Photojournalism: more than just a shot


The anniversary of 9/11 brings moments of homage, memory, and prayer across the world.

With any tragic event in history also comes controversy, and I’m not talking about the Miracle Mattress ad.

I’m talking about the famous 9/11 photograph, the Falling Man, taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew.

To many, it may be offensive, gruesome, or unsafe for anyone to see in a newspaper or even online. Once it was published in the New York Times, everyone noticed and people began to voice their concerns. Any journalistic outlet that published the photo was seen as having no moral compass. It was pulled from online by many.

Did people have the right to be upset? Of course they did. It’s semi-graphic, especially when you consider the context of the photo. However, the question I want to answer is whether I think people should be upset about it.

My answer is no.

As a photojournalist, your job is to be the eyes for the world. Your objective is to deliver what the world can’t see. Whether the public wants to see it or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that a photojournalist will go out there and grab photographs of the most gruesome events in order to deliver one message: that these things happen.

To those of us who weren’t there, when we think of 9/11, we think of the planes hitting the towers, the screams, and the many cellphone videos. We also know the number of deaths and injuries. But have we ever thought about them as more than just a number?

2,977 lives were lost..

As a society, we’re desensitized to tragedies nowadays because all we see are casualty tolls on a screen and that’s all they are to us.

Many of us have never truly experienced just how severe it is to witness a life being taken away. The Falling Man captures this moment. Taking a closer look at the photo, one can see that there is no fear, no resistance. He had to choose to die that day.

The Falling Man is a true representation of what happened on 9/11. Just like the man in the photo, many were given no choice but death. This photo is necessary for us to truly understand what life is to us.

Many of us didn’t see death occur on 9/11. We only heard about it or were given the numbers. This photo shows death as it is about to happen. 2,977 becomes more than just a number after looking at this photo. It becomes 2,977 individual lives that were taken in one day..

Obviously, I don’t expect everyone to look at the Falling Man and see it the way I do. That doesn’t, however, discredit the fact that it is an important photo in our history. It shows the world what it doesn’t want to see. Once you see it, the severity of 9/11 becomes true. This photo immortalizes not only the man in the photo, but the life he lived. Without this photo, I do not believe that anyone would understand the severity of 9/11 without viewing it as anything but another statistic. Watching a person as they are about to die is a much different experience than hearing about it. This photo not only makes us appreciate the man’s life, but it allows us to appreciate our own, and all those who have lost their lives.

As a photographer myself, it does not matter to me whether or not you believe this photo is offensive or not. The fact of the matter is that this photo is important. Everyone needs to see it to truly understand what happened that day. The images of 9/11 that we see today are the censored images that hide the severity.

Tragedy has been happening for years, and we always hear about it. But when a photojournalist captures the reality of an event, it allows the public to witness and understand these horrors better than just hearing about it on the news. These people become real, with stories just like you and me. This is why photojournalism is important.

Richard Drew did his job as a photojournalist. He created history. He created an important artifact that changed the way many of us view 9/11.

So before you say that this photo is offensive or heartless, really look at it and see why it’s so much more than that.

Why photography has the ability to change the world.

Mahmoud Sarouji
Managing Editor