Why Has The Falling Man – One Of The Strongest Photographs in History Disappeared [strong graphics]


The Falling Man / Associated Press / Richard Drew

Some dates are defining dates and everyone remembers where they have been on those date. One such date is 9/11. If I asked you where you were on that day you’d probably remember. One of the photographs most associated with that day is The Falling Man. Interestingly, despite the strength of the photo is has almost disappeared from the news shortly after it was published. Here is some context about the photo:

The Falling Man is a photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew of a man falling from the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:41:15 a.m. during the September 11 attacks in New York City. The subject of the image, whose identity remains uncertain, was one of the people trapped on the upper floors of the skyscraper who either fell searching for safety or jumped to escape the fire and smoke.

With the opening of the 9/11 Memorial in Manhattan, the Design Observer ran an interview with Henry Singer who directed a documentary about this photograph back in 2006It tells the story of this controversial image: who took it; how it was first published and censored; the responses of the families, and the search to discover the identity of the man in the photograph.

Interestingly, Singer notes that while this was one of the  images that stood out on that day’s coverage it has almost gone away, to the point where Singer decided it deserves a movie:

There were so many images coming across the wire that day but this one stood out for her because it encapsulated the horror of the day. And yet at that paper, and across the country, there was an outcry from the readership saying how could you publish an image like this? This is offensive, our children could have looked at it, and a result the image basically disappeared from sight. It became a charged image very quickly and it disappeared from sight very quickly

Singer speculates about the reasons for the photo going away:

A culture like the United States prides itself on triumph, on winning, on overcoming the odds, on the myth of the city on the hill. It’s a kind of culture — and I say this as someone who grew up in the States and who now lives in Europe — that has to find some form of triumph in the face of a horrific event. And that’s where the firefighters come in. I have to add that is what most cultures do in the face of a horrific event. I think its part of our nature as human beings to wrest redemption from any event like this. Otherwise it becomes impossible to bear.

It is no question that the firefighters became the story that Americans told themselves. And as Tom Junod succinctly puts it in the film an image like the Falling Man, and the reality of the jumpers themselves, just didn’t fit that narrative. It’s very hard to frame them as something that is triumphant.

Singer also thinks that the fact the the image went away was wrong:

The taboo surrounding people who fell from the sky does a great disservice to them and a great disservice to their families. As Tom Junod points in the film these people were swept under the carpet as if they didn’t exist

You can see the movie below and read the full interview with Singer on the Design Observer, and the originating article from Tom Junod on Esquire.

  • https://www.facebook.com/JeromeCourtoisPhotography Jerome Courtois Photography

    Strong stuff!

  • https://www.facebook.com/MX200394 Mike Hill

    The average person does not watch real news and documentaries. Images like this were broadcast on every channel including MTV, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, etc where children might of not even noticed seeing plans flying into buildings etc. It is part of photojournalism.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kaja.gwincinska Kaja Gwincinska

    So powerful, such tragedy…

  • https://www.facebook.com/walter.keenan.7 Walter Keenan

    Powerful and disturbing at the same time. A must see to rock you out of your comfort zone.

  • https://www.facebook.com/brittethomas Britt Thomas

    The jumpers struck such a cord with me when I was in high school. We watched them jumping during class until the teacher had enough. This image ran in the paper the next day and I kept it. Still have it. I’ll have to watch the documentary.

  • Jim Johnson

    I can’t stand imagery of 9/11 (especially in entertainment as it has begun to creep into). The reason is simple— it takes me right back to that day and it’s like reliving it all over again. 9/11 traumatized people. If you want a reason for the above photo to have disappeared, that would be it. It is still traumatic for people

    … oh yeah, and it’s a photo of someone dying. Most people don’t relish seeing that.

    • John


    • swingvote25

      …someone being murdered.

      • die pleae

        But you enjoy all those movies you watch of people being murdered, war movies, movies of girls being taken from their homes, rapped, drugged, and then sold, you enjoy those documentaries about other people’s lives being poorer than you, kids dying in africa on a daily basis, animals being wiped off the face of the planet,

        I bet you enjoy buying the latest nike shoes that were made by 10 year olds earning less than $5 a month working 15 hours a day. While wearing those shoes to McDonalds where you buy that chicken burger from a bird that was over feed in their youth with food modified that makes their chests so big they can not even stand up properly and walk around anymore, but thats ok because they will be killed for your pleasure.

        I hope 9/11 happens again to you ignorant cunts.

  • Amaryllis

    I wouldn’t remember that day, I was 7… and not living in the US, as well as not caring about news. I only learned about 9/11 when I turned 11 because a guy in my class had his birthday on that day. Still, very powerful image here.

  • Tim

    I think it should be called the man who jumped.
    He certainly didn’t fall.
    And neither did any of the others who jumped to their deaths.
    They jumped without options, because they were trapped.
    Mislabeling the truth is just wrong.
    What would he say if he could?

