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Lest We Forget: Arresting Photos from the 9/11 Attacks

Fifteen years ago, the lives of nearly 3,000 people came to a tragically premature end. Since then, the rubble has been cleared, the perpetrators have been caught and a new building has been erected, but for the many still mourning the loss of their loved ones, nothing built or brought to justice can replace that hollow, aching feeling that acts as their shadow each and every day.

When the towers collapsed on that fateful morning in September, so too did their worlds. This photography from 9/11–no matter how hard it may be to view–encapsulates that sinking feeling of irrevocable loss:

The attacks of September 11, 2001, were the worst terrorist attack in world history and the deadliest foreign attack on American soil since the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 1941.

The attacks tragically ended the life of nearly 3,000 people.

SEPT 11 2001 NYC

“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.” “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.”

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“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 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.”

“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.” “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.”

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TERRORIST ATTACKS

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"As has happened so often in my career, I was running into a place people were fleeing from." "As has happened so often in my career, I was running into a place people were fleeing from."

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"Photography gives people access to a feeling about events that’s unique.  It’s something that creates a very strong immediate reaction, but it also allows you to contemplate it over time." "Photography gives people access to a feeling about events that’s unique. It’s something that creates a very strong immediate reaction, but it also allows you to contemplate it over time."

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"We were very small in the enormity of what happened. All any of us could do was what we knew how to do—keep doing it and not give into despair and defeat." "We were very small in the enormity of what happened. All any of us could do was what we knew how to do—keep doing it and not give into despair and defeat."

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"I want to salute their heroism. I think its something none of us will ever forget. I think there sacrifice was on a historic level. It will forever be remembered." "I want to salute their heroism. I think its something none of us will ever forget. I think there sacrifice was on a historic level. It will forever be remembered."

"New York City lost a lot of firemen that day. They are people who do a job that requires them to be willing to put their lives on the line.  That day the worst happened—there was tremendous loss.  But their comrades kept working. They kept doing their job." "New York City lost a lot of firemen that day. They are people who do a job that requires them to be willing to put their lives on the line. That day the worst happened—there was tremendous loss. But their comrades kept working. They kept doing their job."

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"I did recognize, very paradoxically, it was one of the most visually beautiful sites I had ever seen, just in terms of pure visual grandeur.  I guess it’s one of those paradoxes where something so tragic can actually be beautiful, strange as that may sound." "I did recognize, very paradoxically, it was one of the most visually beautiful sites I had ever seen, just in terms of pure visual grandeur. I guess it’s one of those paradoxes where something so tragic can actually be beautiful, strange as that may sound."

“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.” “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.”

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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.” 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.”

“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.” “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.”

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