For the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, I asked seven New York-based National Geographic photographers to share an image of theirs that they considered emblematic of the city post 9/11. I wanted to know if New York had changed, and if so, how it was manifested visually. The images they shared were a mix of journalistic, conceptual, and historic—ranging from the moment of impact to the memorial. Their images and stories capture a city still haunted by absence, the contradictions of war and freedom, and joy and hope for the future.—Jessie Wender, senior photo editor
I was in New York for 9/11. I photographed both towers coming down from about 15 blocks away. Later that year I moved into the building in Brooklyn where this photo was made. It was made on the same rooftop where some of the most dramatic pictures of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center were taken by National Geographic photographer Robert Clark.
After 9/11 New York changed and at the same time remained the same. This is a fantasy art photograph and is part of the Magnum Nudes portfolio. In the background you can see the new Freedom Tower under construction at the site of the original Twin Towers. While this photo has nothing to do with the horror of 9/11 it does represent New York as the art capital of the world. New Yorkers had to carry on, the artists among them. Today New York has more than bounced back from 9/11, and yet the scars will always remain.
The horrors of an often unjust world have throughout history been balanced by the artistic side of mankind—perhaps our saving grace. New York has survived and thrived in this sense.—David Alan Harvey
I have looked at the slides that I took on 9/11 on three occasions. The first time was the day I shot them, when editors at Time magazine honed in on the four that were used in the 9/11 special edition.
The second was the day they were delivered back to me from the magazine. I had never seen the images taken out of the slide mounts. I looked at them and then put them away. To be clear, I had seen, printed, and sold the scans of the pictures from the four-photo series but left the originals, as well as the rest of the 45 rolls that I shot, unedited.
The third time was when I was asked to write a blog post about my images for Proof.
I have always kept a distant relationship to the images. I’m not sure why … Maybe because the importance of the images made me uneasy. First and foremost, witnessing the tragic loss of so many innocent people continues to affect me. But also, on a professional level, I have never come to grips with what I captured and how it has affected my career. I’m not a war photographer, but I captured the most devastating attack on American soil in my lifetime. My most famous photographs are so foreign to me, in many ways.
It is a pretty straightforward story. I received a call from my girlfriend (now my wife), and I turned and looked at the building that had been hit. The first few frames were shot from my apartment. I then ran the seven flights of stairs to the roof of my building. At about 9:03 a.m., United flight 175 slammed into floors 75 to 85. I captured the plane in two frames. I kept shooting, stopping only to change film. The roof of my building started to fill up; people cried and hugged and stared in disbelief. My first clear thought was that I was watching the world change.
Over the years the pictures developed a second life, moving away from breaking news coverage to usage in history books [and] museum exhibits and purchased by private collectors. As one war historian said, “It is not often that we see pictures of a war starting.” Occasionally, the images will come to my mind, and the memories of that day will flood in.
Recently, my six-year-old daughter spoke to me about 9/11, which she learned about from school. She pointed to my photos, not realizing I shot them, and said, “See they even have photos of it happening.”—Robert Clark
“Fake Liberty, Real Bombers” is a picture crafted to deceive. The statue is supposed to look like the real thing but in truth it’s a small, cheap souvenir that was on sale at a tourist stand along a West Side Highway pier in Manhattan. But the bombers are real. The Air Force flew the F-16s over the Hudson River to entertain New Yorkers and tourists during Air Force Week in August 2012. It was uncommon before 9/11 to see military displays, flyovers, and heavily armed police in New York City. Now it’s commonplace. In the days following the Twin Tower attacks, in sadness and in shock, New Yorkers had called for peace. That spirit seems long gone to me; the ideas of liberty and freedom are now wrapped in war and filled with contradiction.—Nina Berman
Fourteen years after the attacks of September 11, New York City remains a very complex, interesting place unlike anywhere else in the world. I can only imagine what it was like being here in the city that day, as I was experiencing the horror from thousands of miles away in my living room in Venice, California.
I’ve always had a special relationship with New York. It was here that I experienced my first taste of city life in the summer of 1990, when I spent three months with my grandmother, who had emigrated from St. Kitts many years before and who worked the night shift as a nurse in the Bronx. My journey would eventually lead me out West, but it was always in the back of my mind to return to New York.
I returned to the city in 2004 with a camera and a dream and have found my voice here as an artist. For most of us, children of immigrants, New York’s boroughs remain our home away from home. Our families have toiled here for generations and are a major reason why the city is as culturally rich as it is.—Wayne Lawrence
I live in Montclair, New Jersey—at least the few months a year I am home from my travels as a photojournalist. About three miles away from my house is this beautiful spot, Eagle Rock Reservation, that affords an open and expansive view of the island of Manhattan. And right in the middle of that panorama is what has come to be known as Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. This is my favorite spot to go to catch my breath, have a romantic moment with my wife, chill with friends, and bring visitors to. What this special place also hosts is a memorial to the 9/11 victims, many of whom lived in New Jersey and some in Montclair. The black marble has the names of all the souls who perished that day, along with a piece of iron girder from the Twin Towers and memorabilia to commemorate the firefighters and police who also perished. It was a couple of years ago that I made this image. I was having a rough day and needed to find a moment of solace. For all the times I had visited this sacred spot I had never seen this view, which is strange, given that as a photographer I should see these compositions. What’s heartening is to see the then unfinished, new One World Trade Center vaulting up into the sky way in the distance. This site has become a place to remember, meditate, appreciate, and have hope for the future.—Ed Kashi
One month prior to the tragic events of 9/11 we applied for a grant to photograph the 578 miles of waterfront in the five boroughs of NYC. At that time many miles of that coastline were in derelict condition. We received that grant early in 2002, just as Mayor Bloomberg took office. In his inaugural address he stated that he wanted to “bring new life to our waterfront.” After 9/11 the waterfront was where New Yorkers sought solace; we all needed some rebuilding and healing.
In the early period after 9/11, we were stopped many times from making pictures. Somehow the slogan “If you see something, say something” made photographers a target of suspicion—especially those using tripods. The police once surrounded us, as a call had been made that there were two people on the waterfront with rocket launchers.
The healing process has been long and slow, but at least now we can finally say there is most definitely new life on our waterfront. After many years of planning, the SeaGlass Carousel opened last month in Battery Park—that historic place where the sea meets the city at the tip of Manhattan. Although we will never forget the tragedy of 9/11, it is heartening to see a reimagined waterfront—now a place to find joy.—Diane Cook and Len Jenshel
When you’re flying above a dense and diverse environment like Manhattan, there is little time to reflect on what you are seeing below. Only in retrospect can you savor moments and see what you had been capturing with instinct. Thus it is with this photograph, where you can see people looking like so many black ants crowded around the square fountains that were once the footprint of the World Trade Center. I live in a small town in New Jersey, with only 150 kids in each graduating class at the high school. It’s a commuter suburb, and at the train station here is a plaque for the seven parents who went to work on September 11 and never came back. In my town, every kid goes to school with somebody who lost their mother or father that day, and the loss is personal. The title of the memorial installation is “Reflecting Absence,” and from above you can see the magnetism of this elegant memorial that has transformed Ground Zero into a spiritual place.—George Steinmetz
This article was originally published on September 11, 2015.