Saw '9/11 The Falling Man.' (where do your ethics lie on this?)

last month
last modified: last month

Last night I watched a documentary about the now famous photo that captured a man's body, falling from the North tower of the World Trade Center. It is called '9/11 The Falling Man' and is about the ethics of publishing the photo, and the search to discover the man's identity. The photo was published immediately after 9/11, then never shown again, due to public outcry, for many years. (Legitimate newspapers never referred to this man or others as 'jumper's, as they certainly had no intention to die that day. They are always referred to as having fallen from the building.)

The photo is a rather blurry profile, so the man's features are not clear enough to identify him with certainty. Regardless, many, many people were very angry when the image appeared in newspapers after the tragedy. The photographer, Richard Drew, was a member of the Associated Press. He feels his 9/11 photo was no different than historical photos of concentration camp bodies, soldiers killed in wars, tsunami victims, Jonestown genocide victims, political assassinations, etc.

Photojournalists believe photos depicting human tragedy in times of horrific events, are pictorial evidence that should be archived, just as written accounts. As graphic as many historical photos are, they serve to document the reality of something that words alone might not adequately preserve.

The documentary stirred up controversy about photographing not just the damage from the tragedy, but its actual victims. Ironically, the first published photo of a deceased 9/11 victim was considered reverent, and not offensive. It was a photo of Fr. Michael Judge, the chaplain for the FDNY. When firefighters found his body in the lobby of Tower One, they carried him out, slouched on a chair. The photo is clear and unfiltered, and represents one case of human loss that occurred that day.

Richard Drew felt his photo of 'the falling man' also represents the toll of human tragedy, but unlike the other photo, his subject's identity isn't distinguishable. He discovered he had captured a series of photos of the man's fall, in various positions, and could have chosen to submit a shot that would be more garish. But he chose only one image that looks almost serene, despite the known outcome.

I believe he felt his photo was just another depiction of the truth of that day, and needn't be withheld, as there should be no stigma nor shame, attached to those who took matters into their own hands, if they had the opportunity to do so. He likened his unidentified 'falling man' image as similar to the tomb of the unknown soldier, where no name is necessary, because we know it represents the loss of more than that one soldier.

In general, I don't see why close up pics of dying or deceased are necessary for public viewing. Maybe a more distant photo to document the numbers, but identifying photos are only needed for investigations, IMHO.

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