to head downtown.
We all stood there together, watching, until the the first of the two towers began falling to the ground.
People now started running. A thick white shoot began billowing up the street. We were far enough away to know that the building would not effect where we were, but suddenly 7th Avenue became filled with people walking and running uptown towards safety.
When the second tower fell a few minutes later, it became clear to me that an event had occurred that would change not only the course of my life, but millions of others.
It would be another eight hours or so until I would speak with Sara on the phone. For the next two days, she was not allowed back into Manhattan. The streets in our neighborhood would be closed for weeks.
For many days weeks after the attacks, nobody wanted to be in their apartments. All of us were outside trying to understand and comprehend what had happened and what we were to do. Hudson and I (and Sara when she was finally allowed back into Manhattan) began walking all of the streets in our neighborhood. We met and talked with everyone. Everyone had a story to tell.
And it was at this time, in the days immediately after September 11, that we discovered ephemeral art. Until then we had no idea what street art was. But the attacks of September 11th had made us hyper-aware of our surroundings. We began exploring Lower Manhattan like never before. We were now seeing the city in a completely different way, with new eyes and a new heart. Everything, and everyone, around us was now suddenly important. And it was in these days immediately after September 11th that we began noticing street art everywhere we went. On every block, and on every corner. Stickers, posters, stencils, tags, graffiti. I took pictures of everything I saw in the days after September 11th. People were putting up lots of different things. Some of it extremely political. Some of extremely emotional and sad.
But a lot of it made you smile.
In the initial months after September 11th, Sara and I took over 3,000 photos of street art in our neighborhood.
We moved to Wooster Street about eight months later, not too far from our flat on Morton. Over time there were so many photographs that my hard drive became full and my computer began to crash every time I would start it. I was almost ready to delete the photos altogether when Sara suggested that I get them off my computer by uploading them to a web page.
I did. And what was amazing to see was what a year of street art in the four mile radius of where I lived looked like. It was a fantastic archive. So I emailed about 20 people who I knew who I thought would be inspired by the photos. They emailed their friends. And their friends emailed even more friends. And after two weeks, over 20,000 people a day were now looking at the photos.
What September 11th did for us was to force us to be outside and to see our city in a completely different light. We became aware. Hyper aware. And as we became more aware of what was around us, we began discovering more of what was always there but had never noticed. And as we discovered more, we became more obsessed with what we were discovering. And as our obsession grew, we became compelled to share it with others.
It was the desire to share what we were seeing and feeling with others that lead to the Wooster website launching as a blog on January 13th of 2003…. a little more than a year or so after the attacks of September 11th.
Not a single day has gone by in five years that we haven’t thought about September 11th, 2001 at least once. While it was an absolutely horrific event, the days and months after the attacks were also the most powerful days ever to be in New York.
There’s not a place in the world that we would have rather have been than in New York city.
(The photo above is from the WTC Outline Project. You can learn more about it here.)