The Falling Man

The Falling Man is a photograph taken by Richard Drew, an Associated Press photographer for more than 40 years, who was at the World Trade centre in New York on September 11, 2001.

The image shows a man who had leapt from the burning tower, plunging head down to certain death. Those who jumped to their death on that day were known as 'jumpers' although this does not mean they committed suicide. Those who were forced to jump from the tower were deemed victims of homocide as they were impelled by the smoke and fire to jump. Others were simply blown out of the windows.

The falling man in this image is thought to have been Jonathan Briley who was working on the top floor of the north tower at the time of the tragedy although it has never been 100 per cent ascertained.

Photos such as this become iconic. In other words, they become symbols, and stand for an object or event while at the same time representing something of greater significance through their literal or metaphoric meaning.

Iconic images usually evoke very powerful emotions and are often highly controversial. Indeed, the Falling Man photograph evoked much criticism and anger against the newspapers and the photographer for its use.

But what makes an iconic image? In fact, what is an iconic image?

The essence of an iconic photograph is that it tells a story. Often, but not always, the story is a tragedy involving a victim or implying heroic deeds. The photograph of Che Guevara for example, is the image of a man who was instrumental in Castro's takeover of Cuba and was later assassinated by Bolivian forces who were assisted by the CIA. So here, in one image, we have a handsome hero as well as a victim.

The Hero and the Victim are what the psychologist Carl Jung called archetypes and an iconic photo is an image which contains a concretized, visual embodiment of one or more of these universally understood patterns of energies.

In The Falling Man we also have Hero and Victim at the same time, reminiscent of the so-called Tank Man, also known as the Unknown Rebel, the nickname of a man who stood in front of Chinese tanks the morning after the Chinese armed had forcibly removed protestors from in and around Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 5, 1989.

In Tank Man we find the Rebel archetype but also the Martyr, an archetypal pattern which, according to Caroline Myss, "is often highly respected for having the courage to represent a cause, even if it requires dying for that cause for the sake of others." And of course we find ourselves thinking of Che Guevara.

So many archetypal images occur in iconic photos that it's worth doing a little investigation. A short summary of many of archetypes given to us by Caroline Myss can be found by following the link. Once you become aware of them, you'll find they are at the core of many of the world's greatest photographs.


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