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

  • Nathan Blaney

    Its a pretty awful situation, but even had the photographer tried to pull the guy up, what if he couldn’t? (maybe the guy was to heavy or whatever) He’d definitely have been putting himself in significant danger as well. Not everyone is a hero and that train looks pretty darn close…. There’s no good answer here and the help vs document debate (ala Kevin Carter) is one that will never cease – this is just another chapter in that story, unfortunately.

  • DrNo

    “…man who were simply doing a necessary job…”

    No, this most certainly was NOT a necessary job. Trying to save the man’s life was, though. I truly hope that this “photographer” comes to deeply regret his choice.

  • erikcantu

    Really, he says he was running in the dim subway tunnel just snapping pics for the flash and that the the image that was captured, standing still in that dark a space I get motion blur on my iphone. He is reprehensible.

  • Swade

    The caption that the NY Post picked makes it all the worse

  • Ethan

    Wow. I disagree with the entirety of the public opinion. I think the problem is not the photographer making a statement; the issue is the sensationalism sold via the New York Post. The cover image of that article is CLEARLY exploitative and designed to sell, not report. This is commercialism embedded into news reporting. This is the problem, not the photographer.

  • Kathleen Grace

    Shameful and blatant sensationalism on the newspaper’s part. I do know photographers get distanced from events looking through a viewfinder, but there’s just no way this photog was trying to help, the picture is just too clear.

  • Sarah

    What’s so unbelievable about the whole thing is that there were PEOPLE, meaning several or many people watching. The article says they were screaming and waving their hands. Yet no one thought about the fact that 2 or 3 people could have pulled him to safety? Are you freaking kidding me? What is wrong with people? There is absolutely no way that he had to die, it would have taken 2 or 3 people mere seconds to pull him up. The photographer could have gotten others to help. It sickens me so much to hear these stories.

  • Denis Wettmann

    I am surprised that there is even a debate about this topic. A persons life should always be the priority unless your intention is to take the persons life.

  • sean

    ok you grab his hands and get pulled into the tracks…… no???? ….. you have 3 second to make up your mind 1…2…3… too late. sad but true

  • Persio Pucci

    Why I don’t see anybody bashing the f’ng hobo that started this? It’s been said, Abbasi could very well not be able to pull this guy, and maybe even we would have two bodies. I disagree with the picture as much as I disagree with blaming the photographer.

  • Lainer

    What does this say about the Post printing this? How morbid and sensationalistic. As for the idiot taking pictures, he was close enough to help that guy and didn’t. Shame on him too.

  • MOO

    Seriously? Writing a post on the ethical issues of making and publishing such a photo and then just publishing it yourselves. Why does the petaxpicel not take a stance by at least not posting the picture?

  • Lainer

    Shock is what prevents people from helping. That split second to move, if not taken, is gone and the tragedy happens. Also, factor in the “drowning man theory” he is drowning and will drown anyone who helps him by trying to climb on him due to panic. So, you have fear of helping him; fear that they too will be pulled into the tracks. All this happens in seconds. the Post, however, had more than seconds in deciding to publish this on the cover.

  • Bart Willems

    Making pictures instead of trying to save the man’s life is just horrific. I don’t buy the “I was trying to warn the driver with my flash” for one second.

    Regarding “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.” — the difference is that those photographers had no opportunity to change the outcome of the drama. But if Abbassi had spent more time running and less time fiddling with his camera, he might have had a chance to pull him out.

    And shame on the NY Post for not only publishing this picture but for putting it on the front page as well. Shocking, but not surprising for them.

  • Matt

    “Never question decisions made in real-time.”

    That being said, why wasn’t the guy on the tracks booking it away from the train? At the very least, mv^2 says it’ll hurt less. Might even get away.

