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

  • guest

    Coming practically head on, it doesn’t require as fast a shutter speed as if it was traveling across the frame. And if it was coming to a platform, it wouldn’t be traveling as fast as if it was between stations. Obviously, it’s all speculation, but it’s not unbelievable.

  • JohnArmstrong-Millar

    The main problem I have with this is that it’s not even a great image.

  • eraserhead12

    it was wrong of him to sell the image and allow such disgusting sensationalism, but I don’t think he was close enough to provide any assistance–though, I really don’t buy the “I used flash to warn the driver”.

    what about other passengers?

  • 773metric

    “He is already much further away than it appears in this cropped photo”

    You seem to think that Abbasi started off a long way away, and was running towards the train. But by his own account (watch the video), it seems he had already attempted to pull Han up, but wasn’t physically strong enough, so ended up taking photos instead. This complicates the situation. If he’s simply too far away to help, then you’re right, he would have to be superhuman to do anything and it doesn’t make sense to criticise him.

    But the information we’re getting is confusing and not nearly so clear-cut. If he has been trying to pull Han up, there must have come a point where he stopped doing that, ran backwards, away from Han, away from the train, in order to take the photos we see. With hindsight, maybe he should have called for the help of the other onlookers – two or three or more people all pulling together would surely have been successful. All too easy for me to say, though, sitting here in front of my computer.

  • eraserhead12

    God knows if that was Bruce Gilden, he would have run right up to the guy and attempt to get some trashy/sick prints out of it.

  • 773metric

    Also – in the video, at 0:40, there’s another photo of Han, also taken by Abassi, actually lying in the middle of the tracks with no train visible at all. So it must have been the case that Abassi was trackside for some time, before the train appeared. He didn’t just arrive on the scene once it was too late, running as fast as he could.

  • Minister Kirk Williams

    A valid point was made and that was the man was trying to help, but Han was too heavy. However, the critical thing here is, that Abassi would have become a victim also, because the victim (Han) would have held on to Abassi in desperation and still not being able to escape,would have gotten them both killed. It is most obvious though that Abassi did not try to help the man, and preferred to take the “REWARD WINNING” photo instead. The real valid questions to be asked is; why didn’t any of the other people who witnessed the initial push do something? How is it that the assailant got away? How is it that when the trouble maker was harrasing other’s, that none of them notified the Police? There is so much to be figured out here. Yet, Abassi is being held responsible (in the minds of most people) for taking the photo. I wonder how many of you folks would have actually tried to help in that same circumstance? How many would have been willing to have been killed in the process of helping a total stranger fight for his life? We are so quick to judge another, but what would you have done any differently?

  • dmackerman

    The reality is that no one has any insight on this, so it’s all speculation. He probably didn’t want to put himself in danger, so he didn’t bother helping. Not everyone is a hero – and you probably aren’t either if you were put in this situation.

  • Richard Ford

    I guess Eddy Adams should have stepped in as well?

  • Matt

    There’s not really enough information for me to begin to judge whether this photographer’s (in)actions contributed to the man’s death, but I think it is safe to say that this situation is nothing like the situations leading to Mr. Carter’s or Mr. Fournier’s photos. In fact I’d say that Mr. Zhang’s mention of those images is reaching a bit. The bottom line is that neither Mr. Carter nor Mr. Fournier could have truly changed the outcome by attempting to save their subjects and, I would argue, they did more to change the situations that created the respective outcomes by choosing to photograph those subjects.

    In this case, Mr. Abbasi, and indeed the others on the platform, are either incredibly inept or downright negligent. In either case, if Mr. Abbasi truly could have helped the man, but chose to photograph instead, he is also a terrible liar.

  • C.T.G.

    A photographer had time to take the picture but didn’t have time to save the man’s life. DISCUSTING!

  • tomtwigg

    I think you can justifiably call him heartless without calling him a heartless photographer. We’re all people first.

  • C.T.G.

    I disagree with your opinion. The photographer had time to take the picture but didn’t have time to try and save the man’s life. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!

  • Werner

    No one with a shred of humanity left in them would think of photographing someone as they are about to be horrifically killed – purely out of grief, sympathy and respect for the person who had to die in such a tragic way.
    The publishers of this have lost any sense human sympathy…for the victim, his family and friends, and people who can empathize with this poor soul, having lost loved ones of their own in similar tragedies.

  • Werner

    This blog is operated for commercial purposes – it is not a public service. Sensationalist content draws more traffic, and therfore higher advertising rates. Republishing this story is out of the same selfish commercial motives as first publishing it.

