Controversy and Connotations

Photo by Richard Drew

Photo by Richard Drew

For me, there are few images as powerful and controversial as Richard Drew’s, ‘The Falling Man’. New York Times ran this photo in their paper after the attacks, leading it to be branded as “disturbing”, “exploitative” and “voyeuristic” and then was struck from the record for two years before reappearing in an article in the Esquire in 2003 (Young 2013).

The actual image in the photograph, the denotation, is simple, described by Brian Anderson, author of the article ‘The Most Famous 9/11 Photograph No One Has Seen’ as “a quiet, intimate image” (Anderson 2011). But the connotations and the signifiers associated with the image are diverse and complex. These images of people falling to their deaths, and this Falling Man in particular, depict the heartbreaking decision that about 200 people (Young 2013) made that day; to jump rather than be consumed by the chaos inside the Towers. However, the connotations that I have with the photo will differ from those of others because of my culture and personal experiences. For example, I was only 5 at the time of the attacks, and as an Australian student I have only experienced the event from an analytical point of view. Although I find this image heartbreaking, I do not have the personal connections to the victims that the American people do- not only as friends and family members of the victims but as an affected nation.

This photo also is a represents the connotations of the countermemory of the 9/11 attacks. The photographer, Drew, had called it “the most famous photograph no one has seen.” As the years have progressed, photos and images such as these have been brought back into the light to remember this tragic aspect of the event, “The Falling Man was unidentified, yet he encapsulated the day’s horror. And even without a name, he personalized it too.” (Anderson 2011)

Reference List

Anderson, 2011, The Most Famous 9/11 Photograph No One Has Seen, Motherboard, 23.03.2014


Young, 2013, The Story Behind The Most Powerful Image of 9/11: The Falling Man,, 23.0302014



One thought on “Controversy and Connotations

  1. I like the way you’ve outlined and explained the denotation/connotation here. You were just 5 years old at the time of 911: good point made that the impact on you, while still significant, is distanced from that of Americans, other nationalities, or those that might be sympathetic to the Al Qaeda view. And no matter how ‘wrong’ we consider that attack, I’m confident that there will be many thousands who might observe, analyse, and conclude differently.
    What are your memories of 911; eg: the reactions nd gleaned feelings of your family, at the time, what was said in school or church over the years, what meaning you built around it, what was it like to revisit and remember each year?
    I was already in ‘middle years’ in 2001, so my recollection is of a defining event, of the distress and inconvenience for people stranded around the world, George FW Bush being a jerk, the necessary imposition of enhanced security.
    Interesting possibilities for discussion?

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