    I’ll also say that with a fraction of hindsight, not trying to lift him up might be better for the psyche. He’ll be asking himself “what could I have done”, but he wouldn’t have run the risk of sitting with a dismembered arm in his hands had he failed.
    (apologies for the graphic imagery)

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    because an iphone isn’t designed to take photographs in the same way – the guy is a freelancer – he’s probably using a DSLR. The photo above is super noisy so it’s obviously a very high ISO and he’s using flash – which means the guy was probably shooting at a fast shutter speed too – all of those 3 combined it’s quite hard to get a blurry image.- I’m happy to believe the guy was running towards the train – but we live in a society nowadays where no one believes anyone even when they’re telling the truth – also, I don’t know how fast those trains come into the station but if that were a train here in London at this distance – no one would stand a chance of rescuing the guy because the trains come in far too quickly

  • Tim

    If you don’t like the photo, do something to stop the events in it happening again. Or shut up bitching. This is the role of the photographer.

  • guest

    flash freezes motion, unless you were standing on the platform as well, you are in no position to know whether he was running or standing still.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    So because one guy took some photographs we’re going to blame him? what about all the other people on the platform? I guess they don’t count? and as I said in another comment I don’t know how fast those trains come into the station but if that were a train here in London – at this distance – no one would stand a chance of rescuing the guy because the trains come in far too quickly

  • OmniMode

    So, you have the same vile scruples as the New York Post, Mr. Zhang? Anything for page hits. You can shove your blog up your ass.

  • michaelp42

    I’m more offended and shocked by the “doomed” headline than the fact the photograph took photos instead of helping him. Mainstream media fail.

  • HighCheekbones

    He’ll probably get in more trouble for shooting with a DSLR on a train platform……..

  • Samcornwell

    I don’t know about you guys, but I can run faster when I’m not taking photos.

  • Samcornwell

    Agreed re: Carte & Fournier. Although I’d be a little bit more than surprised if Abbassi entered this in the World Press awards.

  • Kyle

    It’s already been released….they obviously need to post it to facilitate a real discussion that has come up before in the industry.

  • Julian Maytum

    Sensationalism. The NY Post is overt, petapixel, not so much. Neither are “selling” poor man – bad photographer. Both are making money off the misfortune of this poor man and the horror factor of this picture. Shame shame!

  • Alan Mc

    I am a photographer and it is DEFINITELY NOT my role to stand around taking pictures when I should be helping to save a life. The photographer is a disgrace, so is the newspaper.

  • Disgusted


  • Prabawa

    What would not posting the picture serve? If the article didn’t post the picture, a lot of readers would be left curious (wouldn’t you be?). Posting the picture at this level is just informational.

    The NYP, however, chose to put the picture and write that (horrible) headline at the front page, to boost sales. Very different.

  • ennuipoet

    First: there is no way the photographer can save this man’s life. He is already much further away than it appears in this cropped photo. The trains enter the station very fast and THEY DO NOT STOP QUICKLY. Unless the photographer is a superhero in disguise, there was nothing he could do. Second: This is a freelance photojournalist, not a tourist being a vulture, it was his job to photograph the news as it was happening. Do you think WeeGee would have not fired off photographs in a simlar situation? Yes, the photo is disturbing and there is an argument as to whether the editors or the post were right to run it, but the photographer was definitely right to shoot it. Third: Photographs like this have been made throughout the history of medium, and the peanut gallery always blames the photographer for not doing something 99% of them wouldn’t have done either. Panic and confusion rob us of the ability to think clearly, the photographer did what he could to alert the train operator but no one had time to do anything more than what they did. The responsible person was the murderer who pushed the man onto the tracks, save your scorn for him.

  • Prabawa

    Any discussion about the photographer’s decision to take pictures instead of helping would be pointless until we have complete and accurate information (the speed of the train, his distance from the victim, etc.).

    Would you try running and help the victim if you *know* you would fail (e.g. if your distance is too far), or would you try something else with a higher probability of success (trying to attract the driver’s attention and/or providing better lighting so the victim becomes more visible)? The second option is more rational.

    I don’t have complete information so how can I judge?

    PS: what happened to the pandhandler? Why isn’t anyone even condemning the panhandler? COME ON!

  • Torpedo

    Can’t believe this website further promoted the horror that the Post did. I won’t be returning to petapixel.

  • branden rio

    He’s reporting on the controversy, not exploiting someone’s misery.

