Everybody remembers where they were and what they were doing on that fateful day of 11th September 2001’¦ the day that aircraft struck the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and in one case the crew attempted to overpower the hijackers and prevent another tragedy. Many articles have been written since then but words can only convey so much. It is the images that do not convey a single word that still have the power to move us. It is their honesty, their brutality that moves us.
1. Empire State Building
Not one of the most iconic at the time but certainly one of the most moving – it was an aerial shot taken from just behind the Empire State Building looking toward the twin towers as they smouldered. It is a shocking and sobering image purely because, in this scene at least, the landmark that was built in 1930 looks forlorn and alone. You can almost imagine the building looking on in disbelief and fearing for itself.
2. Falling Man
One of the most shocking and most simple of all images from that day; a man whose identity was never discovered is seen falling from the North Tower against the backdrop of the building. He is wearing a suit: black trousers, black shoes and a shirt. The man is in free fall, head down in a desperate plunge to escape what was to come. He was one of many hundreds of people to have died in this desperate manner.
It looks like something from a disaster movie ‘ Cloverfield or some other ‘X happens to New York’ big budget blockbuster but for the people in the shot the scene was very real. The South Tower had collapsed sending dust and debris for many blocks. A group of people in its path were terrified and observed running for their lives to take shelter from the fallout. In the background, a big grey cloud of dust is billowing up the street toward them.
4. Covered in Ash
A woman by the name of Marcy Borders was one of the last to escape the South Tower and the iconic photograph of her shows a woman covered head to toe in ash. The dust and smoke around her gives the image a very yellow feel. She is so covered in the dust that it is difficult to make out the colour of her clothes or even her hair, only the fact that her face is clear reveals her to be African-American.
5. George W Bush and the Firefighter
Then President came in for a lot of criticisms for his actions at the time of the attack ‘ most notably from Michael Moore ‘ for sitting in a classroom reading a book while looking completely at a loss for what to do. He would never win over everybody but one of the most heartfelt images of that time was of Bush consoling a male Firefighter who looked exhausted and broken. The firefighter, Lenard Phelan, lost his brother on that day. Both men seem to have formed a bond.
A still taken from a security camera captured the moment that the aircraft that hit the Pentagon slammed into its western wall. Flight 77 was one of two aircraft destined for the Department of Defence headquarters on that day but it was the only one that made it to its destination. The security camera which had been looking across the road and toward the building had shown the aircraft coming in almost at ground level and striking the side of the building.
7. Too Kitsch
Nobody does kitsch quite like the Americans; but when the creative director of the 9/11 Memorial Exhibition was presented with a photograph by Thomas E. Franklin of three Firefighters raising The Stars and Stripes before a mass of rubble, he described it as too kitsch. It became a symbol of hope for many and some compared it to the iconic Iwa Jima monument. He also described the photograph as too simplistic and reductionist but would eventually allow it along with several other shots of the same image.
8. Surveying the Damage
Another image from the Pentagon, this is the first and best-known close-up shot of the damage to the west wall. In the foreground a helicopter hovers, scanning the damage from an elevated position. The wall has crumpled and a wall of smoke is billowing from the devastating scene. Around it, the freestanding walls are charred and blackened by smoke damage. There is surprisingly little fire here ‘ on this image just a thin line running along the top of the building.
9. Moment of Impact
Most of the world’s media outlets were reporting the event as a horrific accident when the first (North) tower was struck on that fateful morning. But the world watched on in horror as the video feed showed a second aircraft move into the shot and then strike the South tower. It immediately erupts into a fireball. Black smoke pours from the North Tower as flames consume the South. Beneath the explosion, debris tumbles to the earth and there is not a cloud in the sky.
10. Flight 93 Fuselage
Due to the remote nature of the crash of Flight 93 (it was bound for the Pentagon but crashed in a field when the passengers overpowered the hijackers) it has almost seemed to be the poor cousin where iconic images are concerned. It does have its fair share though, elevated photos of the crater, the woodland backdrop, unearthing one of the engines. Most famous is the remainder of the fuselage. Just a few metres square it is a copper-coloured piece of the body work with two windows and numerous bolts. It can easily be seen that the craft was torn apart on impact.
There are many thousands of images from that tragic day and the events that immediately followed. Some are sobering, some are tragic, some will bring a tear to the eye and many have courted controversy because of their content. But there are those that are uplifting that speak volumes of the human spirit. People from over 90 countries lost their lives on that day; such photographs can only honour their memories.