James Nachtwey happened to be in New York the morning of 9/11 and made his way to Ground Zero. Ten years ago, TIME published Nachtwey’s extraordinary pictures from the day, but he had not revisited those 27 rolls of film since. A few weeks ago, we had Nachtwey in the office, poring over his contact sheets, reliving the events of that Tuesday. Here, he shares his edit of those photographs, some previously unpublished (slides: 1, 5, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15), with TIME and spoke with writer David Levi Strauss about the work.
James Nachtwey awoke early on September 11, 2001, having flown in from France late the night before. It was unusual for him to be in the city at that time, when he would normally be on assignment elsewhere in the world, documenting conflicts. He took his morning coffee to the east side of his Water Street loft, and looked out across the East River to the Brooklyn Bridge. He remembers that the sky was the bluest and clearest he’d seen in a long time, a condition pilots call “severe clear.” The bridge was lit from behind, with the sun glinting off the surface of the water. Nachtwey glanced down, and noticed some people standing on an adjacent roof, looking west and pointing toward the sky. He crossed the room to the windows on the other side of the loft and saw the north tower of the World Trade Center in flames. A few minutes later, the second plane hit the south tower. Nachtwey, the greatest war photographer of our time, knew instantly that this was an act of war. He packed up his cameras, loaded all the film he had, and ran toward the burning towers.