  • Mark

    The photographer gives you an identity to blame, many people were stood around, they are anonymous, to pull a 15 stone + weight from a platform that has a under hang takes some serious strength, simple physics come in to force, if the guy is heavier than you, your going down with him. However, this is not a weight, it is someone who will take your life to save their own, His only chance would have been if the train was further away and three or four people take hold and drag him to safety, which I have no doubt happens when time permits. It is easy to make after judgements, but the fear of an impending death takes control of your mind, do you risk your own life or stay back. Your mind will make the decision for you by flooding your body with adrenalin, the factors of getting dragged to your own death is calculated in milliseconds and you are not in control, your mind is, the term is fear. Until you find yourself in a situation, you can not comment what you would do, for you are not under survival conditions, your judgement is free and unclouded.

  • Adam Moreira

    Even if one person would not have been strong enough, two people would have been. The problem is that there are many more heartless people on that platform too.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    so it’s too crazy to think that maybe, JUST MAYBE – the guy had already been taking photos in the station (possible of the altercation between the guy on the tracks and the guy who pushed him ?) and that his settings were already set to the ambient lighting conditions??? also – not everyone carries their camera and gear in a bag; most people have it ready to shoot, around their neck or hanging from their shoulder whenever they’re out with it

  • Art Sokoloski

    R.Umar Abbasi,how much money did you sell this photo for to the NEW YORK POST?
    I hope you get charged with negligent homicide,money over someones life,you sure shall
    suffer for your inaction.

  • anthds

    This cannot be compared to photojournalism and photojournalists. Those people go to terrible places knowing full well they will see things like that, and they go with the intention of documenting it. They may well take the photo and then help a little.

    Here though it was a spur of the moment event and the first reaction should have been run over and try and pull the man up. No if, and’s or but’s. It’s low light so if he was moving at all it wouldn’t be as clear as this, not to mention he would have had to wait that little bit for the camera to start up too.

    I support photographers who take photos of war and poverty but here humanity should have come first. As for the newspaper, regardless of the headline this photo is proof that the man failed to act.

  • Keith D

    “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.”

    Are you honestly placing some blame on the victim or saying he could have done better? What is wrong with you? Lets put you in the same position. Unexpectedly pushed from behind, falling hard on the tracks, and most likely being complete disoriented. Mix that with an oncoming train and lets see what your first instinct are.

  • Keith D

    What about the role of being a HUMAN BEING.

  • manwithacamera

    How many of these people can act quickly in such a situation? It seems no people were standing near the panhandler and Mr. Han. These people buy magazines to read celebrity gossips and to see ward rope malfunction photos, but criticize paparazzi.

  • shashinka

    How do you know if he had time to rescue the passenger? How do we know, the photographer was not a hundred feet away and the image is not cropped down?

  • shashinka

    I agree with the the fact that iamge appears to be heavily cropped and is unlike.y that the photographer was anywhere near close to render assistance.

  • Ron Hendriks

    I don’t see any problem in taking this pictures, I would have done the same. When we see pictures off starving children in Africa, no-one is asking to sell the camera to use the money to feed the children.

  • shashinka

    They do, but most people do not know this. there is little signage to direct passengers that this is an option.

  • Edmond Terakopian

    I do wish people posting these unthought out comments have a look at the second video which shows where the photographer was and hear the interview with him. The producer of the first video never interviewed the photographer and some of the information is incorrect; it’s bad journalism and people on here are making snap judgements as a result. Please watch the second video at the end of this post.
    The photographer was 100-200 feet away. You can see from the first picture he took. How anyone is expected to run faster than a train (that’s approaching) and then get to this poor chap and lift him out of harms way is beyond me. There were lots of other people there, many more than just this individual, and nobody went to help.
    All this anger towards a photojournalist who took the pictures; amazingly, I haven’t read a single comment of anger or hatred towards the man who pushed the victim onto the tracks and caused this death.

  • brandon

    scumbag. time to pull up a camera, AF , frame it up, and fire a few, but no time to lend this guy a hand. please. Sometimes i hate photographers.

  • Burnin Biomass

    Not believing the photographers story. The Post’s story in the video says of the photographer “not being strong enough to physically lift the victim himself” . That means he was At Han. If he was rushing forward to stop the train from there, he would be in front of Han. Han is in the image, so the photographer had to BACK UP to get him in the shot. POS!

  • Sam Spade

    I can’t help but notice the lack of motion blur. Think about that.

