Why did the 9/11 'falling man' image disappear?


At Design Observer, a fascinating piece on how photographer Richard Drew's iconic, disturbing image of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center on 911 has been erased from public view.

It's an interview with Henry Singer, who in 2006 produced and directed The Falling Man, a 90 minute documentary for UK's Channel 4.

A snip from Singer's comments in the Design Observer interview:

What is extraordinary beyond the graphic composition of this image — the parallel lines, the light on one of the towers — is the fact that the Falling Man, as he has come to be known, looks so composed. It’s the most horrific moment but there is a calmness to the image. And I think this is one of the reasons why it is so memorable. It captures the last moments of somebody’s life but it does so in a way that is peaceful and beautiful at the same time. That is one of the many reasons why it has burned itself into the consciousness of anybody who has looked at it.

Notable Replies

  1. I don't even understand why people want to censor it. The ugly parts of history are the most important to remember IMO. Just imagine if people had done this to Holocaust images - too hard to look at? You should be looking.

  2. Watch The Falling Man - it's a great doco.

    After seconds of difficult and technical internet trawling I was able to find the picture in question on a little-known website.

    If you don't mind squinting at a tiny thumbnail, Huffpo has a barely acceptable 1080x785 version.

  3. Commercial media exists to remind us we are inadequate and going to die someday soon of something unlikely. Unless we buy the right toothpaste.

    I don't think that the falling man sells much washing powder.

    I think the falling man makes me ponder what I actually need, and how valuable my time actually is.

    That's not good for business (unless you're a church).

  4. What strikes me the worst is that there was not even a single attempt by any of the jumpers to retard the fall somehow. No attempt to use clothing as improvised parachute. Not anything else. Just... dumb jumping.

    And there are enough accidents in aircraft mishaps and parachuting to provide evidence a high-altitude fall can be survived with some luck and some effort and some injury on impact.

    A back-of-the-envelope calculation using equations for model-rocket streamers shown that a few meters length of an office carpet torn off the floor could slow down the fall speed quite significantly. I am not sure how well the equations scale here, and would not mind if someone with more aerodynamics knowledge pipes in.

  5. Not sure if trolling or serious....

    Sometimes it's really hard to read irony, and if I've missed it here, I'll delete this post.

    If I had to choose between being burned to death in the next several seconds vs. jumping to a clean death some hundreds of feet to pavement, I know I would choose the latter every time.

    If I had the time to improvise a parachute, I don't think I could ever work up the nerve to jump, at least not from above the tenth floor or so. I would have been one of those on the roof waiting for helicopter rescue when the building collapsed.

    The only thing worse than burning to death would be to jump and somehow slow the fall just enough to barely survive, horribly mangled at the base of building, wishing to die, but being unable to move because I had broken every bone in my body, only to see the tower fall on me after the fact.

    I don't think I'm prepared to declare the choice any of the jumpers made to be "dumb."

    Desperate, highly personal, and not subject to second-guessing would be more like it.

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