Tags: post | photo | subway | criticism

NY Post Photographer Defends Subway Death Photo as Criticism Mounts

Wednesday, 05 Dec 2012 10:14 AM

By Dale Eisinger

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On Tuesday, the New York Post published a cover photo depicting the final moments of a man’s life as he tried climbing onto a Times Square subway platform after being pushed onto the tracks below.

The Post’s decision to publish the subway photo was met with outrage, with most initial criticism aimed at why the photographer who snapped the tragic instant didn’t do anything to help the man.

On Wednesday morning, R. Umar Abbasi, the freelance photographer on assignment for the Post who happened to be on the platform at the time, defended his actions (or lack thereof) with a cover story under the headline, “My Snap Decision.”

Abassi maintains that he was trying to flash his camera at the train operator in order to get his attention.

“I had no idea what I was shooting,” Abbasi recounted to the Post. “I’m not even sure it was registering with me what was happening. I was just looking at that train coming. It all went so quickly; from the time I heard the shouting until the time the train hit the man was about 22 seconds.”
He also related the horror of being so close to the tragedy and being unable to help.

“What keeps playing over in my mind, what haunts me when I think back on it, is that the man did not scream at all. I didn’t hear the man cry for help. And then I was standing there, with this poor man, twisted like a rag doll, and it was so painfully hopeless,” Abbasi said.

The issue took on a greater significance as journalism professionals began weighing in on the situation. Popular news and gossip site Gawker reached out to a number of Pulitzer-prize winning photographers, asking if they believed what Abbasi had did was right. There were still no easy answers to be found in the mixed opinions.

“Stop blaming the photographer and direct the anger and energy into developing a system to better deal with mental illness,” Bethany Swain, a member of the National Press Photographers Association board of directors told Gawker. “From the details in the New York Post article, it is the disturbed gentleman who pushed Ki Suk Han who is to blame in his death, not the photographer who couldn't stop the collision.”

Roy S. Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University offered that, “Once a reporter or photographer lends a hand to someone, that journalist ceases being a journalist and becomes part of the story. There's no way to maintain the independence as a journalist and participate in a news event at the same time.”

Ross Taylor, a staff photographer with The Virginian-Pilot questioned just how newsworthy the incident was.

“I do feel this though: I would not have run the image as the Post did on the front cover," Taylor said. "If it was a major news event, one that warranted a need for such a display, that would be one thing. In my opinion, this was not a major news event, and I don't think that was the right call.”

Another Pulitzer winner, and a professor of photojournalism, heavily disagreed with the Post’s choice.

“The blame in this controversy lies directly with the New York Post," John Kaplan told Gawker, "for publishing such a callous, crude and truly tasteless headline while at the same time wrongly splashing the tragedy on the front page.”

On Tuesday, reports surfaced that an NYPD source said Naeem Davis, the suspect in the subway murder had confessed to pushing Han onto the tracks, although he claimed he was acting in self defense.

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