Photograph of Doomed Man on Subway Tracks Sparks Outrage, Debate

If you happen to catch a glance of the New York Post’s cover today, the above photo is what you’ll see. It’s an attention grabbing image, showing a man who is moments away from being struck and killed by an oncoming subway train in New York City. It’s also a controversial image, not just because of the morbid moment it captures, but because of the fact that it even exists.

A little more background: the man in the image was 58-year-old Queens resident Ki Suk Han. He was reportedly pushed onto the tracks at 12:30pm by a panhandler who had been harassing passersby. Han had approached the man in an attempt to calm him down.

After being shoved into the path of the soon-to-arrive train, Han struggled desperately to lift himself onto the platform, but wasn’t strong enough.

R. Umar Abbasi, a freelance photographer for the New York Post, was present at the scene. He claims that after he was unable to help Han himself, he began using his camera flash to warn the train’s operator. He tells the Post, “I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash.” The train couldn’t stop fast enough.

Abbasi’s photograph above ended up being used as the paper’s cover photo today, along with a sensationalist headline:

It seems that many people — at least those who comment on the New York Post’s website — aren’t buying Abbasi’s story. They’re leveling sharp criticism at the photographer, saying he prioritized capturing the photos over helping save the man’s life.

Here are a number of the comments:

Wow! enough time to take a few pictures. Why didn’t the person help? How many pictures did they take? 3-4 pictures. And nobody tried to help. Not one person. The pictures sure shows that much. What an age we live in when getting the picture is more important! I am appalled. [#]

How tasteless of the NY Post to publish such a grusome picture for this mans family to see. No one helped this man there were numerous videos and pictures being snapped, yet not one person tried to help save him. Disgusting. [#]

“I just started running, running, hoping that the driver could see my flash,” said Abbasi, whose camera captured chilling shots of Suk’s tragic fight for his life.” How do you sleep at night? [#]

I don’t believe a word of that photographer crap. He didn’t even try to help the guy get back on the platform. His first instinct was to take pictures, and that’s exactly what he did, because that’s what they do. He wasn’t out to “warn” the conductor, what a lame excuse for not helping. Well, he got his pictures. Everyone “gasped” – and no one helped. The guy looks skinny, couldn’t lift him up? Bull. And HE was actually trying to help THEM from the lunatic![#]

How does “taking pictures” tell a conductor to stop a train? Huh? Is this photographer guy a moron? Throw down your camera and run to help the guy. If you fail, at least you tried. Taking pictures isn’t trying. What conductor would think, “Oh, look, someone’s taking pictures…maybe I should stop the train.” [#]

OMG – the person who took that picture should be ashamed of themselves! How do you take a picture of a man about to be hit by a train instead of trying to help him off the track! [#]

We wonder: would the reaction to Abbasi’s photo have been different had he simply said he was doing his job rather than using his camera flash to warn the train operator?

The outcry is reminiscent to what photojournalists Kevin Carter and Frank Fournier experienced after each of them shot an award-winning photo of a dying individual.

Carter’s famous image of a vulture staring at a starving child won him a Pulitzer Prize (and likely contributed to his later suicide).

Fournier photographed the slow death of 13-year-old Omayra Sánchez after the 1985 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano. The image won him the World Press Photo of the Year prize that year, but also caused many in the public to label him a “vulture.”

Abbasi’s actions will likely be vigorously debated for days to come, with some placing him in the same camp as Carter and Fournier — men who were simply doing a necessary job — and others condemning him for being a heartless photographer.

Update: The New York Post has uploaded a new 2-minute-long video to its YouTube account in which photographer Abbasi gives his account of what unfolded yesterday:

Update: Abbasi appeared on the Today Show this morning to give an interview regarding the photo.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Sam

Image credits: Photographs by R. Umar Abbasi/The New York Post

  • Jon Erdmann

    When seconds count, the photographer was minutes away because of his job. I think the headlines would have read better… “Man saved by New York Post photographer”….. it would have made a much better story, but instead this freelance photographer acted true to form paparazzi style of getting the photo first. One that will be remembered and haunt him as the worse mistake of his career.

