The Odd Story Behind One of Wikipedia’s Oddest Images

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Photo: Luigi Cazzaniga/NIST/Wikimedia

There is no shortage of oddly mundane (or mundanely odd) images online. A result of humanity’s impulse to share, and our fascination with the lives of others. A trend over the past year has been to label these sorts of found photos as “cursed images,” though they are often nothing more than shots of someone’s daily life. They are less cursed than they are curious. Strange, evocative, and often unknowable. The unknowability is part of their appeal.

One of the images that has held my fascination over the last few years is the above image: In the foreground, a billboard ad for the 2001 box-office bomb Glitter; in the background, the Twin Towers billowing smoke. It’s morbid and in a sense, darkly comic, especially given that years later, Mariah Carey would blame 9/11 for the spectacular failure of Glitter (the film’s soundtrack came out on the same day as the attacks). The image comes from the Wikipedia entry for Glitter, from a section about the film’s reception; its simple caption — “The Twin Towers burn behind an advertisement for the film” — heightens the collision of the humdrum and the terrifying. It’s at once an absurd image and a heartrending one, a reminder that 9/11 is more than a historical moment, or political referent.

According to the media information on Wikimedia, the picture was uploaded on Christmas Day 2014 by a user named Enigs, and added to the Glitter entry a few minutes later. The picture was sourced from one of dozens of video clips taken by a man named Luigi Cazzaniga, and then collected by the National Institute of Standards and Technology over the course of its investigation. The clip, taken facing north, runs just 3.235 seconds, panning upward from the subway-stop ad to the towers.

How on earth did this image, pulled from a short video clip, one of many in the NIST’s archive, make its way to a Mariah Carey Wikipedia entry? It has mildly bothered me for years — Enigs has no dedicated user profile. Luckily, after posing the question on Twitter, a user pointed out to me that another of Enigs’s uploads, a head shot of Dylan Avery, was sourced as “own work.” Avery is the director of the infamous YouTube documentary Loose Change, which led many people to entertain the theory that 9/11 was an inside job.

Asked about whether he had uploaded the image, Avery responded that he was indeed the source. “I found it while I was going through old footage. I’m an archivist at heart, and I figured people wanted to see that shot. If nothing else, it’s an interesting juxtaposition (since 9/11 was blamed for Glitter’s box-office failure).”

There you have it. Now you know where an indelible piece of 9/11 and Mariah Carey history came from. Mystery solved.

The Odd Story Behind One of Wikipedia’s Oddest Images