Immediately after the harrowing events of September 11, 2001, the Ground Zero site in New York City was designated an active crime scene and closed off to reporters and photojournalists. Sensing the magnitude of the historical record about to be lost, internationally-acclaimed landscape photographer Joel Meyerowitz fought for access to the site.

Through a combination of tenacity, fortuitous personal connections, occasional subterfuge, and sheer will, Meyerowitz became the only photographer allowed to document the painful transformation of the World Trade Center site over time. For nine months he photographed “the Pile,” as the World Trade Center came to be known, and the courageous rescue personnel, police officers, firefighters, and construction workers leading the recovery efforts inside it.

Using both a large-format view camera and a 35-milimeter Leica, Meyerowitz made over 8,000 images around the sixteen-acre site where the Twin Towers once stood. His images show the mangled metal, shards of broken glass, and cascades of files and papers in the still-smoldering piles of debris; the riot of patriotic color seen in spontaneous memorials; and the elegiac silence of the dust that seemed to cover every surface in Lower Manhattan. Eventually, as his weeks in “the Pile” wore on, his subject shifted from the panoramic sweep of complete devastation to the intimate moments of mourning, strength, determination, and resilience in the faces and figures of the people on hand.

Aftermath: Photographs by Joel Meyerowitz presents fifty of the wrenching images from this moving historical document.