For its coverage of the September 11 attacks and their aftermath, The New York Times received the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2002.
We asked our photographers to look back on their work from that period and reflect on the pictures they produced and what is required to capture them two decades later.
Their responses have been modified for clarity and brevity.
When I realized that an aircraft had flown into the World Trade Center, I was watching NY1.
I snatched up my belongings and dashed to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
I knew what was about to happen as my companion pointed to an aircraft flying over the Statue of Liberty: I was going to see hundreds of people perish. “No, no, no!” I recalled thinking.
However, I took a deep breath and reminded myself, “This is history.” Carry out your responsibilities.” I held the camera up to my face, framed the skyline in a wide frame, and waited for the aircraft to fly into view.
I try not to remember what happened that day. I saw the anguish of New Yorkers who had lost loved ones – working mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and friends.
I’ve been having nightmares and haven’t been sleeping well since September 11th.
The picture of a lady frozen in time as she reacts to the first World Trade Center tower falling.
If I hadn’t switched to the long lens I had on my camera two days before; but I hadn’t gone to the west side because the road was blocked; if I hadn’t stopped at that moment, out of breath after running toward the World Trade Center; if I hadn’t looked at the burning tower and thought, “Wow, it looks like it could collapse any second,” if I hadn’t… I’m still not sure why I was meant to photograph that scene.
Through the darkness of the collapsed first tower’s cloud, I heard glass shatter and a person calling out.
I climbed out from beneath the emergency car where I’d been hiding and went into the Stage Door Deli on Vesey Street to find the voice.
Firefighters, cops, and a few citizens staggered about, regaining their breath and spitting out mouthfuls of muck, illuminated only by the strangely lighting lights of the display case containing cold cuts and cheeses for that day’s sandwiches.
Officer Richard Adamiak coughed and knelt. The deli’s entrance may be seen in the backdrop of the picture.
On that lovely September morning, there should have been bright sunlight pouring in.
Instead, the area was blanketed in darkness.
When I recall, time slows down and I’m back beneath an emergency car, in total darkness, being dragged down my neck by what felt like sandpaper.
Then I’ve whisked away to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Second Intifada, and the Iraq War, before returning to the United States.
As I see the events surrounding the military withdrawal develop with growing dismay, it brings up memories of friends lost and apparently fruitless efforts, and I wonder if it was all in vain.
It took me a long time that morning to find a way past the police barrier and reach the site of the buildings’ collapse. Two firemen grabbed my attention as I climbed over dangerous heaps of debris.
I could hear their discussion as they walked rapidly. I heard that they were looking for a fireman from Ladder 21, who they had just discovered.
They raced past me, and I lifted my camera as they informed him that his brother, who was also a fireman, was thought to have perished when one of the buildings fell.
His shoulders sagged, and he was hugged in a shared moment of sorrow.
Initially, I hoped the firemen’s faces in the picture were more apparent. However, I’ve grown to respect their obscurity over time.
They have come to represent the profound grief that so many people felt that day for me.
As an exodus of survivors finally made their way out of the smoke and into the sunshine, this was taken on the Brooklyn Bridge shortly after the second tower fell.
Joseph Sylvester, who claimed to work at the World Financial Center, was the first person I met.
His head was bleeding from a piece of debris that had fallen on him, and he was coated in ash.
He said that he was searching for his father, who worked in the neighborhood.
They were so peaceful and quiet, I’ll never forget it. I imagine everyone was stunned, and they were all quietly making their way to safety.
For me, Michele Defazio’s picture serves as a reminder of strangers’ generosity. Every September 11th, I remember her.
Michele walked alone toward the Bowery, where a missing people reporting center had been set up, and I stood there watching her.
Her sorrow and anxiety overtook her as she carried her handmade flyers with her husband’s picture, and she stopped for the tiniest of seconds. Strangers stopped to console her on the street.
It was just a brief moment. I contacted Michele shortly after this picture was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. It was crucial to me that she understood the historical significance of her tale.
Given the odd connection we suddenly had, we had a brief, uncomfortable discussion. She informed me she was still grieving over her husband’s death and that she had established a scholarship fund in his honor.
In the days after the assault, we learned that 658 Cantor Fitzgerald workers were killed, including Michele’s husband, Jason.
Later, while photographing the huge wave of people who had joined together in their sorrow, I covered their memorial ceremony, weeping myself.
My assignment was a funeral in Yonkers, for an E.M.S. worker killed in the attack. The world press was there, too, but after the burial, they packed up their gear and left. I stayed for a tribute by the E.M.T.s that included a salute and music from a boom box. I shot three frames in the rain, at the end of a roll when Jay Robbins teared up. I’ll never forget how it happened right when the music started playing. For me, it’s been difficult to look at this photograph. It still breaks my heart.
The feeling of the cold autumn air and the relentless blue sky, not the flames or the crushed grey concrete of the Pentagon, is what I remember. There were pieces of green jet structure underfoot. I barely got a few minutes to photograph before rescue crews and others took over. I was quite familiar with the area. Every day on my walk home from the bureau, I passed it. I’d met two of the passengers on the flight. I knew American life would never be the same by the time fighter planes flew above, as though in quiet, enraged homage.
In the weeks after Sept. 11, I was tasked with photographing the wreckage – an irreversibly changed environment in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. A terrible, burnt odor lingered in the air, and paper pieces had been blown all the way into Brooklyn by the wind. I observed a fire vehicle with blown-out windows, no longer red but coated in white ash and debris, hauled back to the firehouse, Engine 226, as I was driving. When I looked to my right, I saw an emotional scene developing, and I snapped two photos discreetly. Lt. Matt Nelson reacts as Tom Casatelli, the truck’s only survivor hugs the son of his dead colleague Lt. Bob Wallace. It’s a memory that I’ll never forget.
Following the terrorist assaults, people temporarily put their differences aside. On Park Avenue, American flags fluttered from the windows. Memorials sprung up all throughout the city, including this one in Union Square. On a regular basis, prayer and candlelight vigils were conducted. People came together to support one another, and the nation mourned as a whole. We have ripped apart twenty years ago, yet we came together to be the greatest versions of ourselves. I can’t help but wonder, as we rip ourselves apart two decades later, who won?
Outside St. Francis Assisi Church on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001, for the funeral of Mychal Judge, a Franciscan friar, priest, and chaplain for the New York City Fire Department, who died on Sept. 11 while delivering last rites at the World Trade Center. I was not permitted to photograph dignitaries or speakers inside, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The church was packed, but a throng gathered in front of the Engine 1/Ladder 24 firehouse, which is just across the street from the church. The crew was mainly firemen, some in vintage uniforms. Judge’s friend and fellow friar Michael A. Duffy urged everyone to rise, raise their right hands, and bless Mychal, who had blessed so many people in life and death. The throng in front of the fire station lifted their hands, echoing the blessing he’d given to so many others. And I, too, was fortunate.