{December 6, 2012}   A Photo Worth Dying For?

On Monday, Ki-Suck Han, 58, was pushed onto a subway track and killed by an oncoming train during a confrontation with a clearly-deranged homeless man (who has since been arrested). Photographer R. Umar Abbasi – a freelance paparazzo for the New York Post – snapped the scene before submitting the photos to the Post. An incredibly clear shot, which looks to be from reasonably up close, was splashed across yesterday’s Post cover with a tacky, almost jubilantly morbid headline that I will not repeat here (nor will I republish the photo).

Now I try to be cautious about judging – especially in situations I’m not aware of (although I suppose my nasty little piece on Nicole Kidman awhile back might demonstrate to the contrary … but I was careful to base that on her public behaviour and comments, not assumptions about her private life to which I bear no witness). Especially a gruesome scenario like this – a man on a track in the face of an oncoming train, with the madman who pushed him there still lurking around (and clearly willing to hurt/kill), I know that I, for one, am a panicker and am all too familiar with the inartful habit of freezing in urgent moments (ask my husband about my (non-)reaction to our dining table going up in flames several Chanukahs ago). But it flabbergasts me that in this picture, there is not one hand reaching out to help this man, no evidence of anyone even trying, although the photographer, Abbasi, stated there were others around. Reports suggest there were 22-60 seconds between Han’s landing on the tracks and the train making impact; honestly, no one in that time could have reached in, hit an alarm button, screamed for help, something? Plausible I suppose – and not something I can really get on my high horse about, as I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do or how to help myself and probably would have panicked and shut down – but every last person on the platform? Perhaps not evil or worthy of rage, but … perhaps a sad and disappointing commentary on our coping and survival skills, our compassion and willingness to help our fellow man, etc.

And what about photographer Abbasi? I’m willing to acknowledge he might have been too far away to actually be able to reach this guy in time to save his life. However, in that time, Abbasi had the opportunity to take several pictures (with a flash, clear enough to merit front page placement in the NY Post) – granted photo technology can be an amazing thing at all, but I guess … in this case, I’m just thinking that here is someone who  didn’t panic and freeze, who had the presence of mind enough to pull out his camera and take several (in)decent shots … who took them to the NY Post and sold them thereafter … while he speaks to taking the photos being almost instinctive, to it happening oh so fast, he didn’t realize how well they’d turned out, he hadn’t even looked at them … I’m just having a hard time reconciling these two realities; the panicked journalist almost nervously taking flash photos either because ‘that’s what he does’ or because he was trying to get the subway driver’s attention to see if he could stop quickly enough (two stories the photographer has told), who didn’t even look through his viewfinder while taking these pictures, with the quick presence of mind he demonstrated to get those pictures – perfectly framed, zoomed in and clear –  back to his newspaper, and sold in time for the next day’s edition, with no editorial say over the use or placement of said picture. Someone that shrewd was alert enough to do SOMETHING … or at least try … I can’t help but think.

And as for the New York Post … I’m not even going to try to get in your head or mitigate this or justify it. The photographer and other bystanders may or may not have had a story, a reason for panicked ‘in the moment’ behaviour, decisions good and bad in a crisis. I doubt it in some cases, believe it in others, but that’s at least a discussino with two sides. You, on the other hand, made an insensitive, greedy, cold, calculated choice to sensationalize that which needed no sensationalizing; to put on the front page a huge, provocative picture with little journalistic value (the story has been told well elsewhere simply with pictures of the subway station itself) and an almost snearing-gloating headline. Those who were there witnessed and went through a harrowing ordeal and to the extent anyone could have done anything more, I think the memories of that day and the conversations they will inevitably be having with their God – or conscience – is more than enough punishment to mitigate that guilt. You, on the other hand, have no excuse. The real tragedy here is and will always be the (possibly needless) death of a New York City commuter at the hands of a violently ill individual; the tragedy for the news media is that you, NY Post, continue to be referred to as anything other than a tabloid rag.

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