The Falling Man is a photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew of a man falling from the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks in New York City. The unidentified man in the image was trapped on the upper floors of the North Tower, and it is unclear whether he fell while searching for safety or he jumped to escape the fire and smoke. The photograph was taken at exactly 9:41:15 a.m. on the day of the attacks.

The photograph was widely criticized after publication in international media on September 12, 2001, with readers labeling the image as “disturbing, cold-blooded, ghoulish, and sadistic”. However, since its inception, the photo has gained acclamation for being a “touching work of art” and a “masterpiece in photojournalism“.

Of the 2,606 victims killed inside the World Trade Center and on the ground in New York City during the September 11 attacks, some have estimated that at least 200 people fell or jumped to their deaths, while other estimates put the number around 100. Officials could not recover or identify the bodies of those forced out of the buildings prior to the collapse of the towers.

The New York City medical examiner’s office said it does not classify the people who fell to their deaths on September 11 as “jumpers”. According to the office, the victims who died by falling “were forced out by the smoke and flames or blown out.”

The morning of September 11, Richard Drew was on assignment for the Associated Press, photographing a maternity fashion show in Bryant Park. Alerted by his editor to the attacks, Drew took the subway to the Chambers Street subway station, near the World Trade Center site. He took the falling man image while at the corner of West and Vesey Street from a low angle.

He took eight photographs in sequence, after realizing that a series of loud cracking sounds was not that of falling concrete, but rather people hitting the ground. He took between ten and twelve different sequences of images of people jumping from the tower, before having to leave the site due to the South Tower’s collapse.

The photograph gives the impression that the man is falling straight down; however, a series of photographs taken of his fall shows him to be tumbling through the air.

The identity of the subject of the photograph has never been officially confirmed. The large number of people trapped in the tower has made identifying the man in the 12 photos difficult.

“The Falling Man”, an article about the photograph by American journalist Tom Junod, was published in the September 2003 issue of Esquire magazine. It was adapted into a documentary film by the same name. The article gave the possible identity of the falling man as Jonathan Briley, a 43-year-old sound engineer who worked at Windows on the World. Briley had asthma and would have known he was in danger when smoke began to pour into the restaurant.

He was initially identified by his brother, Timothy. Michael Lomonaco, the restaurant’s executive chef, also suggested that the man was Briley based on his body type and clothes. In one of the photos, the Falling Man’s shirt or white jacket was blown open and up, revealing an orange t-shirt similar to one shirt that Briley often wore.

Briley’s older sister Gwendolyn also suggested that he could be the victim. She told reporters of The Sunday Mirror, “When I first looked at the picture … and I saw it was a man—tall, slim—I said, ‘If I didn’t know any better, that could be Jonathan.'” Briley’s remains were recovered the day after 9/11.

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Published on: 9/11 2022.

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