Podcast: Accept the Witness—Richard Drew and “The Falling Man”


The title “The Falling Man” has been acknowledged as the name of the photograph of a man falling from the north tower of the World Trade Center during the attacks of September 11, 2001. The image depicts a lone figure falling headfirst against the backdrop of the vertical lines of the twin towers. As an image, it is a striking composition and the casual position of the man’s body bisecting the two towers, has even been described as graceful. These visual elements mask the horror of its immediate context and perhaps add to the upsetting response that often accompanies this image.

Unlike other photographs from that day, this image does not explicitly depict carnage and destruction, but it is this image that has been often singled-out as too disturbing to view, too galling to publish. In fact, the image was published by many newspapers on the day following the attacks and was received with such recoil that editors were called to apologize for its inclusion and almost immediately, it fell under a shroud of obscurity, which in the sixteen years since 9/11, has been slowly lifted.

On today’s episode of the B&H Photography Podcast, we welcome veteran Associated Press photojournalist Richard Drew who took this now iconic photograph. We talk with Drew about his experiences on September 11, 2001, about media self-censorship and about how this photo, which is simultaneously peaceful and deeply painful, had been received, rejected and perhaps now, accepted as part of the whole story and a symbol of all that was lost that day.

Guest: Richard Drew

Editor’s Note: We have decided to not use “The Falling Man” photograph in our blog post because of its painful depiction, but we feel the conversation we hold has educational, emotional and historical value, especially as we approach the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11. We produced it and present it with the utmost of respect for those whose lives has been affected by the attacks of September 11, 2001, particularly the survivors, the victims and their families, the first-responders and the journalists, who also risked their lives that horrible morning.

Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Los Angeles, 1968. Photograph: Richard Drew
Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Los Angeles, 1968. Photograph: Richard Drew
Muhammad Ali watches as defending world champion George Foreman goes down to the canvas in the eighth round of their WBA/WBC championship match in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Frank Sinatra escorts Jackie Onassis to the '21' Club on September 17, 1975 after she attended his concert at the Uris theater (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
President Richard Nixon attends a baseball game at Yankee Stadium after his term in office (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Andy Warhol (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Texas billionaire Ross Perot laughs in response to reporters asking when he plans to formally enter the Presidential race. New York City, May 5, 1992 (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Britain’s Prince Charles, during a charity polo match in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park. February 17, 1993 (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Cuban President Fidel Castro at a special commemorative meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, October 22, 1995. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Specialist Anthony Rinaldi is reflected in a screen at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, April 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Richard Drew at the B&H Photography Podcast. Photograph: John Harris
Allan Weitz and Richard Drew. Photograph: John Harris


Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: John Harris
Producer: Jason Tables
Executive Producer: Lawrence Neves


Y'all may be New Yorkers, but we are all Americans; it affected all of us. I was listening to the radio when I heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I turned on the TV and saw the second plane target the second tower. When I saw the second plane hit, I said "al-Qaeda" This wasn't the first time al-Qaeda attacked the US. There was the first attempt on the World Trade Center with the "van bomb" in the underground parking garage; the USS Cole, the embassy bombings in Africa.

That day, the news media on the Internet slowed to a crawl. It was difficult to get news online about what was happening in New York City, and Washington, DC. CNN ditched their fancy graphics and switched to displaying text news. I got more information from Slashdot. I shed tears watching what was happening. I don't know what I would've done in that situation. Reading the report from the NIST of the structure failures, it seems that those above the floors had no hope of rescue.

A friend and coworker in South Carolina lost his brother-in-law who worked at Top of the World.

The crew of the International Space Station photographed New York City after they heard the news. Frank Culbertson, the commander of the crew, posted a diary of his time as Commander of Expedition 3 on NASA's web page.

Camera as a filter I think it's human nature to photograph an event. Watching a Space Shuttle launch had been a 30 year old bucket list item for me; I also wanted to photograph the launch. I shot 6 fames of Kodak Ektar 100. I made sure that I stepped away from the camera to also watch. For the recent solar eclipse, I shot almost 700 photos; I bracketed 5 stops -3 to +1 using an interval timer of one minute.

Your podcast with Richard Drew was powerful, emotional and informative. I've never been able to watch video or photos of the tragedy of 9/11 and can only imagine the challenges that Richard faced in recording these events. My hat's off to him and all other photojournalists who put themselves in harm's way.

Doc:  Thank you very much for the feedback, it's not an easy subject, but we hoped to present it in a respectful and informative maner. And yes, much respect for photojournalists who risk their lives to keep us informed and emotionally engaged with the world around us.