We’ve all got our own “9/11” stories; tales about where we were when we heard about it, how we reacted, what we felt like as we watch America’s darkest hour carve its ugly scrawl into history. Four years on to the day and one can’t help but recall something of the horror of that day.

As a photographer, and I suppose someone who feels particularly close to America, I find many of the photographs taken on that day quite fascinating. At first, like everyone else, I found them hard to look at and deeply disturbing. I recall being at an airport in Philadelphia in November 2001 and seeing a Life magazine publication about 9/11, a book that I had to put down because it nearly bought me to tears while I sat there in the book/coffee shop waiting for my plane. But eventually I was able to look at the pictures in a different way. I was able to see them as photographs, like secret doorways that opened into a moment in history frozen as if someone had managed to stop time. The expressions on people faces, the chaos of the moment, the perspective and context seemed different from this angle, and in some strange and unexpected way that seemed to help.

And it would seem that I wasn’t alone. In the weeks that followed the attacks New Yorker, Michael Shulan and Gilles Peress, set up a makeshift exhibition in New York of photographs from that time called HERE IS NEW YORK. The exhibition was subtitled “A Democracy of Photographs” because anyone and everyone who had taken pictures relating to the tragedy was invited to submit their images to the gallery, where they were digitally scanned, printed and displayed on the walls of a vacant store in Soho alongside the work of top photojournalists and other professional photographers. All of the prints which HERE IS NEW YORK displays were sold to the public for $25, regardless of their provenance. The net proceeds from the sale of these prints went to the Children’s Aid Society WTC Relief Fund.

“Right from the beginning we thought that as many people as possible should not only have the opportunity to view these photographs, but also to add their own to the exhibition. In the days following September 11 it seemed that everyone in New York had a camera, and since we put out a call for pictures we have been inundated with slides, negatives, prints, and digital files. We are displaying as many of them as we can, and are adding all of them to what clearly will be the largest archive of its kind in history.” Said Shulan.

“We thought it was absolutely essential to stare what happened directly in the face, in order both to absorb what seemed unabsorbable at the time and to prepare ourselves for whatever was (and is) going to happen next. The photographs, which have all been digitally scanned into computers and then printed out with inkjet printers in exactly the same format, are not easy to look at. Everyone who sees them for the first time remarks on their beauty, but it is a terrible beauty, borne of fire, dust, and death.”

You can see the online gallery of HERE IS NEW YORK at hereisnewyork.org.

Here is New York: A democracy of photographs
Bill Biggart’s Final Exposures
The lost