Shot by Richard Drew
Shot by Pulitzer-Prize winner, Stanley Forman
These two photos are stomach-turning images of people falling to their deaths in two scenarios in the United States. The Falling Man was a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center on the September 11 terrorist attacks. The second image is of a woman and child falling to their deaths after a faulty fire escape broke in Boston.
In both instances, we are witnessing the end of people’s lives. The older woman and the man are falling head first looking at their inevitable end. You can see in the background the image of the buildings and windows passing behind them looking that much more defenseless. In both images, the reason for their deaths are pictured falling with them.
Looking specifically at the picture of the woman and child, we see that this was not intentional. The way that they are seen positioned in the picture is one of fear. They are spastic and scared and in their final state of free fall and panic. They are not the only things falling. With them falls the fire escape that led them to this incident along with potted plants. One thing that makes this picture so horrifying is that we can clearly see the child’s face. It almost appears that the child is looking at the camera. It doesn’t make it some person anymore because you can see into the eyes of this child before their death. We have room to create a story about what they could have been thinking in this moment and it is horrible and sad. The child is so helpless that it appears to not even make an effort to save itself and it really can’t. The woman is falling face forward as if she was looking for options to save them before she falls. Her position appears to be a final desperate attempt to survive this.
When looking at the image of the Falling Man, we see a calm simplicity in suicide. His position is quiet and sound as he makes no attempt to flail or move in any sporadic gestures. His death was planned. We do not see any distinct facial features so the story comes in the mystery and sadness of this man’s life. As we see him giving up hope in his final seconds, we sort of want to give up hope as well in both images. His arms are behind his back and he is looking at the ground awaiting his end.
It’s hard to decide which would be worse but both situations are ones we would never wish to see ourselves in. In both cases, there was really nothing either photographer could do. The isolation of the man makes it appear worse but in all actuality, there were many people doing the same thing. The woman and child were isolated because they were together, falling from the same place.
When the topic comes up as to whether it is ethical to publish these images, I say yes. These people, just from a picture, are getting a tragic story told but it is their story told. The falling man was part of one of the worst tragedies in our nation’s history. He was faced with a choice that many people faced that day and he chose what he wanted to do. Without this image, 9/11 wouldn’t be less tragic. With this image, he gains a story and a voice for people of that day. He is a face for those not pictured and people could see his side and grieve with him not only for his life but with the tragic day of our nation.
The woman and child get a tragic story told as well for accidents. As they fall, they fell with a desperate hope of living through it. It is a slap in the face to us to realize that these things happen and to not take anything for granted. We sympathize with their fear and it gives us a small and similar feeling in the pit of our stomachs to see their lives ending and how we feel so much sorrow from seeing them, and their faces.
Tragic things in life will happen and they often do and we need to notice them. Giving these people a tragic story in their final moments also helps people to appreciate their lives that are completely unknown to us. We will never truly know how they felt in this moment or their lives before this but we sympathize with them. Its tragic and sad but it is a part of life, a horrible part that we face daily. We can’t ignore it.