  • fahrertuer

    If he had some integrity he wouldn’t have bowed to the demand for such pictures

  • fahrertuer

    I remember reading an interview with Nick Ut here some months ago that left me baffled with the humanity that he retained in his time documenting the Vietnam war.

    The guy that snapped away while allegedly running towards the train leaves me less impressed (well, he leaves a pretty big impression, but not a good one) for now. If some information surfaces that he did run as he said this might change.

    But for now he just looks like a dirtbag

  • Zach

    This is reporting the controversy. Sorry that your perfect world of butterflies and daisies has fallen apart because someone is informing you of this. Do you also shun newspapers and friends if they “promote” the killing going on in the middle east, just because they are informing you of tragedy?

  • Arnold Newman

    What a perfectly composed image for someone just trying to “warn the train operator”. Guess things worked out better for the photog and the paper than it did for the man actually trying to do something good.

  • Amon

    No, I think you’re right about the New York Post being guilty of sensationalism and promoting other photographers to behave just like Abbasi did where humanity comes second to taking the shot. But what Abbasi did was inexcusable. Ultimately the New York Post didn’t leave this man to die, Abbasi did.

  • Minus Manhattan

    Exactly. And if this guy was running at full speed it’s highly unlikely the photo would have come out as it did.

  • nobody

    This situation doesn’t even begin to compare to the circumstances surrounding Carter or Fournier’s images. What makes the photographer look like an even bigger c**t is the fact he made up such a poor excuse for not helping the man, rather than just being honest about his true motivation. Simply spineless. As for the New York Post, I think people should boycott their publication until they issue an apology to the victim’s family and pay compensation for emotional suffering.

  • John C

    What’s the uncropped shot look like? I’ll reserve judgement until I see just how close or far away the shot was taken from.

  • Amon

    Yes, but the problem here is the the photog decided to take pictures instead.

  • Edmond Terakopian

    It is a photojournalist’s duty to document what’s going around in the world and often it’s a hard job to do, filled with moral questions. Regardless of this and if he could have run up fast enough, or was strong enough to pull the man up, surely there were other commuters there on the platform? Why is the focus of hatred focused on this one man who documented the horrific event and not on the others who did nothing? After all, several people would have been stronger than this lone photographer. Admittedly, the headline is in bad taste, but I think as sad as it is, the photographer carried out his duty. A shame that members of the public did nothing and a bigger shame that the poor chap was pushed onto the tracks in the first place.

  • Amon

    Yeah and he just happened to have his camera ready to shoot with the flash attached, high ISO and high shutter speed. Give me a break!

  • Amon

    But wouldn’t you expect a moving train to has some motion blut even with flash?

  • Amon

    Spot on!

  • Jjjustinnn

    In the subway in Stockholm (Sweden) there is 1m-space underneath the platform in case something like this happens. Surprised that the NY-sub don’t have the same…

  • Samuel

    you need to remember there is no details about this photo, its noisy and of a quality you wouldnt expect from a photojournalist. Its not taken in a way where he was clearly trying to capture the event. Also is there EXIF? he could have been using a 300mm lens (unlikely yes but its an example) and I would guess it has been pretty heavily cropped.

    Only a photo of him, perhaps CCTV, would really say if he was close enough to help, those trains come in pretty fast and it would take the mind a few seconds to work out what was happening and start running. Why did no one else on the platform help, I’d argue they are more guilty than the man who realised it was an opportunity to capture a powerful moment, which is already hardwired into a good journalist.

  • John Mason

    Fact is, none of us were there. I think photojournalists do find themselves in terrible situations like this, and in order to do their jobs, they have to work out the ethical dilemmas such as these. I’ll take his word that he couldn’t help. I do think anyone trying to help, could have been in very serious danger themselves. Trying to pull someone out at the last second could have easily resulted in two deaths instead of one. Abbasi took the photo. You can debate the merits of doing that, but hopefully his video/photo will help catch and convict the person who push that poor man to his death to begin with.

  • Don Yee

    Why the photographer didn’t drop his frickin camera and help the guy?