< HOME  Friday, September 11, 2009

Jacob's Ladder ~ the Only Way Up is Down

Do you remember this photograph? In the United States, people have taken pains to banish it from the record of September 11, 2001. The story behind it though, and the search for the man pictured in it, are a most intimate connection to the horror of that day.

The photographer of this infamous photo, Richard Drew, is no stranger to history. When he was 21 years old, he was standing right behind Bobby Kennedy when he was shot in the head by Sirhan Sirhan in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. Drew's jacket was spattered with Kennedy's blood, but he jumped on a table and shot pictures of Kennedy's open and ebbing eyes, and then of Ethel Kennedy crouching over her husband and begging photographers -- begging him -- not to take pictures.

Drew has never done that. Although he has preserved the jacket patterned with Kennedy's blood, he has never not taken a picture, never averted his eye. He works for the Associated Press. He is a journalist. It is not up to him to reject the images that fill his frame, because one never knows when history is made until one makes it. It is not even up to him to distinguish if a body is alive or dead, because the camera makes no such distinctions, and he is in the business of shooting bodies, as all photographers are, unless they are Ansel Adams.

He sent the falling man image to the AP's server. The next morning, it appeared on page seven of The New York Times. It appeared in hundreds of newspapers, all over the country, all over the world. The man inside the frame -- the Falling Man -- was not identified.

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