More than 2,000 images and several cameras, each with a unique story, were collected for the Smithsonian from 25 photographers
On September 10, 2001, I flew non-stop from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, to attend a photography seminar at the Getty Museum. It never happened. I woke early on September 11 to prepare for a full day's schedule. With the three-hour time difference, it was just after 9:00 a.m. on the East Coast. I turned on the television to see the news of the burning towers of the World Trade Center. Photography -- still and video, film and digital -- allowed us all to be witness to the tragic events of September 11.
Professional photographer Christophe Agou worked daily documenting life in New York City. An art photographer, Agou took the subway to downtown Manhattan as soon as he saw the news of the planes hitting the Twin Towers. He later admitted "seeing is not believing" when it came to his processing the chaos and destruction of the day. But he kept clicking his camera shutter capturing the paper and debris, the firefighters, and the loss. Agou donated ten of his September 11 photographs to the museum, and his own story.
I was also contacted by Smithsonian staff who took photographs on September 11 in Washington, D.C., and New York, offering donations for the collection. Stephen Delroy, was the building manager at the Heye Center of the National Museum of the American Indian, housed in the U.S. Customs House in Lower Manhattan. He assisted the National Guard in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks with access to the building as needed. Delroy's request to photograph the rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero was granted on the evening of September 22, 2001. With his Hasselblad X-Pan panoramic camera Delroy made 60 images documenting the diligent efforts of crews to work through the night, excavating the site.
Collecting for September 11 was a most challenging and emotional professional experience, but an effort I consider among the most important of my career. I am still in contact with many of the professional and amateur photographers who freely shared their stories and images for the national collection.
See more posts from and about the Smithsonian.
This post was first published on the National Museum of American History's O Say Can You See? blog.
Images: 1. Ground Zero/Stephen Delroy; 2. Merrill Lynch office/Christophe Agou; 3. Union Square/Doug Potosky.