    It would have been much better to at least try and save this man, than not trying at all.

  • shashinka

    That’s ridiculous to say he should not take the pictures. That statement goes to show you are not a photojournalist, or press photographer.

    The first rule of spot news is “to get the shot” the second rule is to to become part of the news.Our role to do do our job, and get the shot, and that is why a hell of a lot of PJ’s wash out of hard news and combat/conflict photography very fast.

    Other people would not be in the shot, if they stood around slacked jaw staring.

  • shashinka

    “A crowd came over with camera phones and they were pushing and shoving, trying to look at the man and taking videos,” Abbasi wrote in
    the Post.

    As more people pull out their smartphones and other devices to record violent, vulgar or otherwise traumatic events, it invites a question: Is it citizen journalism or simply incivility?

    Subsequent comment from USAToday. Seems to be all the rage to attack a professional photojournalist, but hell, let’s give every Joe Schmuck on the platform was a cell phone a free pass right?

  • shashinka

    And a pafortform full of spectators with camera phones as well.

  • Brad Bell

    I wish people wouldn’t be so judgemental. I once “saved someone’s life” in the same situation. A homeless man on glue had climbed down onto the tracks to cross to the other side. The train was coming. He couldn’t climb up. People were shouting, “the train is coming! the train is coming!” A friend and I pulled the man up onto the platform by his arms. A few points: 1) the people freaking out were over-reacting; we easily had 10 seconds to spare; screaming is not helping 2) None of the 25 people did anything 3) It took two of us to lift the man up by the arms and drag him onto the platform. I seriously doubt one person could do this as there’s no counterbalance. There’s nothing to anchor yourself to. 4) Drunk people are dead weight, plus the platform typically comes up to a person’s arm pits (see photo. You really do need 2 people.) 5) People like to judge people. Why must we have so little faith in each other that we immediately jump to the conclusion that others are sociopaths, ie. they have no emotions or empathy?

  • Martin C

    The photographer witnessed a terrible incident and photographed it. It is an unpleasant, yet important, consequence of being a journalistic photographer. Many tragedies have been recorded by professional news gatherers (September 11 2001 is a particular example) and, while we might debate the morals of doing so, we have to acknowledge that recording these events can teach us to cope with them and to seek ways of avoiding them in the future. The photographer did not write the sensationalist ‘Doomed’ headline which was totally inappropriate, insensitive and unacceptable: for that, blame the editor. I wish well to all those who witnessed this traumatic incident including the photographer.

  • guy

    tnb all the way around

  • norma

    Totally disgusted at the fact that no one cared enough to try to rescue this poor man. Put your dam cameras and phones down and realize this was not a picture taking moment!! This poor mans family needs to sue the Post for lack of better judgement! Everyone who witnessed this horrific moment is no better then the man who push him in

  • Bob

    Absolutely Disgusting. What if it was you? Sickening excuses for helping your fellow man. What a bunch of Selfish wimps. Very Un-American and dissapointing.

  • Lenoat702

    A classic effect of the Bystander Effect

  • Dave

    Because the photos wouldn’t exist if he tried to help. His hands would have been busy. That is how simple this is.

  • Greg

    The problem is with the NYP deciding to put this as their cover photo. Until someone who was actually at the scene can tell us what really happened, who are all of you to judge this photographer and call him a liar and coward? If you weren’t there then you don’t know; maybe this man did try doing everything he could to help and his last ditch effort was to use his flash. Maybe he really is a coward. I’m sure we’ll find out eventually but until then, stop being so quick to judge.

  • Mike Savad

    it amazes me how many people are saying what that guy should have done and not what they would have done in that same situation. i think we should be looking less on the photographer, and more on the fact that there is no protection at all around the tracks, not even lighting over the rails, or on the bottom of the train so the conductor can stop in time. simple things to prevent stuff like this.

    chances are that even if he helped the guy, the camera man would have fallen on the tracks himself. saying to pull the guy up is easier than actually doing it.

