During the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, many photographs were taken that became iconic. But out of all the September 11 photos, one haunting shot stands alone. “The Falling Man” photo is one that shows the disturbing image of a man that leapt to his death while the Twin Towers were under attack. Since many people in the buildings were unable to find a safe way to escape, it’s also the tragic fate that so many others faced that day.
The photograph was taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew. “It’s a very quiet photograph,” says Drew as he reflects on the image. “It’s not like a lot of other violent photographs from other disasters.”
Drew was in the city working Fashion Week that morning of September 11. He rushed over to the World Trade Center when he heard about the incident taking place. He wasn’t aware of the seriousness of the situation, because all he knew was that an explosion had taken place. Once he got to the scene, he realized that it was far worse than he ever imagined. He saw dozens of helpless people falling from the top floors of the building. Drew’s journalistic instincts immediately kicked in and he started snapping photos of what he saw.
“I didn’t know I had that photograph of that man in that position until I actually saw it on my computer,” Drew said. “I called one of our photo editors and I showed him the picture and I said ‘This is it, this has got to be the picture.’”
Iconic September 11 Photo Gets Backlash
The photo was published and appeared in dozens of newspapers all over the country the next day. But since the tragic photo was graphic, there was severe backlash over it, and it was never published again.
“It was a very brave thing for them to use that picture,” Drew said of the New York Times using his September 11 photo. “It was the only picture that was like that… the only picture that showed any kind of human interaction [with the building] like that.”
His point is valid because when you think of all the September 11 photos that were circulating in the media, most of them showed the destruction of the towers. Not the pain of the people.
“The Falling Man” Photo Becomes Symbol For All Who Died
Looking back, Drew explains that he does not regret his choice to capture what was going on around him that day. “I’ve never regretted taking that photograph. It’s one of the only photographs that shows someone dying that day…We have a terrorist attack on our own soil and we still don’t have pictures of people dying.”
Sadly, the victim in the photo’s body was not recovered and his identity has never been confirmed. However, Drew feels that the man’s identity isn’t incredibly important, because he became a symbol for all those who died that day.
“I like to think of him as sort of the unknown soldier,” said Drew. “Let him represent everyone that had that fate that day.”
With another anniversary of that tragic day coming up, let us continue to pray for our country and all the people who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.
WATCH: The Falling Man | Story Behind The September 11 Photo