Lucas Foglia: “It was important to me to show, not tell”

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Foglia reflects on his documentation of a city healing almost two decades after he photographed New York the summer following 9/11

In 2002, Lucas Foglia moved from his family’s small Long Island farm to Manhattan, New York. The city was deep in mourning. Less than a year had passed since the 9/11 attacks. The grief and horror at what had happened were palpable. But, as Foglia articulates it, “people live outside their apartments in New York […] they’re public; they’re extroverted.” As he took to wandering the streets on evenings and weekends — a 1973 Hasselblad slung round his neck — he encountered individuals open to conversation. 

The portraits composing Summer After — published on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 — were born from those experiences. Without expectation, Foglia opened himself up to the city, framing its rhythms and emotions through intimate black-and-white photographs of its diverse citizens. The project’s gentleness comes through in each image. The work is distinct from the fleetingness and voyeurism that can characterise street photography. Instead, Foglia’s connection to each subject makes for intimate pictures. “I first try and understand how [people] think, and what they believe and experience in the world. Then, as we make photographs together through that commonality, we can have conversations.”

The series also developed as a counterpoint to the sense of threat and need to conquer that threat, which characterised political messaging following 9/11 as the US initiated a global “war on terror” to destroy Al Qaeda, launching decades-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Foglia instead endeavoured to present the diversity of New York and the beauty and dignity of its citizens. “I wanted the project to show the city healing, both in celebration and unity and with some scars,” he says. 

 Short reflections on 9/11 from several subjects punctuate the 70 photographs that compose the publication. These provide small windows into the lives, hopes and fears of those depicted. “Every September 11th, I’ve felt that same pain that Americans all over the country felt. It almost makes me cry, even now, thinking about it,” reads one by Abu Huraira, the son of Pakistani immigrants who was just two at the time and whose family lost a close friend in the attacks. “I always felt closer to the victims, yet I was grouped in with the perpetrators.”

Work accrues new meaning over time, and Foglia felt the series resonated in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. “It felt relevant to this current moment,” he reflects, “as we begin to heal from the pandemic; healing that involves looking at strangers with empathy.” Summer After was published on 01 September, a day or so after the formal end of the war in Afghanistan — a war that arguably finished as it began. The publication may then also be read as a counterpoint to the militarisation that happened following 9/11. As Foglia observes: “It should encourage connection,” instead of the kind of animosity that has defined the past 20 years. 

Summer After is published by Stanley/Barker.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.