    —Mike Savad

  • david c.

    17fps(feet per second) is the average running speed of a human, he’s 200 ft away, 10 seconds just to get to the guy. Also ever hear of a zoon lens not to mention autofocus? Also he took 49 photos (4-10 frames per second) this was the one “good one” the editors picked (he was on assignment) and then “photoshoped” to lighten the image as the originals were too dark.

  • david c.

    where on earth do you get that he had already tried to help the guy up? You’re smoking something funny. The photographer was 200 ft away, (17 feet per second average running speed for a human) would have taken him 10 seconds to reach him, more likely 15-20, he had a telephoto(zoom) lens. he was no where near and the megapixel of todays camera clearly shows its a cropped image not to mention he took 49 pics (4-10 per second for most cameras these days) it was a dslr!! not a point a shoot/cell phone.

  • david c.

    17 feet per second average running speed of a human. More likely in this case 15-20 seconds for this guy just to reach the fallen guys position, the total time this event occurred was 22 seconds. so you must be superman and faster than a speeding bullet. He was 200 ft away, he had a zoom lens, took 49 shots (4-10 pics per second these days) and had the attacker coming at him which he even said he pauses so and backs up against the wall so he doesn’t get pushed onto the tracks. Jesus people don’t know how to think logically these days and just go with an idiotic gut reaction….there was nothing he could have done he wasn’t standing 5ft from him…

  • Not a muslim

    A nation with people like this deserve everything they get. Its sad but true, 9/11 cost more muslims their live then americans and it Catrina was worse then 9/11. Both are on the US.

  • Markie Ceasar

    Maybe the photographer (who was literally unknown before this shot) paid the panhandler to push someone off the track so he could take the shot!

  • Sabiha Museji

    It’s sad- so many people (judging by the comments) would have prioritized helping and saving this guys life. Worse is how simple a task it actually is- pull the dude onto the platform! Shame we weren’t there instead.

  • TheCommonSenseMan

    This is no worse than those same members of the public that take phone images and video’s of people being attacked in the street and doing nothing, hampering the emergency services by their intent on getting phone images and video at disasters – at least with this guy, it was his job – maybe the photo is enough to start people thinking about what they should have done to help the victim…

  • Saulo Tomé

    PP, there’s more about that case. How about the NYP posture? Will this kind of photo help anyone? People will think about staying back from the yellow line just with the text and the headline. Why such a disgusting text: “this man is about to die”.

    That’s this photo importance: the true on it. If it was a posed picture, with the train stopped, it would’t be a real good shot. And I’m almost sure that the photographer card have a dozen photos taken after this moment, probably even more shocking than the chosen one.

    You should discuss about the relationship between the work of the photographer and the media where he works. Photographer will seek this kind of image just because that’s what photojournalism (and journalism) is still about: shocking images, shocking news.

    And no, I don’t think the guy with the camera should take the pictures. And if he took it, I don’t think he should give it to NYP. He wasn’t there to make that photos, he didn’t have to. And now, he’s the one who will be in charge while his editor choices will be forgotten. Such a ingenious guy, from the click to the publication.

  • Jay

    What an awful lie. If he was running this wouldn’t be a perfectly framed and captured shot.

  • 12345

    Who on earth would rather do their job than save a life. The idoit. I bet his family will never want to talk to him again.

  • Rufus

    The Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT has a range of 30 metres, if you look at the photo, the flash ends at about the same point the man is, chances are, Abbasi had a similar flash, and so was probably about 28 metres away, you can take a photo in a matter of seconds, but running that distance and saving someone (bearing in mind he was probably carrying some heavy gear) would take a lot longer. I’m not sure where I stand on him actually taking the photo, I don’t know if I would, but he certainly couldn’t have saved the man.

  • Linn

    How do you sleep at night? I hope you and everyone witnessing this and not. doing. anything. never gets a full nights sleep for the rest of your lives. I’m ashamed and disgusted by you.