  • George X Lin

    its so sad. Ppl are getting it all wrong. He wasn’t exploitive, nor was he 3 steps from the guy or there was like 5 minutes to get him up., you can see that the image was bad (high noise and really f* ed up lighting. ) He was trying to signal the conductor with Flashes. ITs more effective than trying to wave your hand in the dark. He was trying his best and the by doing what came as a GUT. When you are in a life and death situation, you’ll do that too. Most people would FREEZE. AT LEASE he did something. I compliment that he tried. Any troll can say, yea, I would have helped him… but if you weren’t next to the guy and the train was coming, would you really do what you’ll say? And what if you get pulled in. You have a family, aren’t you thinking about your safety as well? Anyway he tried and NY POST exploited it with the STUPID captions, end of all these useless comments about “What I would have done”. When did we become a nation of internet Nazi’s the criticize everyone when we probably would have just froze in place.

  • BoyWithCamera

    I wonder if this drag of a newspaper would have printed the photo if it was a US soldier about to get killed in Afghanistan or Iraq.

  • tiredofit123

    The photo is cropped in from the original and he was actually some distance away–but still, the moral thing to do would have been to drop the camera and run to try and pull him up.

  • Amon

    I don’t think it’s so much that Abassi is being blamed for Han’s death as much as it is outrage that he chose to snap shots and then publish them.

  • Trey Mortensen

    I’m surprised that no one has pointed this out, but the man’s voice doesn’t sound young. He said he was out to shoot that homeless man, so he probably had a pack on. I don’t know about you, but my dad isn’t very fast even when he is running as fast as he can.

    Since no one else has looked it up, NY subways operate at 55-60 mph. Even if the car was slowing since there was a station coming, it’s covering a lot of ground fast with a lot of momentum. In the picture of the man in the middle of the tracks, the train is already in the picture, so it wasn’t that far away. There is not going to be a lot of time to do much, especially when you are panicking.

    What I’m trying to say is, that there are a lot of facts missing from this picture, such as the other people seemingly missing from the scene even when there were reported screams (which suggests that there was less time than everyone is assuming), the actual distance he was from the man (since we can see it was zoomed), what happened with the person who pushed him into the tracks, and how fast that train was going when he stopped.

    So moral of the story, don’t condemn a man for something when you don’t have even a fraction of the facts. It amazes me how quickly we through people under the bus. Chill out, look for all the facts before you say wild allegations that may end up looking silly.

  • Hoplite99

    une photo de Rupert Murdoch Publications.

  • Jared Monkman

    another thing we should be focusing on is the guy who pushed this man onto the tracks. That man is ultimately to blame, not these people who were unable to help

  • Jared Monkman

    yeah, as you said. if anyone actually watched the video, he clearly states that he was in the area looking for the homeless man who was given shoes when this happened. I really don’t understand why more onus isn’t being put on the man who pushed this guy onto the tracks, instead of people that were unable to help

  • Nadia

    The train operating company is responsible for not designing the station in such a way to make such accidents more difficult to happen. Many train stations around the world have doors or other safety precautions that keep people safe. If the train is paid with government taxes, then the government and all voters are responsible for not taking correct decisions in spending the tax money. The photographer did the right thing as a photojournalist. The newspaper was correct in publishing the photo, but wrong in choosing this headline from a photojournalism ethics point of view.

  • sam

    there are probably hundreds of people waiting for the train that time
    why no one trying to save Hans..

  • PhotoShark

    Is no one thinking of the fact that the assailant and Abassi were working together? maybe a bit far fetched but still a thought…

  • Reader

    Rupert Murdoch at the minimum needs to donate the yearly salaries of the executive editor photo editor and page one editor to this mans family. If not publically apologize as well as this clearly trying to make money on his death. On Dec. 4 this was the biggest news story or this is what would make nypost the most money?

  • Kimverly


  • nope

    If Han had time between being pushed off the platform and the arrival of the train to get up, get over to the side and attempt to climb up – as is clearly evidenced by the photograph – then anyone on the platform, including this lying photog surely would have had time to at least get over to the man and attempt assistance.

  • Nathan Blaney

    I’d love someone to explain why, exactly my comments deserve to be downrated.

  • Rabid_Bunny

    I’m an amteur photographer but I do know the principles of aiming your camera to your subject. That photographer happens to be at the right place, at the wrong time… But I dont buy what he said that he was running and rapidly shooting so the conductor will notice his flash, if you’re running how can you aim a perfect shot with both of your subjects in a perfectly angled, vibration free picture?…. just saying… Money makes human hard to co-exist together…

  • Piotrek Ziolkowski

    Is he trying to say that he actually tried to lift the man up and failed so he backed off 5 meters and started to take composed shots of the whole scene? We live in age of cowards… I am disgusted by actions or lack of them, of this so called photographer and the people present at the scene…

  • Dave

    Horrible!!!! In an emergency I always use my camera not my two hands to help.

  • eraserhead12

    if the guy was really focused on using flash and not just snapping a pic, what are the chances it would have contained everything in the frame? pretty sure he used his viewfinder to frame the shot instead of blindly firing flash.