HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — Websites can perform some amazing tricks, given the right programming. Sometimes, though, the best trick is to keep things simple. "New York City: After The Fall" demonstrates that some messages are best delivered with minimum fanfare.
After The Fall uses the photography of Geoffrey Hiller Burma: Grace Under Pressure to document the citizens of New York as they struggled to come to terms with the Sept. 11 attacks.
This is a site that will require some patience for dial-up users, but only at the beginning, since the entire project is a single large Flash file. (For reasons that will become clear, the solitary file was preferable, in this case, to the more common practice of segmenting a major presentation into smaller, more digestible, pieces.)
While the exhibition generates an opening image and introduction within a few seconds, the first opportunity for 56k surfers to move forward will present itself after about three minutes, and the exhibition will be completely loaded (as shown by an unobtrusive progress bar at the bottom of the window) after four. Unlike many Flash productions, After The Fall isn't self-launching, so you can step away while the file is loading without fear of the presentation starting without you.
The presentation itself plays for about ten minutes, and consists of 20 images that appear and fade to the accompaniment of a soundtrack and a few lines of prose per image. The same progress bar that tracked download now reveals how much of the exhibition has played. And that's it. No electronic interactions with the user, no in-depth essays, no bonus features and no links to other exhibitions.
Which is exactly how it should be.
That's not to say that there's nothing more to the design of the site. The photographs are striking some using harsh lighting or motion blur to reflect the tension present in the city, and on many of the citizens' faces. (Hiller avoids the obvious, in that there are no images of the Towers before or after their destruction.) Each photograph is segmented into a dozen panels that appear one by one to build a complete image revealing faces before their surroundings, or a single person's eyes before the rest of their face.
The text appears in a similar manner, line by line. The music, while generally uniform and never intrusive, occasionally introduces subtle variations, as during the "Discord is disturbing" image.
It's clear that a great deal of thought went into the creation of After The Fall, yet all there is for the visitor to do is sit back and watch. And while in many cases this lack of interactivity might reflect a lack of imagination, in this instance it is clearly a deliberate choice, and a perfectly appropriate one.
After The Fall is, after all, both a chronicle and a memorial, and the simple fact is that you don't want bells and whistles at a memorial. Not only would it be inappropriate to be having "fun" at a site like this, but too much interactivity of any kind would also, by necessity, divide the user's attention. In such a situation, one large file, one that requires no further intervention on the part of the viewer, has clear advantages.
After The Fall is one of those rare sites that can be complimented for its omissions as well as its inclusions. With all the tools and temptations available to Web designers, this site illustrates the self-control that ensures that the medium serves the art, and not the other way around.
"New York City: After The Fall" can be found at http://www.hillerphoto.com/nyc/.
(A side note: After The Fall's launch page makes reference to photographer Bill Biggart. Biggart was killed while covering the attack on the World Trade Center, and the Digital Journalist website has a tribute to the photographer, along with a collection of his final images from the scene at http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0111/biggart_intro.htm.)
Jim Regan is a graphic artist, writer, and humorist who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has been links producer for csmonitor.com since its launch in 1996.