I woke up today, turned on the news which informed me today is the 15th anniversary of 911 which is extraordinary. It still feels only a few years ago, not a decade and a half, which means there’s people walking this planet approaching adulthood who’ve never known anything else in life but the post-911 world and the hysteria, fear, terror and instability it brought us.
I’ve outlined before what I was doing that day but as time moves on the stories of the day never fail to shock or move, and for this blog that means going over the story of the Falling Man, which is this picture.
Taken by photographer Richard Drew the image captured one of the many people who decided to end their own lives by jumping from the Twin Towers rather than face the fires. There’s a new article detailing the story of the picture by Tom Jurnod in Esquire which is worth a read, however the image is still one of the most horrific as we know this is someone heading towards their death. but Jurnod’s excellent piece includes this horrible paragraph.
The two most reputable estimates of the number of people who jumped to their deaths were prepared by The New York Times and USA Today. They differed dramatically. The Times, admittedly conservative, decided to count only what its reporters actually saw in the footage they collected, and it arrived at a figure of fifty. USA Today, whose editors used eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence in addition to what they found on video, came to the conclusion that at least two hundred people died by jumping—a count that the newspaper said authorities did not dispute. Both are intolerable estimates of human loss, but if the number provided by USA Today is accurate, then between 7 and 8 percent of those who died in New York City on September 11, 2001, died by jumping out of the buildings; it means that if we consider only the North Tower, where the vast majority of jumpers came from, the ratio is more like one in six.
People have gotten used to the horror of that to the point of complacency. In fact there were allegations of that as the event was still raw thanks to this image published on the fifth anniversary.
The story behind photographer Thomas Hoepker’s image can be found here (a wee warning, there’s also a picture of body parts so be aware there’s a gruesome image awaiting you there) but from the off people were trying to detach from the events of 911. Yet The Falling Man forces you to face the reality of the day as many have said, it is easy enough to look at images of 911 and consider it something akin to a film but the images of people falling to their deaths take you out of this enforced detachment.
It’s also telling how quickly 911 imagery became part of popular culture. Take 2008’s Cloverfield where scenes of devastation in New York had a very 911 feel about them.
I won’t say if Jurnod reveals the identity of the Falling Man, that isn’t actually the point. The point is that whitewashing the images of that day does the dead a disservice and weakens the impact of the day not for the sensationalist aspects of it, but because ultimately thousands lost their lives in an attack that reshaped the world. Wars have been started which look to be endless, new horrors spring up daily, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, are dead thanks to the events of 911 yet the day itself needs to be remember for those who died.
Whitewashing the horrors of 911 make it easy to blur over everything else that’s happened in the 15 years since. If we can confront the events of that day then we can it’s effects and maybe, one day, we might realise that nothing good on any side has come out of it and actually work for a better world.