    I doubt it would be I fell, but rather I jumped, after weighing my options.

    • juanfrito

      Well, it seems medical examiner’s office said something about the issue: A ‘jumper’ is somebody who goes to the office in the morning knowing
      that they will commit suicide. These people were forced out by the smoke
      and flames or blown out.”

      It makes no difference to them, but I think it’s good to make the distinction, and I don’t think it’s mislabeling the truth. Thousands died that day, and millions in all the insanity that followed. In my oppinion all of them, despite their age, gender, or nacionality, are “fallen”, and even in this particular photograph I don’t think it’s only about the “descend” definition.

      Also, there must be legal issues, regarding both the victims and the perpetrators.

  • Ap

    This is an interesting perspective on why the images and others do not appear. I always had the opposite understanding…the powers that be want the event to be forgotten. They don’t want people angry, asking questions or looking for revenge.

  • echomrg

    “This is offensive, our children could have looked at it”

    was someone seriously saying (or even thinking) something so pathetic?
    this is the event that shaped western society in the last 15 years. thousands of people died in the event itself and up to 1.3 million but at least 400K people died from what it has spawned.
    it was, and rightly so, everything the news spoke about for quite a long time.

    and someone was saying “our children could have looked at it” about one of the most powerful and dramatic pictures of the event. one that spoke of how the victims felt.
    one of the few actually bringing people into focus.

    and how ironic is the fact that, basically, the children they wanted so much to protect from the image were the same ones they sent to fight, kill and die in the wars that followed?

    • gollikat

      Yeah, echomrg, I remember the outcry against printing this picture extremely well. And I was one who was asking ‘How could you print this picture?!’ WHY? Because THAT “FALLING MAN” is someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s dad! That’s why! How would you like to see YOUR dad, son, or brother pictured on the front page of every newspaper in that predicament?! Not so nice is it? Get a life! Yes, people were offended that this picture got printed. This picture is someone’s very worst nightmare happening. Jeez!

      • echomrg

        the “falling man” isn’t someone’s son, brother or father.
        he is everyone’s son, brother of father, he has become a symbol.

        he is someone who possibly made a painful, dramatic and devastating choice.
        by hiding him from sight you forget him, you forget that he existed and you forget the choice that he made.
        you condemn his choice, because you find it an offense.
        you hide his memory, because it doesn’t suit you.

        and, even if you don’t think, like Bob below, that he didn’t have any choice, that jumping wasn’t a conscious decision, by hiding his story you tell only a partial story of what happened on 9/11, you’re not telling the whole truth.
        Truth is often painful, but if you choose to hide it then you’re not doing Truth any justice.

      • Taken

        oh but wait one minute..
        Seeing pictures of starving people in 3rd world countries, people you never made any contribution to, is ok, its inspiring, its entertainment on TV to watch a 60 minute documentary about how other people are suffering in this world.

        What about the movies you watch about young girls being trafficked for sex (I bet you have seen Taken!) what about all the girls and woman in this world who have actually experienced that and then hear in the press all over the world how a movie based on these events that happen in real life, is making billions in profit!

        Get a fucking life Gollikat, wake up and see the real world.

    • Personal

      Shaped the western society? OH I AM SORRY do you think the western society is only American?

      FUCK OFF, it didn’t shape shit for anyone else. We just all laughed at how pathetic and self obsessed Americans are. Wake up and smell the air boy, there are children dying all over the world every day, animals being wiped off the face of this planet and all can think about is how you like to exaggerate the impact America has on the world…


      • Katherine Mann

        That was really harsh echomrg. I do take your point about Americans being somewhat inturned in their view of the world, but to say that people laughed … that is going way beyond the truth.

  • TheHangedMan

    I guess it “disappeared” because it is fake to begin with.

    • Uncle Phobos

      You’re a special kind of stupid, aren’t you?

      • echomrg

        he probably is.
        but there are fake pictures of people falling from the buildings.
        for example i just discovered that the one with two people falling holding hands was photoshopped.

        maybe he was referring to that.

    • J Sclafani

      Are you serious? Do you think this was staged? Are you a denier? Back to your hole, please.

    • basilhoff

      There is always one complete douche bag that has to prove to the world they are a complete asshole. Too bad a name and address aren’t required for posting.

  • WolfNippleChips

    Maybe they’ll sell Falling Man coffee mugs and mouse pads at the 911 gift shop.

    • John Crittenden

      Why not? I hear they’re selling earrings. If that isn’t bad taste I don’t know what is. Might as well have Falling Man on them.

  • rodrigounda

    the great brother always look for us.

  • Sabrina

    This moved me to tears several times. Very thoughtful film. Thank you.

