Photographer behind ‘the Falling Man’ looks back at his 9/11 photo

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To commemorate 20 years of the tragic terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, photojournalist Richard Drew looks back at the split-second moment in which he captured “The Falling Man”, an iconic and powerful photograph that recalls the horrors of this day.

To note: The video contains graphic images which may disturb some viewers.

Photography is an incredibly powerful tool that can create lasting impact, as evidenced by the photographers who have created iconic images that have become deeply embedded in today’s culture and collective memory.

One of these photographs is “The Falling Man”, captured by Drew, a Associated press photojournalist for nearly six decades. His belief throughout his career is that timing is everything and that if the photographer is not present, the opportunity to document important moments will be lost.

In an interview with CBS Sunday morning, Drew reflects on the day the deadliest terrorist attacks were committed on American soil, which killed thousands, including hundreds of first responders.

On the day of the attacks, Drew was on assignment for a maternity fashion show. His office called him and told him that a plane had struck the World Trade Center building, and Drew immediately walked to the epicenter of the attacks and began photographing the moment he exited the subway.

Photo by Robert on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons

As a seasoned photojournalist, Drew knows what it takes to document horrific events – he remains objective, puts an end to his personal responses, and focuses on recording the story.

This is the same principle he also applied to photograph the desperate people who were trapped in the upper floors of the burning World Trade Center and made the grave decision to jump to their deaths to escape the fire and smoke ( as well as those which were forcibly blown and fell).

As one of these men fell, falling across the sky, one of the footage captured by Drew showed the man falling head first, over the towers. This particular frame became known as “The Falling Man”, and the image was published in numerous newspapers the next day. Many readers found the photograph too shocking and disturbing to watch.

Twenty years later, this image still creates powerful emotions in audiences through its seemingly abstract portrayal of the terror and pain endured that day. Drew explains that it’s because everyone can relate to them and feel that this person could be them.

The person pictured has not yet been officially identified, but reporters have speculated that it could be Norberto Hernandez, a pastry chef at Windows on the World, or Jonathan Briley, a sound engineer who also worked at Windows on the World.

Drew’s photographs also identified an additional victim who fell – his identity was confirmed by his fiancee who visited Drew in his office to browse the photographs frame by frame.

More resources, support and archives of the 9/11 attacks are available on the National September 11 Memorial & Museum website, while other powerful images from the Associated press the photojournalists were selected by the organization in a recent blog post.



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