Thursday, September 11, 2014

{remembering 9/11}

It's been crazy seeing various accounts across social media today, from people from various stages of my life recounting where they were when they first heard that dreadful news what I really cannot believe was really 13 years ago, where they were when they first heard of that first plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

I was a sophomore at Rock Bridge High School. I can't remember the class, but all I remember is that all of a sudden TVs were being wheeled out into the commons, a large open area in the middle of our high school, students and teachers alike crowding around, and hundreds more in their respective classrooms.

I remember not knowing what was going on at first. As I watched the news coverage on the TV screen during my first block (first period) of the day, I remember staring in shock, trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I wasn't watching a movie or horrific news coverage of something that happened long ago or happened somewhere else, I was staring, watching, in shock along with my peers, teachers, staff, and students, as slowly we were piecing together the news that an attack had just been made on the United States.

To be completely honest with you, this morning and much of today, I haven't wanted to remember.

Every photo and every post, there would be a part of me that would start to go there and immediately be taken back, by something as small as a photo or a series of words to the emotions and that place I had been 13 years ago when it first happened, but even more so, to that place I was the rest of the day being glued to news coverage and later that night with my family.

We woke up September 14, 2001 to a very different America.

One that no matter how much I tried to deny or push it aside today and this morning, a reality that has only become more real each year since those dreadful memories, the reality that our world would never be the same.

 At the same moment those words are somber, in them and in the numerous amounts of photographs and news coverage I've been scouring today, there is another element of the story that must also be told.

The resiliency and the hope and strength of the human spirit, the resiliency, hope, and strength of the American people, who banded together in one of the greatest tragedies to face our nation, who chose to unite, not divide in the face of chaos, utter devastation, and heartbreak.

Yet an American spirit that has defined much of how this nation would respond and walk through crisis from that day forward, a spirit of unity, a spirit of selflessness and sacrifice, and a spirit of brotherhood that despite our multitude of races, socioeconomic standings, political views, geographic locations, ages, backgrounds, vocations, is a spirit that continues to unite us all.

We will never forget.

As I was reminded today, as it felt as if aspects of this day and the vivid memories it still holds were haunting me, no matter how hard I tried to escape it, I came to realize forgetting it is impossible.

This is a day we remember heartbreak and devastation.

This is a day we remember and honor the thousands of lives lost, the families still grieving and missing loved ones.

This is a day we remember and honor the sacrifice of hundreds, the stories told and untold of those who stepped up in the line of duty, some of them putting their very lives in danger for the sake of others.

This is a day we remember an event that was so much more than an event, yet a day in history no matter how hard any of us try, is a day we will never forget.

Our hearts and our thoughts and our prayers are with you.
We will never forget.


I ran into a series of unpublished images by Time photojournalist James Nachtwey, his images and commentary captured the heart of just one eyewitness on that dreadful day. I was reminded of the power of story, of the power of a photograph and this field near and dear to my heart, photojournalism. We've included each of those images along with his words he shared on TIME with these photos. We felt sharing them in their entirety rather than selecting a few was appropriate as his images capture the heart of what it was like on the scene in one of the most horrific moments in recent U.S. history. We were moved by his images and his words.


James Nachtwey happened to be in New York the morning of 9/11 and made his way to Ground Zero. Ten years ago, TIME published Nachtwey’s extraordinary pictures from the day, but he had not revisited those 27 rolls of film since. A few weeks ago, we had Nachtwey in the office, poring over his contact sheets, reliving the events of that Tuesday. Here, he shares his edit of those photographs, some previously unpublished (slides: 1, 5, 8, 9, 11, 14, 16), with TIME and spoke with writer David Levi Strauss about the work.

The following photographs were all made on 9/11 and are described here in Nachtwey's own words:

“In my mind it all went into slow motion. Everything was floating. I thought I had all the time in the world to make the picture, and only at the last moment realized I was about to be taken out.”

“Something unbelievable had just happened, and it was about to get much worse.”

