When I asked a friend to check out my blog post before publishing it, she was aghast I’d write about this awful photograph. She had not seen this photo before and was shocked by it, 10 years after it was originally taken. It speaks to the power of this awful picture of the Falling Man.
Photographer Richard Drew of Associated Press took this iconic photograph during 9/11 of a man falling to his death from the World Trade Center. A story about the event is below:
Mr. Drew took many photos of people falling to their death on 9/11, and there were a number of photos of this particular unknown individual tumbling down the World Trade Center. But this one specific photo, by chance, stood out from all the others. What makes this image special?
It is filled with unintentional symbolism. The photo defines existentialism. A man is plunging head first toward death, seconds away, frozen in time. He exists, only briefly, between life and death. He is positioned between the dark and light lines of the World Trade Center, suggesting this state of existence. Caught in events outside of his control, he is doomed. Yet he still has control over one aspect of his existence. He cannot avoid death, but he can choose how he will die. His diving stance suggests free will still exists even in the face of oblivion.
The photo also suggests God does not exist. The Falling Man is cast down beside the giant, impersonal face of the tower. It hints we are alone, only specks in a vast, uncaring universe. All we have is our free will and even that is meaningless. It is an image of existential despair.
When I saw this photo I was reminded of cards from the tarot. Compare the Falling Man with the tarot’s Hanged Man. The Falling Man with his crossed legs and arms to his side suggests the Hanged Man. Even the names are similar. The Hanged Man is suspended between twin pillars (towers?). The tarot image is framed by the pillars, inside a square, like in the image of the Falling Man. The two are so similar it feels like synchronicity.
There is also a tarot card called the Lightning Struck Tower. In this card a force from the heavens hits a tower, like jets striking the Twin Towers. Circles in the air are debris flung into the sky as people fall from the tower. This card has its own Falling Men.
Coincidence? Synchronicity? Or the power of symbolism. With so many photos, why did this one Falling Man photograph strike a chord and become an icon of 9/11? It possesses an innate symbolism. The Jungian collective unconscious works in mysterious ways. And it repeats itself.
Or whoever created the tarot hundreds of years ago planned 9/11. That would be mother-of-all conspiracy theories.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, let us have hope for the future.
Below is an interesting documentary concerning the tragic Falling Man.