This article tells the story behind three of the most unforgettable images taken on that tragic day. Each photo prompts important questions and conversations that ensure we will never forget.
“Falling Man” (Richard Shaw, 2001)
As difficult an image to write about as it is to look at, Shaw took “Falling Man” on location at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. When he noticed people falling out of the Twin Towers, he began shooting, and hadn’t realized he’d captured the picture until he was back at his desk. Used by publications like The New York Times and Esquire, it is a disturbing but important record of a man’s death.
That is one way to look at it. But the periodicals that ran the photo got countless letters from readers who believed the image was too shocking to run. Though it may not be bloody, they said, it is still frighteningly graphic. No matter how difficult it is to look at, it captures a tragic reality for many of the building’s occupants with a shocking clarity that no other image accomplished.
Hoepker’s photograph wasn’t published until five years after the 9/11 attacks; the photographer opted to withhold it from publication in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. The photo shows a group of young Americans hanging out in Brooklyn, seemingly relaxed and enjoying themselves as the Twin Towers collapse behind them.
Despite the time that had elapsed, it became a contentious image immediately upon its publication. Many see the photograph as an indictment of how selfish and callous young Americans can be. Others believe the photo has artistic significance, as it is one of the few images from that day for which a photographer made a decisive artistic, rather than merely journalistic, decision. It will always be divisive, and always prove a truth about tragedy: life goes on, even through unimaginable disasters.
While the above photographs evoke uncomfortable emotions, “Raising the Flag at Ground Zero,” one of the most famous images of the day, is more hopeful. Twin Tower debris can be seen in the entirety of the background. But the foreground depicts firefighters George Johnson, Dan McWilliams, and Billy Eisengrein hoisting the national symbol of strength and unity amidst tragedy. Published on September 12th, 2001 in The Record and widely in other publications thereafter, the photo was the most tangible proof Americans had in the immediate aftermath of the attacks that we would overcome. In that way, it is comparable to Hoepker’s photo. Both show life continuing…though from extremely different perspectives.
Measuring the image’s fame is a tall order. It has been compared to “Raising the Flag on Iwa Jima” (Rosenthal, 1945) for obvious reasons and was replicated in wax form at Madame Tussauds ‘HOPE: Humanity and Heroism’ Exhibition in Washington D.C. Franklin has received many awards for the image. It was a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist for breaking news photography and was even immortalized in the form of a postage stamp. Because of its hopeful spirit, the photo is commonly reproduced for personal or educational use on various photo print mediums including poster paper and canvas prints. GroundZeroSpirit.org offers family members of victims a free, signed photo printing of the image on request.