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James Nachtwey [2003 laureate] 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.

“Through the years my work has been fueled by anger at injustices and atrocities, but always in another country. Now it had happened in my own country, my own city, my own backyard, and the sense of anger had an edge that was even more personal.”

View photos and read Nachtwey's impressions of that fatal morning from TIME