It’s been nine years since I lost my daughter, Leah, in the destruction of the World Trade Center. I keep trying, but I can’t bring myself to go there. Thankfully, I don’t feel as though that is her final resting place, so I feel no special connection to it. I can still feel the pain of that loss, nearly every day, but — and it feels strange to say so — something wonderful came out of it too.
For two years after 9/11, I wrestled with myself to find meaning in the world, indeed, in my life. In the wake of 9/11, I felt as though I had done very little of value in my life, and had certainly not done my absolute best by Leah. It occurred to me one day, out of the blue, that an artistic pursuit might be one way to contribute something positive to the world, however small. I had dabbled in photography since college without getting really serious about it, and my previous efforts at painting were, let’s just say, humbling.
So, there it was. I would do my best to become a “photographer,” and maybe even find my way out of the corporate rat race, which had lost every single bit of its appeal.
I’m still struggling to find my voice as a photographer, to understand what it is I have to say with my work, but the journey is one of constant discovery. I feel a new person coming out of the ashes of the World Trade Center, a better person. Believe me, I’d gladly go back to being that other guy if I could see Leah’s beautiful smile again, but it cannot be. I feel I owe it to her, and to me, to continue this new journey, whatever it takes.
While I can’t easily answer the question I am so often asked — “what kind of photography do you do?” — I now see that the common thread in my work is the search for calm in a chaotic world. I shoot from an emotional center, and typically with no specific intent. This can be seen most clearly through my generally simple, often moody compositions of ordinary subjects or locations.
It’s as if a switch was flipped in that time following 9/11. My wife, Lynne, put it in an intriguing way; “there is nothing about the photos Walter took, in all the years I’ve known him, that would have led me to predict the work he’s done recently.” I believe this is Leah’s legacy. Knowing her, and losing her after such a short time has had a lasting and very positive affect on who I am, who I am yet to become, and the work I am yet to do. I could be angry every day for this loss, but instead I seek inspiration from her in my photography. I am thankful to Leah for that.
The Fading Beauties collection shows how beautiful something can continue to be, even after death. As the flowers wither, they go through many equally beautiful states, and sometimes suggest completely different objects as their forms change. This collection was inspired by Leah, taken away from me on September 11, 2001 – one day before her 25th birthday.