The Falling Man or The Pornography of Terror



Exactly two years ago we were witnessing one of the most spectacular acts of terrorism the world has ever seen. A lot has been said about how grave and terrible those acts were, and rightly so. A bunch of religious fanatics hijacked four commercial airliners and turned them into weapons, killing a few thousand people and destroying one of the US’ symbols of wealth and power.

When I used the word “seen” before I meant it in the most literal sense: Everybody was watching or, as I would argue, was forced to watch. I almost never watch television but still, I have seen the films and photos of planes crashing into the World Trade Center many times. There still is a lot to be learned from what happened. As this is a weblog about photography I want to restrict myself to what we possibly can learn about the visual aspect, in particular since after the attacks everything that doesn’t completely and blindly agree with the official US line - an innocent America was attacked by a bunch of godless “evildoers” - will make people call me “anti-American”.

What was and is the impact of those images? wood s lot links to an article about “The Falling Man” about the (in)famous photo of a man who, out of sheer desperation, jumped from one of the burning WTC towers into death.

How many people have thought about what images and articles like this one do to people? Does it help you - or anybody else - to know the name of the person who jumped to his death? Does it help the relatives to see the photo again, to see how their beloved father/friend/son/… was so desperate that he chose to jump to his death rather than to stay in the burning tower? Or what must the relatives of the people on those planes think and feel when they see the planes crashing into the towers over and over and over again?

Usually, I’m being told that people want to use the images to understand what happened. And there is a certain amount of truth to that as the US military can surely tell us: Why else did they want to hide the consequences of their actions in the two Gulf Wars? Would people start thinking about whether that industrial mass-slaughter was really a good thing to do? Maybe they would. Maybe they wouldn’t.

But does looking at the images bring us any closer to understanding what happened? How comprehensible is mass slaughter? Is it comprehensible at all? How comprehensible are the thoughts of those suicide pilots? Can you imagine a day when you’d wake up and say “My, now I understand what happened”? Do you think there will be such a day? And do you think that looking at those gruesome images over and over again will help you? Do you think that reading the added descriptions of the pain and horror of relatives of victims will help you?

Let me ask you this, too: Provided you think it’s possible you will not be able to understand much more than what you already understand what will those descriptions do to you? Do you really need to see and read all this?