Several days after the September 11 attacks, Project co-founder Michael Feldschuh started soliciting submissions for the September 11 Photo Project by handing out flyers in Union Square to people who were taking photographs of the aftermath. He collaborated with James Austin Murray and together they started the September 11 Photo Project with approximately 200 photos in a 4000-square-foot gallery space in SoHo. It was meant as a public space where everyone affected could express their own personal narrative and aid a collective healing and reconciliation process. The exhibition was an illustration of the millions of individual stories of that day. The Project differed from other projects about 9/11 at the time because it was a completely open and public forum where the collective public chose what is displayed.
The Washington Post wrote at the time, “the guts of this collection are accidental, often voyeuristic, even discardable images, made with whatever camera happened to be handy at the time, on strips of film that no doubt began with images of the last vacation or someone’s birthday party.” The number of photographs grew consistently over time; by April 2002 the exhibition had grown from 200 to 4,500 photos and in September 2002 The National Geographic reported that “more than 5,000 photos bear witness at the September 11 Photo Project.” By August 2003 the Project featured over 5,500 photos and notes from photographers aged 9 to 81.