The Downfall of Ethics

The infamous 9/11 terrorist attacks not only terrorised the city of New York, but the whole world when two hijacked planes crashed into the north and south towers of the world trade center claiming 2753 lives. It was through the lens of his camera that Richard Drew, a Veteran Associated Press photographer, took one of the most controversial photographs to date. The image of ‘The Falling Man’ undoubtedly evoked controversy globally after its publication in The New York Times. The emotions of thousands were heightened as it depicts a man free-falling from the top of the north tower to his death. However, the re-occurring question is: Did the man fall without option or jump voluntarily?
Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and how they are interpreted within an image or text. It recognises how meaning is created from a subject. ‘The Falling Man’ is embodied by a range of signifier’s and denotations (physical representations), followed by an array of what is signified, which conveys the actual meaning of the subject arising from an individual’s psychological response. The denotations illustrated include his overall body expression. There is something frightening about how relaxed he looks throughout his plumet. He appears that he is in total control of how he is falling… hands by his side, left leg casually bent.. as if he has come to terms with his fate. The connotations of this however, are controversial. Was this an act of suicide? An illustration of a man’s momentary weakness? Viewers of this image declared it simply unethical to release such a graphic photo as it “…exploited a man’s death, stripped him of his dignity, invaded his privacy, turned tragedy into leering pornography…” (Junod, 2009).

The words of zmwebber propose that the signifier of the image exhibits distinct, vertical and parallel vectors represented not only by the man’s back, arms and leg but also by the World Trade Centre. It controls the viewer to look downwards and even feel like you’re falling with him, evoking a sense of confrontation and controversy. Another signifier includes the lighting of the image. The left-hand side of the man demonstrates darker-shading while the right-hand side demonstrates a juxtaposition of lighter shading from where the sun is shining. It is also on the right-hand side that the casualty is leaning over the most, helping aid the connotation of hope. “… it could also generate a deeper meaning to the possible beauty of death. It may possibly give hope to Christian beliefs that he is ‘going to a better place’…” (zmwebber, 2012)

1) Tom Junod 2009, ‘The Falling Man’,, 23/03/14, < >
2) zmwebber 2012, ‘Documentary Photo Analysis “The Falling Man”‘,, 23/03/14, < >
3) Joe Pompeo 2011, ‘Photographer behind 9/11 “Falling Man” retraces steps, recalls “unknown solider”,, 24/03/14, < >
4) CNN Library 2013, ‘September 11 Anniversary Fast Facts’,, 24/03/14, < >
5) Image: See reference 1)


2 thoughts on “The Downfall of Ethics

  1. Hey there, love the blog, but mostly I am captivated by the photograph. The picture, I think, really puts you in a quizzical mind state and then the reality hits you and you decipher what the picture is showing. It’s a perfect way to draw people in because at first you don’t understand what’s happening and automatically draws you in.

    Well done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s