The Falling Man

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The Falling Man

The Falling Man is a photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew of a man falling from the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks in New York City. The unidentified man in the image was trapped on the upper floors of the North Tower, and it is unclear whether he fell while searching for safety or he jumped to escape the fire and smoke. The photograph was taken at exactly 9:41:15 A.M. on the day of the attacks.

The photograph was widely criticized after publication in international media on September 12, 2001, with readers labeling the image as "disturbing, cold-blooded, ghoulish, and sadistic".[1][2] However, in the years following, the photo has gained acclamation.[3]

Now regarded as a masterpiece in photojournalism, it is regarded as one of the greatest and most important pieces of art from the 21st century. A Time Magazine retrospective published in 2016 stated "Falling Man’s identity is still unknown, but he is believed to have been an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant, which sat atop the north tower. The true power of Falling Man, however, is less about who its subject was and more about what he became: a makeshift Unknown Soldier in an often unknown and uncertain war, suspended forever in history."[4]


Of the 2,606 victims killed inside the Twin Towers and on the ground in New York City during the September 11 attacks, some have estimated that at least 200[5][6] people fell to their deaths from the burning towers, while other estimates put the number around 100.[7] All but three were witnessed falling from the North Tower, where considerably more people were trapped on far fewer floors. Most of the people who fell from the World Trade Center were jumpers who had no choice but to commit suicide by deliberately leaping to their deaths from hundreds of feet in the air as their only means of escaping the extreme heat, smoke and flames, although a much smaller percentage of the deaths were accidents caused by people losing their grip or being knocked off balance near window ledges. Officials could not recover or identify the bodies of those forced out of the towers prior to their collapse. The New York City medical examiner's office said it does not classify them as "jumpers," explaining that a 'jumper' is defined as someone who "goes to the office in the morning knowing that they will commit suicide," adding that the victims who fell from the towers did not want to die but "were forced out by the smoke and flames or blown out."[6]

The morning of September 11, Richard Drew was on assignment for the Associated Press, photographing a maternity fashion show in Bryant Park.[8][9] Alerted by his editor to the attacks, Drew took the subway to the Chambers Street subway station, near the World Trade Center site.[8][10] He took the falling man image while at the corner of West and Vesey Street from a low angle.[11] He took eight photographs in sequence, after realizing that a series of loud cracking sounds was not that of falling concrete, but rather people hitting the ground.[11] He took between ten and twelve different sequences of images of people jumping from the tower, before having to leave the site due to the South Tower's collapse.[8]

The man fell from the south side of the North Tower's west face. Thus, the left half of the backdrop features the North Tower while the South Tower is visible on the right. The photograph gives the impression that the man is falling straight down; however, a series of photographs taken of his fall shows him to be tumbling through the air.[10][12][13]

Publication history[edit]

The photograph initially appeared in newspapers around the world, including on page seven of The New York Times on September 12, 2001. The photo's caption read, "A person falls headfirst after jumping from the north tower of the World Trade Center. It was a horrific sight that was repeated in the moments after the planes struck the towers."[14] It appeared only once in the Times because of criticism and anger against its use.[15] Six years later, it appeared on page 1 of The New York Times Book Review on May 27, 2007.[16]


I hope we're not trying to figure out who he is and more figure out who we are through watching that.

Gwendolyn, 9/11: The Falling Man

The identity of the subject of the photograph has never been officially confirmed. The large number of people trapped in the tower has made identifying the man in the 12 photos difficult.

Norberto Hernandez[edit]

After seeing a missing persons poster, reporter Peter Cheney suggested in the Canadian national newspaper The Globe and Mail that the man pictured in the photo may have been Norberto Hernandez, a pastry chef at Windows on the World, a restaurant located on the 106th floor of the North Tower. Some members of Hernandez's family initially agreed with Cheney,[17] but after examining the entire photo sequence and noting details of his clothing, they were no longer convinced.[8]

Jonathan Briley[edit]

"The Falling Man", an article about the photograph by American journalist Tom Junod, was published in the September 2003 issue of Esquire magazine. It was adapted into a documentary film by the same name. The article gave the possible identity of the falling man as Jonathan Briley, a 43-year-old sound engineer who worked at Windows on the World. Briley had asthma and would have known he was in danger when smoke began to pour into the restaurant.[8] He was initially identified by his brother, Timothy.[8] Michael Lomonaco, the restaurant's executive chef, also suggested that the man was Briley based on his body type and clothes.[18] In one of the photos, the Falling Man's shirt or white jacket was blown open and up, revealing an orange t-shirt similar to one shirt that Briley often wore. Briley's older sister Gwendolyn also suggested that he could be the victim. She told reporters of The Sunday Mirror, "When I first looked at the picture ... and I saw it was a man—tall, slim—I said, 'If I didn't know any better, that could be Jonathan.'"[19] Briley's remains were recovered the day after 9/11.[8] Jonathan Briley was brother to Alexander Briley, a member of the band Village People.

Other uses[edit]

9/11: The Falling Man is a 2006 documentary film about the photo. It was made by American filmmaker Henry Singer and filmed by Richard Numeroff, a New York-based director of photography. The film is loosely based on Junod's Esquire story. It also drew its material from photographer Lyle Owerko's pictures of falling people. It debuted on March 16, 2006, on the British television network Channel 4, later made its North American premiere on Canada's CBC Newsworld on September 6, 2006, and has been broadcast in more than 30 countries. The U.S. premiere was September 10, 2007, on the Discovery Times Channel.

