I read this article this morning on Slate (about the subway death photo that was plastered on the front of the NY Post) and I was immediately reminded of the Ethics of Journalism class I had taken my senior year of college. It was taught by this little old man who primarily taught the philosophy classes (I had taken him for Intro to Philosophy the year before and truly enjoyed his teaching style) and we spoke indepth on what was and wasn’t morally correct in journalism. If I remember the class correctly though, I believe everything was up for your own personal interpretation (like if subliminal messaging was wrong, or if product placement was a bad advertising tactic).
In this class, like most college classes, we had a book that we rarely opened. It wasn’t a heavy book but I remember being upset having to pay for a book that we barely used. However, one day, he asked us to open to a specific page. To this day, I still remember the image we studied: black and white, building in the background, with a man falling. The caption read something like: man jumps out of one of the WTC towers on 9/11. The discussion for this photo was whether or not it was ethical to publish these types of photos during such a horrific event. We all knew that it had happened, we had heard about it on the TV, read about it in the newspaper, we knew that some people had chosen to jump…. yet, was it moral to photograph those events? This man was falling to his death, were we to witness that?
That class really got me thinking about what is morally right in these types of instances but the main conclusion was that along with beauty, ethics was something that had to be looked at from the eye of the beholder. Something I believe is immoral could be argued by another that it isn’t. Everything was open to subjectivity and that was where the issues of moral and ethics began and subsequently ended.
When I saw the cover of the NY Post, I was immediately reminded of that discussion – was it ethical to document such a personal moment? Just like the 9/11 photos, was it ethical to have taken this image, a helpless man just mere seconds away from being hit by the train, and then place it on the front page? What does that say about the NY Post? What does that say about the morals of the photographer?
This photo is vulgar, shocking and heartbreaking. Regardless of it being on the front page of the NY Post, what I’m having a hard time comprehending is how does the photographer have the strength to take photos during this time? He states that it was by accident that he took this photo; that he was flashing his camera to grab the attention of the train conductor, but I’m not so sure that I am willing to believe that. I believe I would be paralyzed with fear, disbelief; my brain would probably be running in slow motion — or speed up due to fear – but I’m pretty sure that I would not have thought to take a photo. But then again, I guess it’s not fair for me to speculate on how I would act since I was not there and couldn’t even fathom being there.
I will say this though, the image, in one word, is breathtaking. Breathtaking in a way that you’ve been sucker-punched in your stomach and you’re trying to gasp for air. The same anxiety came over me and I’m left wondering why? I’m very sorry that man was shoved down on the tracks and then moments later struck and killed. What I’m even more sorry about is the fact that his private moment was caught on film. May he rest in peace.
The man who pushed him has turned himself in: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/nightmare_on_subway_tracks_GgvCtkeJj6cTeyxHns2VNP