The NYPost has recently found itself in a hotbed of controversy pursuant to the grisly death of one unfortunate NYC strapholder Ki Suk Han who earlier this week was pushed onto the path of an oncoming NYC subway after an altercation with an emotionally disturbed panhandler, Naeem Davis.
The controversy came about after it chose to publish a photo of Ki Suk Han’s last moments as he is seen desperately clinging against the side of the platform track whilst a train imminently comes barreling straight at him. At the time the NYPost was accused of sensationalizing the man’s death and exploiting the incident for the sake to draw increased sales of it’s rag.
Who also drew wide condemnation was the photographer himself, Umar Abbasi from whom the NYPost acquired the photo from and published. At the time the photographer was widely regaled for his failure to make an attempt to assist the man as he desperately made an effort to get back on the subway platform whilst Abbasi and others looked on. Whilst some passengers distanced themselves from the ensuing fracas which saw Suk Han and Davis confront each other, others attempted to run towards the approaching train waving their hands to try to get the driver’s attention after Suk Han was thrown onto the tracks.
For his part Abbasi has argued he even took out a flash and attempted to signal the train driver. Nevertheless he did choose to take the above photo drawing him large degree of criticism.
Reflects policymic: People have decried the fact that Abbasi snapped the photo instead of trying to pull Han out of the tracks, accusing him of being more concerned with the money he’d get from the Post than with human life. But Abbasi didn’t do anything wrong. He couldn’t save Han, and his camera was already in his hand. He did what a photographer does — documented life, even at its ugliest and at its end.
It’s natural for people to misdirect the anger they feel at the circumstance of an upsetting image, blaming the messenger who’s showed it to them instead of the world that allowed it to happen. It’s much easier to point a finger at Abbasi for capturing the image of a senseless, heartbreaking moment, than to really think about how unfair and scary it is that Han died over an argument with a stranger. It was sudden and unexpected, it happened in such a familiar environment, and really, could have happened to any of us. Of course we want someone to be angry at. But be angry at the man who pushed Han into the tracks, not at Abbasi.
The incident highlights a dilemma often faced by journalists. Should they try to stop what they are doing and actually help the afflicted or should they realize that it is next to impossible to do much and all they really can at the end of the day do is attempt to document things that may make us all very uncomfortable and risk that their writings or images may provoke some criticism or be considered to be crude or in poor taste, or invasive as is often especially in today’s pernicious culture of tabloid/celebrity journalism the case.
It’s hardly an easily resolved drama and where there will always be human curiosity and desire to covet such material, journalists and photographers will continue to document such instances even if in the face of imminent danger of the subject matter themselves. That of course ought to also include exploiting, sullying public figure’s reputations and of course invading their privacy. It may boil down to human curiosity but at what cost to the subject matter and the craft of journalism itself?
Continues policymic:One of the most-debated questions in photojournalism is whether it’s ethical to take a picture of someone who’s in imminent danger. The criticisms are always the same, the ones leveled at Abbasi; taking the picture means you’re not intervening, the images make people uncomfortable — they’re too dark, too upsetting, exploitative of human pain.
But what is photojournalism, if not the documentation of human pain, the confrontation of upsetting images? The job of the photojournalist is to show people images that will affect them, that will at least make them think and at most make them act.
Which raises the next question, did the NYPost by choosing to run these images exploit the situation and one family’s suffering? Could it have not chosen to run other images? What was necessarily served by using such a painful image? It’s a perplexing question every publisher and editor is forced over and over to consider. The idea of sales, branding of their journal over that of the victim, respect for the individual subject, respect for the memory of the individual’s family, and simply just getting the story out there.
Ultimately perhaps one barometer of whether such type of journalism ought to prevail is whether not necessarily the public finds such reporting in good taste or not but whether at the end of the day such reporting serves to further explore the dialectics at play that brought such a horrific incident to our collective attention/consciousness in the first place…