Monday, September 12, 2011

The Falling Man Documentary

They began jumping not long after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building's fatal wound. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors -- the top.

Tom Junod

The Falling Man is a documentary based on one of many pictures taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew on September 11, 2001 during the Al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. Following the crash of planes into the towers, horrified spectators watched as people in the buildings either fell or jumped to their deaths - some 90 and 100 floors above the street. Over 200 people died in this manner. It was sight many will never ever forget. Drew photographed some of the people who jumped that day as well as many other images from the disaster. The photograph shown below, is that of an unknown man falling to his death from the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
When Drew's photographs where printed, newspapers had to decide whether or not to print the image of the falling man. The New York Times decided to print Drew's photograph of the unknown man, the image above, on page seven of the first section. Response to the image was both intense and negative. Many people felt that this photograph should never have been published out of respect for the dead man. It was a degree of voyeurism on level never quite seen before. The photograph of the falling man slipped quietly into oblivion. But not quite.

Peter Cheney, a reporter who worked for the Globe & Mail was assigned by his editor to try to discover the identity of the falling man. At first Cheney thought that the unknown man, captured during the 10 seconds it took him to plummet to the earth, was Norberto Hernandez, a pastry chef from Windows on the World, the restaurant located at the top of the North Tower. He based his theory on the image on one of the thousands of missing posters plastered throughout New York.

However,Hernandez family rejected the possibility that the photograph was that of Norberto. After viewing all the frames taken of the falling man, one thing that stood out, was the discovery that underneath his white jacket, which was ripped off him during his descent, was an orange top. Someone, somewhere knew a man who went to work that day wearing an orange top.

Tom Junod's article in Esquire Magazine, in an evocative and heart-rending piece, tells the story of the search to put a name to the falling man. The documentary, The Falling Man was based on Junod's article which you can read on Esquire's website.

The Falling Man is presented below. Please be advised this is not for the faint of heart. Like everything associated with September 11, 2001, it is deeply saddening.

"People have to get over wondering who this man was," she (Gwendolyn Briley Strand) says. "He's everybody. We're so stuck on who he was that we can't see what's right there in front of us. The photo's so much bigger than any man, because the man in the photo is clearly in God's hands. And it's God who gives us the grace to go on."

from Surviving The Fall by Tom Junod

No comments: