Joe Woolhead, the Poet-Photographer of Ground Zero

Woolhead at work. (Erika Koop)

The World Trace Center site may be the most famous construction project since the Tower of Babel, if not the most contentious.

But most of the work has taken place behind some 13,000 feet of blue construction fencing, and so to the extent that we have watched the progress, we’ve mostly relied on the images sent out from behind the fence—many of them the work of Joe Woolhead. The official photographer for Larry Silverstein and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, he has spent almost every day for the past seven years documenting the slow pace of construction at Ground Zero. If it was not one of his images gracing a magazine spread or appearing in a documentary still, then he almost certainly was helping to guide the lens of Annie Liebowitz, Robert Polidori, NOVA, or Korean news crews—whomever might be parachuting in for a shoot.
No one has spent more time at the World Trade Center site than Joe Woolhead. No one knows it better. To see it through Joe Woolhead’s eyes, or lens, is to witness the halting, hectic, heartfelt transformation of the 16-acre site from ground zero to the World Trade Center, from a warzone back into a workaday corner of the city.
The great satisfaction is knowing I’m documenting what is probably the most significant building project in the whole world,” Mr. Woolhead said earlier this month. “This site, no matter what it will be, will always be associated with 9/11. And yet we, as humans, to move on, we have to build bigger and better than ever before.” Mr. Woolhead was giving The Observer a tour around the “east bathtub,” the section of the site on the far side of the 1-train tracks. This will be home to 200, 175 and 150 Greenwich Street in the near and not so near future—the structures currently known as Towers 2, 3 and 4, the work of brand-name architects Lord Norman Foster, Sir Richard Rogers and Fumihiko Maki of Japan.

“It’s a very exhilerating experience to see the buildings come together,” Mr. Woolhead said. “I can see that the workers are very involved in what they do. It’s nice to be able to step back, take in the big picture, capture action that show progress. I want to be a part of that progress.”