September 11, 2001 was a terrifying event not only for the United States, but also for the whole world. Too many casualties have occurred. Too many horrible images recorded. But among them is a photo so haunting, that the photographer who took it, Richard Drew, was even denounced as a “cold-blooded”. The photo depicts a man free-falling from the World Trade Center (WTC) Twin Towers, moments before it collapsed.
In the days after the attack, this photo was published by several newspapers in the US, but was later removed because of an inflammatory reaction from readers, who thought it was too tragic and haunting.
Up to now, the identity of “Falling Man” is still unknown, but it is suggested that it is an employee of a restaurant on the North Court. As for Drew – who took the photo, there’s a long story behind it.
* The article is translated from the sharing of Richard Drew in the book “September 11: The 9/11 Story, Aftermath and Legacy”.
My family calls it “unforgettable photo”. Many newspaper editors refused to print it. As for those who accepted to post, just one day after the WTC building collapsed, they had to receive hundreds of letters of protest.
The photo is considered a cold-blooded, cruel, disgusting product. And then it disappeared.
20 years on, I still get questions about it, but about other issues. I was invited to interview on national television, with channels from abroad, and then gave lectures around universities. Esquire magazine once published a 7,000-word article describing the image’s symbolism from an artistic perspective. Sir Elton John called it “one of the most accomplished images in the history of photography”.
The Twin Towers Collapse
All that contrast was for a single shot out of hundreds of snaps, before they pulled me to my shelter as the tower collapsed.
My colleague calls it “the most famous photo that no one has seen”. The fact is that many people have already seen it. Just mention it, people will remember it, even with a rather humorous angle. A photo that gives people chills, but rotates it side-by-side to find more humorous angles? It’s ironic.
Humans in free fall
That fateful morning I stood under the North Tower, at the corner of West and Vesey Streets. The column of smoke was so dense that it was impossible to see, and it was also difficult to breathe. I heard a lot of crashing sounds, thinking it was bricks. But I was wrong! It was the sound of people hitting the sidewalk.
I pointed at a falling person, picked up the camera and took about 8 pictures. There was another very loud noise – possibly an explosion. But I didn’t care and kept taking pictures, just thinking that maybe a roof collapsed. It’s not just a roof, it’s the entire WTC that’s falling down. I didn’t know it because I was standing so close.
An emergency worker saved me with a strong jerk. The tower collapsed on us as we fled. However, I still stopped in time to take 9 more pictures.
Sounds stupid right? But then I was in shock. And when we’re panicking, people do things instinctively.
Having to witness the tragedy right before my eyes haunted me for a long time. To this day, I still notice every plane passing overhead, wondering if it’s friend or foe. But it’s not the photo or the event itself that makes me most tired, but the attitude of the public.
People keep asking me how can I be so “cold-blooded” that I take pictures of the dying? But I never thought so. I take pictures to save the last moments of a person’s life. Every time I look at the picture, I see him alive.
It’s also not the first time I’ve photographed a dying person. At the age of 21, I was assigned to stand behind Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) the day he was assassinated. That time, I was so close that his blood splashed all over my shirt. Photos taken in that tearful state left me devastated for the next 35 years.
But no one refused to print it, unlike the way they looked at the 9/11 photo. No one has denied it, and it’s hard to see why. Perhaps, it lies in identity and empathy.
RFK was assassinated, a lot of people mourned him, but he was a great figure. We are different, most of us are just ordinary people, salaried people, not famous people, just like the man who fell from the Twin Towers.
Tom Junod – author of the magazine article Esquire interviewed the families of several victims to identify “Falling Man” – who he referred to as the “unknown 9/11 fighter. Junod realized that their reactions varied widely, depending on the situation.” feeling of death, some were angry at the idea that their loved one had jumped down and chose to die despite the family, others hailed it as a heroic act.
Of course, both ideas ignore the uncomfortable reality that if the victim chose to stay, it would be difficult to survive, or might have been forced to jump because he couldn’t breathe anymore. But anyway, the identity of this person, I think I have confirmed.
He’s me, he’s you, he’s us, he’s whoever.
Source: Time, Miami Herald