“There was a sense of shock. The firefighters clicked into a kind of professional default and did what they knew how to do, in the face of impossible odds.”

“So many firefighters died that day. I think this picture recognizes their loss, and honors it. Their sacrifice was monumental. It will forever be remembered.” 

“Conventional means of dealing with emergencies were completely overwhelmed. Even with their equipment destroyed the firefighters continued to work. It was much more than an exercise in futility. It was an act of bravery and nobility.”

“It looked like the set of a science fiction film about the apocalypse.”

 “I’d been standing directly beneath the north tower when it collapsed. That I survived seems almost miraculous. I was inside that massive cloud of smoke and dust, suffocating and blinded. I kept moving and eventually saw light emanating in the distance.”

“Thousands of people had died, but they weren’t visible. The horrible fact sank in that everyone who’d been inside was buried beneath thousands of tons of steel and concrete. An unspoken understanding hung in the air – it was already too late.” 

“The unbelievable had happened, and any effort seemed futile compared the magnitude of the event. I’m not sure there was even a place to attach their fire hoses.”

“The firemen could only put one foot in front of the other and try not to give in to despair.”

“That a car had been turned upside down looked bizarre, but more important was the look on the fireman’s face. His eyes were rimmed in black, and he had a thousand-yard stare.”

“Firefighters do a job that sometimes requires them to put their lives on the line. That day their courage and commitment were severely tested, and they paid an enormous price.”

“Tons of paper had flown through the air when the towers collapsed. Some of it had been blown through the broken windows of nearby buildings.”

“A group of firemen had raised a flag in the midst of the ruins. It was an expression of defiance, of being unbowed, a tribute to their fallen comrades.”

“Through the years my work has been fueled by anger at injustices and atrocities, but always in another country. Now it had happened in my own country, my own city, my own backyard, and the sense of anger had an edge that was even more personal.”

“Even as the sun was going down, firemen continued to fan out through the vast wreckage. By then, I’m sure they realized there was a slim chance of finding anyone still alive, but if they could find only one, they’d give it everything they had.”


'James Nachtwey awoke early on September 11, 2001, having flown in from France late the night before. It was unusual for him to be in the city at that time, when he would normally be on assignment elsewhere in the world, documenting conflicts. He took his morning coffee to the east side of his Water Street loft, and looked out across the East River to the Brooklyn Bridge. He remembers that the sky was the bluest and clearest he’d seen in a long time, a condition pilots call “severe clear.” The bridge was lit from behind, with the sun glinting off the surface of the water. Nachtwey glanced down, and noticed some people standing on an adjacent roof, looking west and pointing toward the sky. He crossed the room to the windows on the other side of the loft and saw the north tower of the World Trade Center in flames. A few minutes later, the second plane hit the south tower. Nachtwey, the greatest war photographer of our time, knew instantly that this was an act of war. He packed up his cameras, loaded all the film he had, and ran toward the burning towers.

As he had done so many times before, he was running toward something that everyone else, except for the other first-responders, was running away from. He was going to do his job: to get to the spot and document what was happening. But this time it was different. This time it was happening in his own backyard. “I’ve always gone away, and been involved in other people’s tragedies and dangerous situations, and coming back to America was always a refuge. But now the war had reached us, and I think we became part of the world at that point in a way that we hadn’t been before. Maybe it was a long time in coming, but it’s happened now, and nothing will ever be the same.”

The photographs that Nachtwey took that day, over the next twelve hours, are some of the most iconic images of 9/11: the south tower collapsing behind the cross atop the Church of Saint Peter on Church Street and Barclay; ghostly figures coated in white dust emerging from the smoke; three firemen working around their leader, on his knees, bareheaded, looking back to see the flames sweeping toward them; and the twisted, otherworldly ruins of 1 World Trade Center, looking like the “set of a silent film of the apocalypse.” '

 Read more: James Nachtwey’s 9/11 Photographs - LightBox