New book Summer After captures the fragility of a post-9/11 New York

In 2002, photographer Lucas Foglia moved to Manhattan, and spent his spare time taking portraits in a city still recovering from the after effects of 9/11. A new book brings the images together for the first time

“This is how I remember New York City in 2002,” says Foglia, who’s photographed off-grid communities in the US as well as remote areas of the American West.

“I was 19 years-old and had just moved to Manhattan from my family’s small farm on Long Island,” he remembers. “It was the first summer after the September 11 attacks. Workers were removing the last of the debris from the collapsed Twin Towers. The city felt both immense and fragile compared to the groundedness of my childhood home.”

At the time, Foglia was working in the studio of fellow photographer Arnold Newman, but says he spent his spare time and weekends wandering New York’s five boroughs. When he made eye contact with passers-by, he asked to take a portrait of them.

“At first, I assumed people would respond with caution,” he says. “I was a stranger. The city was recovering from an event that shook its sense of security. Yet, most people said yes and looked straight into my camera lens. I am grateful they chose to trust me.”

Foglia’s book, Summer After, brings this body of work together, published to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11. It’s sparse in layout, putting the focus on the photographer’s black and white images and the snippets of stories he’s collected from his subjects.

Some of these reflect on the impact of the 2001 attacks, and the pain that rippled outwards from New York and across America. Many of them are deeply personal – such as the thoughts of Abu Haraira, who recounts the prejudice he faced in the years after.

“Indians or South Asian kids who weren’t Muslims wanted to distance themselves from us,” he recounts in the book. “‘Oh he’s the Muslim, he’s the terrorist, not me. I’m Hindu.’ I didn’t ever really blame them. I knew they were only doing it because they were scared of facing the same thing.”

Others recall the sights of people covered in ash, and trucks carrying debris, or receiving phone calls from worried family members. Many also remember the way the people of New York came together as a community, handing out water bottles and experiencing an unprecedented sensation of togetherness through block parties and fundraisers.

Foglia’s images capture a very specific stretch of time 20 years ago. Yet in these stories and recollections, there’s also definite parallels to be drawn to today, in terms of people’s experience of the trauma caused by the attacks and the ongoing impact of, and slow recovery from, the Covid-19 pandemic.

Summer After is published by Stanley Barker;