  • Bob

    There are no doctors, no firefighters, no coroners or
    medical examiners interviewed in this documentary. The only “experts” are
    reporters. The documentary implies and other times has people state that
    jumping was an option and choice. The lack of experts seems purposeful or
    incredibly naïve on part of the producers. There is not a single person interviewed
    who has experience dealing with burn victims.
    Why not? I think it’s because true experts would contradict so much of
    this documentary in a few sound bites. The man falling is likely burned even
    though he is not on fire. It’s not till 50 minutes into the documentary that
    the writer admits that the man is panicking and flailing in the air and not
    falling in some “Zen-like” choice.

    Try holding a hair dryer on “high” right in front of your
    face. (Obviously don’t be an idiot. Do not burn yourself.) In a few moments
    you’ll move it away because it’s starting to harm you. Are you having some sort
    of moral and philosophical crisis as you move the hair dryer away? No, of
    course not, you are moving a heat source away from your face. Imagine that
    feeling all over your body. You don’t need to be on fire to be get burns, your
    skin will start to melt. A hair dryer is about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, the
    temperature in the WTC reached about 2000-1800 degrees Fahrenheit. The fire
    ball from the initial crash burned some people on the first floor over 1000
    feet down near the elevators.

    Obviously not every part of the building was 15 times hotter
    than a hair dryer but no person can imagine a heat that powerful. It was hot
    enough to cause the building to burn and collapse. This is heat you would feel
    through your shoes, no protective gear or wet blanket or towel is going to
    protect you. Your entire body would try to get away from the heat. It would be
    like your entire body touching a hot stove. Your entire body would jerk back
    just like your finger would from the hot stove. The plumes of smoke were
    stories high, taller than many buildings. Rational conscious thought would not
    be something that would come into this. The one reporter “expert” at least
    points out that these were not rational people leaning out the window but
    irrational. But there is no in-depth physiological discussion about this by a
    medical expert. If there were any conscious
    thoughts in the final seconds and minutes it would be to get away, just like
    your finger jerking back from a hot stove or moving the hair dryer out of your

    It’s a shame that no one explained to the Hernandez and
    Briley family that the man was forced out of heat and smoke that was

    It’s normal for people to think “What would I do in this
    situation?” However this situation is not something previous experience can
    prepare you for, nor can previous experience allow you to imagine what it feels
    like to walk in someone else’s shoes in this situation. You can’t imagine heat 15
    times that of hair dryer. You can’t imagine smoke hundreds of feet high and all
    encompassing. There is a fallacy in the thought process in both the documentary
    and the original article that there would be thinking involved by those who
    fell to their deaths.

    What do you think when you hold the hair dryer to your face?
    I’ve been to a controlled jet fuel burn for firefighter training. When a pool
    of jet fuel is set on fire it makes often makes a mini tornado / column of
    fire. When you stand anyway close to it your entire body you will jerk back
    from the heat. You won’t think, your hold body with move and you will feel the
    hairs inside your shoes stand on their ends. I remember my body moving
    backwards. I was trying to take pictures of the training and move closer but my
    body basically took over and I remember my body basically taking control and
    walking backwards. It’s an odd feeling. I guess it’s like “an out of body

    To imply that there was choice or that there would be a
    luxury of rational thought in this situation is ludicrous.

    Also every family member found thousand upon thousand of
    hits and images of people jumping. How in the world is finding multiple
    articles and search results censorship? It’s not. Every year people talk
    about this photo, it hasn’t disappeared.

    This article and documentary come across as naïve and
    exploitative. If you are going to have a serious discussion about the image
    include someone with knowledge and experience with people being burned by heat
    and overcome by smoke don’t have a bunch of people guessing about what other
    people might have thought. I think the family members should be taken to
    firefighter training exercise and experience what it is like to be near a jet
    fuel fire, while being supervised by professionals and protected for their

    This will hopefully remove any moral, religious, and philosophical discussions from the equation and they will realize that the only thoughts would be to get away from the heat.

    • Jan

      Really good comment!

    • gollikat

      Thank you for this excellent comment!

  • Sanfordsports

    Of course the image is strong, however it is not definitive of the day. There have been many pictures of people jumping from burning buildings. A definitive picture, other than the airplane strikes, would be of the deceased fire chaplain being carried away in an office chair. Still, it’s not a photojournalist’s job to sheild the public from reality. The falling man picture is a worthy example to represent a part of the story.

  • visa

    Here is the funny thing. No in this world gives a shit apart from Americans!
    So what if loads of people died, they mean nothing to 7billion people else where.

    Why don’t Americans give a toss about all the kids dying in this world on a daily basis instead of sitting on their fat ass eating burgers and a peanut butter sandwich with a super size cola.

    God Americans really are the crap of this earth.

  • TipSquirrel

    Hasn’t been forgotten in the photography classes I teach.

  • rodrigounda

    it has dissapeared, cause the NWO wants us to forget. people without history is easily conviced of lies. (sorry my bad grammar, im not english native spoken). peace.