By Zoe Whitfield
Aged 19, Lucas Foglia arrived in Manhattan and began documenting a city starting to heal. 20 years on, he's publishing the images for the first time.
"Photography for me has always been a reason to be in a place," Lucas Foglia tells me, "and a way of getting to know people." Prior to last year, Lucas had been working on projects that meant he travelled extensively: his work is concerned mainly with documenting people and their relationship to nature. But when the pandemic arrived, he was suddenly still. With this long stretch of time to meditate, he found himself drawn to a project he shot at 19 when he first moved to Manhattan from his parents' farm in Long Island. Summer After, which is released this month as a book published by Stanley/Baker, documents New York's healing in the summer of 2002 — its first summer since the collapse of the Twin Towers.
"9/11 had a tremendous effect on people in the north east, especially in New York where I grew up," says Lucas, whose family's farm was 30 miles from NYC. "I went to the city right after, and the streets were empty; everyone felt shell shocked." But when he moved there the following summer, the energy had completely changed. "People were out in the streets; the parades were packed. It felt meaningful to do a project about people in the city that focused on the healing rather than the wound. That being said, when I went to the Pakistan Day Parade, everyone talked about the prejudice they had experienced from people suddenly thinking that they were a threat. People who had lost loved ones too were still in mourning, but the energy of the city felt like it was coming outside again."
Working in Arnold Newman's studio making prints five days a week — Lucas had met the celebrated photographer as an 18-year-old while on a work-study programme in Maine — he would use his weekends, some evenings and the odd morning to walk around the city's five boroughs meeting people. "My camera was an old Hasselblad from 1973, so people would notice it. When someone made eye contact, I would stop and ask them if I could make a portrait of them; I would explain my project and offer to send them a free handmade print." The prints would be made after hours in Arnold's studio. "Sometimes I would only take one photograph; sometimes I would spend a whole afternoon or a day with someone. I liked that freedom."
Reflecting on the impact of 9/11, he continues, "It felt like a shadow that was everywhere in the city. I was photographing in Brooklyn one evening, and there was a line of dump trucks down one of the main roads. The people I was photographing said they came by daily with debris from the Twin Towers."
Lucas stopped shooting just before the first anniversary — "the project was about the first summer after, looking at how people on the street looked back at me" — and for the most part the images have spent years sitting in boxes, with a handful stuck to his studio wall and several discovered by chance in the homes of friends. Largely though, he has not engaged with the series for several years. "I thought of the project during the beginning of the pandemic — it was so much about a reconnection; people making eye contact in a moment of healing,” he says. “I thought about this 20th anniversary and how, at least hopefully, the pandemic would be on its last legs, and people would be healing or beginning the process. And I thought there could be a relevance to that work today, reminding people to have connection or empathy with strangers." He reached out to the publishers, and the book was conceived over email.
Highlighting just 70 of Lucas's images (he reckons he shot over a thousand), the new book features a diverse mix of people from all over New York; businessmen taking a quick break, friends enjoying a parade, families running errands, each photographed in black-and-white and presented with dignity, warmth and respect. "Everyone was outside and effectively in a communal space — that's what summer is in New York," he adds. "People were outside their apartments and houses, in parks, the streets, at parades. The title Summer After felt like it summed up the feeling of that moment, with its celebration and its scars."