September 23, 2007

Death and The Camera Eye

A piece about the grand opening of the Ellis Hotel in Atlanta introduced to me the 1946 Winecoff Hotel fire tragedy. This introduced me to the riveting photo shown above, and that it could be the last photo of this lady.

Who took the photo?

While contemplating that, the iconic image above instantly came to mind, another jump from a building, this one intentional. For decades, this photo has conjured deep emotions, even inspiring a book and a song. In this instance, the photographer is known: Robert C. Wiles, but I can't find any information about him other than being credited for this shot.

Richard Drew took this photo on September 11, 2001, and it is known as The Falling Man. Debates about how inappropriate or necessary it was/is to see these images of people leaping from the World trade Center towers has continued for 6 years; how these photos make the viewer feel is the central theme.

Maybe because I'm a photographer, I relate to these images from the angle of the shooter, and always wonder how they deal with the lingering aftermath of their photo. It is understood that a photographer is instinctively reacting and recording when a dramatic moment happens; there's a pronounced disconnect between the person and their camera eye, capturing the moments on autopilot. Only later does the photographer truly fathom what was recorded.

As viewers of the photos, we can look and then look away. Certain images are burned into the mind's eye, and can be turned off and on at will. But the person who took these photos has an entire sequence to remember, or try to forget. For us, it's one or 2 frames; for them, it's a long playing memory. Yet seldom does the photographer get questioned about their thoughts and personal ramifications of being the one to freeze a flash point moment in time.

Richard Drew had captured the assassination of Robert Kennedy as well as the Trade Tower jumpers. This kind of repetitive odd timing gave him an odd notoriety and CNN talked with him shortly after 9/11. There's one thing he said at that time that reverberates hard because it may reveal the emotions felt by each of the photographers represented above:

"I don't think I captured this man's death; I think I captured part of his life."