Video courtesy of TIME
When Associated Press photographer Richard Drew emerged from the Chambers Street subway station on the morning of September 11, 2011, he saw both towers up in smoke. Despite the atrocity in front of him, he began snapping photos of the burning buildings, eventually noticing the people jumping from the upper floors. “I instinctively picked up my camera and started photographing them, following them as they came down, until I photographed what has become known as ‘The Falling Man‘” he told TIME. Ahead, Drew discusses the story and meaning behind his haunting photo that is one of the only to show someone dying on that day.
Drew didn’t know he had the image until he saw it on his computer when he got back to his office later that day. It was taken at 9:41:15 a.m. He called his editor and said, “This is it… This man was like an arrow, bisecting the two World Trade Centers.” The next morning, the photo was featured in hundreds of newspapers around the world, including the New York Times. And two years later, when Tom Junod wrote an entire article about it in Esquire, he titled his piece “The Falling Man,” giving the photo the name by which we now know it. His article was adapted into a documentary of the same name in 2006.
The identity of “The Falling Man” is still unknown, but it’s believed he was a restaurant worker at Windows of the World atop the north tower. But it’s not as much about who he was, but what he represents. “It’s a very quiet photograph. It’s not like a lot of other violent photographs from other disasters. There’s no blood, there’s no guts, there’s no one getting shot,” Drew explains. And this is why he feels the image has become so well-known–people can relate to being an innocent person having to make a choice had they been in that situation.