From Richard Wilbur:
September 9, 2002 10:59 PM   Subscribe

From Richard Wilbur: "Dear Bill, The only thing I can say right now is this. There is no excuse for the cold inhumanity of 11 September, and there is no excuse for those Americans, whether of the left or the religious right, who say that we had it coming to us. Dick"
posted by semmi (23 comments total)
posted by hama7 at 11:46 PM on September 9, 2002

The in-depth analysis of the photo of the man falling to his death from one of the towers was really uhmm.... heartwarming.
posted by mogwai at 12:11 AM on September 10, 2002

posted by Nicolae Carpathia at 12:16 AM on September 10, 2002

posted by donkeyschlong at 1:26 AM on September 10, 2002

Wow. so many words spoken about a photo taken of what was literally, a high-speed event. The words seem to assume the event was frozen by the camera. We all assume that when we see a photo. The camera simply blinked at the event and caught randomly a bare glimpse of it. Just shows how we can interpret anything to fit our artistic sensibilities.
posted by SpaceCadet at 1:31 AM on September 10, 2002

note: The "Wow" was pure coincidence donkeyschlong....we had a mind-meld or something!
posted by SpaceCadet at 1:32 AM on September 10, 2002

Donkeyshlong, it might also be worth noting, was likely writing the coincidental word backwards.
posted by crasspastor at 1:47 AM on September 10, 2002

SpaceCadet, I disagree. The photo is in itself very good, and very interesting. It's easy to assume that it was just a random snapshot, but it probably wasn't. It was taken by a professional photographer, wasn't it? Obviously he couldn't have prepared his equipment and positioning specifically for this particular photo. But the disaster was well underway by the captured moment (otherwise the guy wouldn't have jumped), and the subject was probably not the first person to jump off the buildings...and certainly not the first object to fall from them. The photographer probably chose the correct lens, set the camera to let in a certain amount of light, set a rate of exposure, a specific amount of zoom, chose the best position to stand in and angle at which to hold the camera, and then aimed it and waited for opportune images. Even then, he probably took a great many pictures, and he probably took more than one of this particular incident, and then chose the best one. Great photos (even high-speed ones) are made, not found.
posted by bingo at 1:51 AM on September 10, 2002

bingo - thank you for that extraordinarily depressing insight into the life of the professional photographer.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 2:25 AM on September 10, 2002

Bingo, your analysis is no doubt accurate and almost as chilling as the original image and commentary. Mass media has converted us all into the helpless observer it is itself.

So why are we witnessing this man being murdered?

Because it is such a good shot.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:34 AM on September 10, 2002

The fact that skill and calculation went into the photograph doesn't make the photographer a bad person, or diminish the shock of what happened. Would you rather art stay completely removed from the worst moments in life because the artists are all too flustered to pay attention to the technical details of what they're doing?
posted by bingo at 2:49 AM on September 10, 2002

And we are witnessing this man being murdered (or at least killed in wartime) because it is such a good shot.

And this one.

Art is like that. Part of these great shots is luck, but a lot is set-up. Fortune favors the prepared mind, and all that. Photographers, like artists in general, are not just aeolian harps.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 2:57 AM on September 10, 2002

Thats great Slithy_Tove, I hope when I cop it my corpse manages to make an apperence on

posted by JonnyX at 3:24 AM on September 10, 2002

bingo, I agree that the photo is stunning and well-shot (morality issues aside). That was not my point. I simply mentioned that the photo was merely a tiny fraction of time in a high-speed event, and that the author of the essay was extracting too much meaning into this one blink of the whole event. Perhaps I'm making a much bigger point here about photography.
posted by SpaceCadet at 5:34 AM on September 10, 2002

Be careful before we blame the photographers. They help ensure that society does not forget past injustice. Their photographs, no matter how much we may want to turn our eyes, serve to remind us how easily humans become inhumane.

Why do the photographers show humans facing disaster? Simply, the photos that leave the greatest impression are the ones that show the effects of disaster on humans as opposed to photos of the physical destruction.

Finally, before anyone singles out photographers we should remember that artists have traditionally served society by interpreting these historic moments.
posted by ?! at 5:40 AM on September 10, 2002

Also (apparently) 'Truth is in the eye of the beholder'
posted by robself at 6:05 AM on September 10, 2002

Spacecadet's core point is excellent: extrapolating an entire thesis of this man's death out of this microsecond-captured photograph is ludicrous. Basically, as even he notes, Wieseltier's making his viewing of this photograph as easy on himself as possible: "He seems composed"? My ass. For all we know the man in question is horribly mid-somersault. Photographs don't actually lie themselves, without human help, but the truth they tell is not always true for that long.

And, no, the subject doesn't look like a soldier.

I also don't understand the author's embrace of "literariness" after agreeing with its denunciation. Isn't he, by his own admission, just retreating, accomodating horror?
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:16 AM on September 10, 2002

No I agree. The people that died that day didn't deserve it. But given our arrogant stand in the world didn't we know this would happen someday?
posted by hoopyfrood at 6:46 AM on September 10, 2002

posted by crunchland at 6:52 AM on September 10, 2002

(that's what being arrogant is all about, after all, isn't it?)
posted by crunchland at 6:53 AM on September 10, 2002

I am left with so many bad feelings when I see photos like that.

The people who jumped made a personal and private decision about how to die - against their will, in a split second, with so few choices. To catch them, to spy on them with the cameras seems like a horrible violation.

Give them peace. Let them be. Spare their families your intellectual ruminations.

I am however interested in the ethical, moral, and personal struggles that working people face in their daily work. Studs Terkel wrote a great book called Working in which he shares interviews with people in various professions. At the time I read this book I was studying photography and trying to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. The interview with the press photographer was very meaningful to me.
posted by Red58 at 7:13 AM on September 10, 2002

Red58 - it's not the photo that bothers me the most, but the sanctimonious drivel the author writes about all the impressions he gets from the person's expression and stance.

Fucking Christ.. 'stoic?' 'looking toward the future?' How about 'in complete and utter shock.' Or maybe catatonic.

I shudder thinking of how close I was to being in the position of having to decide how to die, and how different the phone call I made to my wife that morning would have been. And to think some artsy dumb-ass would be trying to make some literary poignant moment out of it all is just annoying.
posted by rich at 9:49 AM on September 10, 2002

extrapolating an entire thesis of this man's death out of this microsecond-captured photograph is ludicrous

The author is not necessarily talking about the facts of this man's life and death, he's talking about the meaning he finds in this picture, based upon his own experiences and feelings. This is the beauty of any art, but especially an art which depicts real life.

I somewhat contest bingo's post - great photographs are both made and found. The vast majority of great journalistic photographs are a combination of experience and luck (being in the right place at the right time with camera at the ready), and I suspect that this one is no exception. The photographer had the right equipment, the knowledge of how to use it, and an educated-enough eye to look for what might and might not work. But in general, for every one picture which works, you've taken many many others which don't. I wouldn't be surprised at all to find that this one was mostly chance, that the photographer was simply shooting like mad in the hopes of getting one good shot (s/he may not even have noticed this particular person falling, but instead just hoped to catch someone falling, and was pleasantly surprised by this one).

The people who jumped made a personal and private decision about how to die - against their will, in a split second, with so few choices. To catch them, to spy on them with the cameras seems like a horrible violation.

I feel differently - I don't think that the dead care one way or the other and I think that perhaps there may be some comfort to be found for friends and family in knowing that their loved one didn't die unwitnessed and thereby completely alone. I don't think it's a violation, I think it's a testimony.
posted by biscotti at 10:20 AM on September 10, 2002

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