The novel Falling Man, by Don DeLillo, is about the September 11 attacks. The "falling man" in the novel is a performance artist recreating the events of the photograph.[20] DeLillo says he was unfamiliar with the title of the picture when he named his book. The artist straps himself into a harness and jumps from an elevated structure in a high visibility area (such as a highway overpass), hanging in the pose of The Falling Man.

In July 2022, GameStop received controversy for allowing a non-fungible token titled Falling Man to be listed on their newly-launched NFT platform. The digital image depicted an astronaut falling in a pose and background replicating Drew's photograph, and was provided the seller's description "This one probably fell from the MIR station", referencing the 1997 crash of Spektr. The NFT was later delisted from the platform.[21][22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Howe, Peter (2001). "Richard Drew". The Digital Journalist Archived June 27, 2018, at the Wayback Machine, January 2010
  2. ^ "EXCERPT: 20 years on, 'The Falling Man' is still you and me". AP NEWS. September 9, 2021. Retrieved September 13, 2021.
  3. ^ "Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Richard Drew on his 9/11 image Falling Man, and documenting history-Living News , Firstpost". Firstpost. September 18, 2019. Retrieved September 13, 2021.
  4. ^ Photo, TIME (September 8, 2016). "The Story Behind the Haunting 9/11 Photo of the Falling Man". Time. Retrieved November 22, 2022.
  5. ^ Flynn, Kevin; Dwyer, Jim (September 10, 2004). "Falling Bodies, a 9/11 Image Etched in Pain". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 4, 2014. Retrieved February 20, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Cauchon, Dennis. "Desperation forced a horrific decision" Archived September 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. USA Today.
  7. ^ Whitworth, Melissa (September 3, 2011). "9/11: 'Jumpers' from the World Trade Center still provoke impassioned debate". Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on January 2, 2014. Retrieved December 13, 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Junod, Tom (2003). "The Falling Man". Esquire Magazine. Archived from the original on September 12, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2008.
  9. ^ "Richard Drew on photographing the "Falling Man" on 9/11". Archived from the original on September 12, 2021. Retrieved September 12, 2021.
  10. ^ a b "The Falling Man | Behind The Photo | 100 Photos". Time Magazine. Archived from the original on December 18, 2019. Retrieved December 15, 2019 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ a b "Excerpt: 20 years on, 'The Falling Man' is still you and me". The Seattle Times. September 9, 2021.
  12. ^ Pompeo, Joe (August 29, 2011). "Photographer behind 9/11 'Falling Man' retraces steps, recalls 'unknown soldier'". Yahoo! News. Archived from the original on September 24, 2011. Retrieved August 31, 2011.
  13. ^ Richard Drew on photographing the "Falling Man" of 9/11, archived from the original on September 10, 2021, retrieved September 10, 2021
  14. ^ Mills (2009). "Images of Terror". Dissent: 75–80. doi:10.1353/dss.0.0088. S2CID 145099785.
  15. ^ Susie Linfield (August 27, 2011). "The Encyclopedia of 9/11: Jumpers: Why the most haunting images of 2001 were hardly ever seen". New York. Archived from the original on September 26, 2011. Retrieved September 8, 2011.
  16. ^ Boutin, Maurice (2009). "The Current State of the Individual: A Meditation on "The Falling Man"". In Arvin Sharma (ed.). The World's Religions after September 11. pp. 3–9. ISBN 978-0-275-99621-5.
  17. ^ Cheney, Peter (September 22, 2001). "The life and death of Norberto Hernandez". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on January 24, 2020. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  18. ^ "Jonathan Briley". September 11: A Memorial. CNN. Archived from the original on September 30, 2014. Retrieved July 7, 2014.
  19. ^ "9/11: The image of The Falling Man that still haunts 10 years on". Daily Mirror. September 10, 2011. Archived from the original on November 10, 2013. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
  20. ^ Versluys, Kristiaan (December 25, 2009). "9/11 in the Novel". In Matthew J. Morgan (ed.). The Impact of 9/11 on the Media, Arts, and Entertainment: The Day that Changed Everything?. Vol. 4. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 142–143. ISBN 978-0-230-60841-2.
  21. ^ Bevan, Rhiannon (July 23, 2022). "GameStop Is Selling An NFT Of A 9/11 Photograph". TheGamer. Retrieved July 23, 2022 – via{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  22. ^ Bonifacic, Igor (July 23, 2022). "GameStop is letting someone sell an NFT that references a 9/11 photo". Engadget. Retrieved July 23, 2022 – via{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ Fairfax, Zackerie (July 23, 2022). "GameStop NFT Marketplace faces backlash for minting "horrific" 9/11 image". Dexerto. Retrieved July 23, 2022 – via{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  • 9/11: The Falling Man (March 16, 2006). Channel 4.
  • Friend, David (2007). "Thursday, September 13". Watching The World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11. I.B.Tauris. pp. 106–163. ISBN 978-1-84511-545-6.
  • Ingledew, John (2005). Photography. Laurence King Publishing. p. 76. ISBN 1-85669-432-1.
  • Tallack, Douglas (2005). New York Sights: Visualizing Old and New New York. Berg Publishers. pp. 174–181. ISBN 1-84520-170-1.

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