The Day of 1000 Iconic Photos

Iconic Photos looks back at the most powerful images from the day that created thousands of them. 

Apart from annual national holidays, history scarcely invokes events by the dates on which they occurred, but September 11 immediately joined the Fifth of November and the Ides of March as a day that would forever live in infamy.

And this month, newspapers, magazines and blogs will commemorate the tenth anniversary of that harrowing day. Some will be personal and introspective, others will invoke history’s long arc, and we at IP will take a photographic trip down the memory lane back to that September morning everyone claims he remember vividly.

There are two approaches and two parts to this retrospective. In the first part today, we will try to forget the Pandora’s Box that epochal day opened; imagine you know nothing about the Afghan and Iraq Wars; the Patriot Act; the missing WMDs; wiretappings, Gitmo and secret renditions; Abu Gharib; Madrid and London attacks; bin Laden’s demise or countless politicians and pundits hijacking the memory of 9/11. Then, the photos posted below will tell you the Story of 9/11 without the thick lenses of the future distorting their historical present.

Lead photo: Robert Clark saw the second plane approaching the WTC from his rooftop in Willimasburg, Brooklyn; For these four photos, Clark won the World Press Award.


Many photographers were in New York, covering the U.S. Open and the NY Fashion Week. Also, two photographic legends, Steve McCurry and James Nachtwey were also coincidentally in town. For Time magazine, Nachtwey took some of the most powerful images of the day, including the photo above.


New York Post’s Bolivar Arellano was just beneath the South Tower when it came crashing down.



Bill Biggart heard that the first plane crashed into the WTC on the radio; he rushed to the site, and documented the devastation until the North Tower collapsed and buried him. He was the only photographer killed during the attack. His camera and film were recovered, published in Newsweek on October 19th 2001. They are now in Newseum.


Suzanne Plunkett was covering the DKNY fashion show that morning. She raced to the Ground Zero, and as she emerged from the subway at Fulton Street, the towers came down. She took powerful images of panicked people running just before the dustcloud overtook her. She ran for her life hid under a car.


Father Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department’s beloved chaplain became the most famous victim of the attacks. Judge entered the North Tower after administering the Last Rites to the people lying on the streets. Shannon Stapleton (Reuters) took the touching photo of Judge’s body being carried out of the rubble by five men, which instantly became known as American Pieta.


Amy Sancetta was enjoying a day off from covering the U.S. Open; on hearing the attacks, her first thoughts were, “Oh, great. Some guy has driven his little twin-engine plane into the trade center, and it’s going to take up my whole day off in the city.” She was justified in this reasoning, for in 1945, just that happened at the Empire State Building. She arrived as the South Tower collapsed and the debris cloud overtook her. After hiding in a parking garage, she emerged back into a “winter wonderland of debris”, and took the above photo of a businessman emerging from the debris.


Gulnara Samoilova who lived just four blocks away from the WTC was awaken by the sirens. She entered the south tower, but quickly retreated, and was just outside it when it collapsed. In coming months, as an editor of AP Library, her job came to involve going through the 9/11 photos. Deeply haunted by her memories, she left the AP in 2003.


Officer Richard Adamiak yelled at Ruth Fremson after she took his photo as he caught his breath inside the Stage Door Deli.



Eight hours after the attack, three firemen took an American flag off a yacht and raised it in the wreckage. The moment, captured by Thomas E. Franklin, evoked the memories of Iwo Jima. A year after the attacks, Franklin reunited with the trio for a new photo, this time with the Statue of Liberty as the background. The flag, however, has since gone missing.

In an early attempt to memorialize the day, it was proposed to put up a statue of this moment outside NY fire department’s Brooklyn headquarters, but the proposal collapsed when the fire department (which was 94% white) objected to the proposal’s plan to change two of the white firemen in the photo to a black and a Latino for the statue.


This photo, allegedly recovered from the debris, showed a tourist standing on the viewing platform of the World Trade Center as the hijacked plane approaches. The photo was, in fact, a fake, created from a photo one Hungarian tourist named Péter Guzli took in 1997. Exposed, it became an early internet meme, with Guzli cameoing at many disasters.



Tomorrow, we will take a different approach. We will look back at the 9/11 photos that were controversial, and those that shaped the national discourse, while contemplating the morally, politically, militarily, and financially exhausting decade that 9/11 created.

As always, follow me on Twitter, and also, suggest your favorite iconic 9/11 photo in the comments below. Best.

14 thoughts on “The Day of 1000 Iconic Photos”

  1. My Dear Comrades,

    Everything well said except about the “little twin engined plane” hitting the Empire state Building. It was a B-29, on route to Newark airport. This Internet article should clear it up:

    Research into this empire state incident was the reason the Empire state Building wasnt on the hit list. Since it was impacted before and it was found that the Empire State Building was over engineered by about 300 percent, it could withstand about 20 such hits before giving way.

    But as we all know, the Empire State Building is the REAL symbol of American Might and Power, not the World Trade Center! (An to a close second place the Chrysler Building).

    If you haven’t gone to the Empire state building or the Chrysler building, then you are in for a real treat. Its Opulence and construction will convince you that indeed, these are the symbols of what we stand for. (Now before anyone gets riled at me, know that Im not tryin to diminish anything about our honored dead at the World Trade Center…its just that the Buildings themselves were not built as testaments to our greatness and power, but rather to be real estate moneymakers, which they were. But as we all know the design was utilitarian and did not incorporate any reference to our culture or encapsulate our spirituality or plans for the future.
    Go visit the Empire state and Chrysler buildings and you will see what I mean. Its a life changin experience an if you go at dusk to the Empire State, even more so.

    Your Obt. Svt,
    Col. Korn,
    Chief O’ Mayhem in the Great WW2,
    Now Chief O’ Sanitation an Security an the Complaint Dept,
    OXOjamm Studios.

      1. True, My Bad.

        Meant to just say “Mitchell” and you’re right, it is a lot smaller than the B-29 but hope everyone knows it still carries enough gas and bombs to ruin your day, as the photo in your link attests.


  2. True, My Bad.

    Meant to just say “Mitchell” and you’re right, it is a lot smaller than the B-29 but hope everyone knows it still carries enough gas and bombs to ruin your day, as the photo in your link attests.


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