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September 11, 2019

Mid-Morning Art Thread [Kris]

Drew The Falling Man.jpg

Kris suggested this work as a subject, and while I was originally hesitant, I realized that it is a fine way of recognizing the solemnity of the day in a very human way.

Please respect the intent of the Art Thread and try to refrain from veering into pure politics and anger.
-- CBD

The Falling Man
Richard Drew

This is one of the great photographs in the history of the medium. Its power is in the simplicity of the work and the context in which it was taken. When I view this work, I am horrified, shamed, and thankful all at once. The scores of people that this work represents deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the heroes of Flight 93. Yet this work was happenstance. The photographer, like many others, just clicked away at a random jumper just to document the events of That Day.

My 9/11 story is unexceptional. I happened to be watching the morning CBS broadcast that morning and watched the whole thing unfold live from my couch 400 miles away. I know no one who died nor anyone who went to help in the days after, but I cannot think about it without crying. What the people on the planes and in the buildings went through, I cannot imagine. May we never see anything like that again.

The photograph is very minimalist, dominated by the gray vertical lines. The lines aren’t totally vertical, however. They have a barely noticeable lean to the right. Because we read left to right in the West, a right-leaning line can invoke action or movement. So this frozen moment in time still has energy. At the vertical center, the tone of the lines lighten. This is simply the edge of one building overlapping the other behind it. Thinner, lighter lines intersect the vertical lines at a shallow angle. These are the construction joints in the steel wall but they act as visual breaks to the eye. The eye wants to zoom up and down those verticals, but the horizontals act as speedbumps to slow it down. To take it all in.

In the center, just above the absolute middle of the work is the Man. His pose is simple. He is upside-down with a vertical axis parallel to the wall. He seems calm, but the inverted pose tells the viewer that something is very seriously not right. Inverting the human figure like this is the ultimate unbalancing act for the viewer. The body’s placement above center opens up the space below him. The space below him is twice as large as the space above him. This give the sense that this is a long fall. Because we can’t see any bottom, because the vertical lines continue uninterrupted off the picture frame, the fall looks endless. He seems to fall forever. Some scholars have said that the clothes the man is wearing look like the uniform of the restaurant workers at the very top of the tower. If true, that’s a fall of 1300 feet—about a 10 second drop. Eternity.

I don’t think the jumpers have been overlooked, but I do think they have been mis-catagorized. I think they are heroes. The people in the buildings were being slowly murdered. Some escaped but those above the impact zones were trapped. Death was certain. Some stole back their lives and chose for themselves how they would die. Some went alone, like Falling Man, others held the hands of the fearful, gave them courage, and jumped together. Two-hundred people refused to be murdered and courageously stepped into the void.

I am horrified that he was put into a situation that demanded that choice and I am ashamed because I think I would be too cowardly to follow his example. I am thankful to him, too, for denying evil another prize.

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posted by CBD at 09:30 AM

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