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

  • eraserhead12

    I don’t for a second buy his “I was just using flash to warn the driver!” thing. sounds like an afterthought to rationalize why he sold the image.

    if flash was the issue, he wouldn’t bother to take the time to frame the shot through his viewfinder, he would have just fired randomly.

  • eraserhead12

    ,. but you see, the photographer sold the image. he certainly had the control and judgment to put his eye through his viewfinder.

  • eraserhead12

    ohhhhh I see, being a photographer is a duty/obligation which demands more attention than basic humanity–e.g. not selling the images, or snapping away in the first place?

  • eraserhead12

    although I don’t think he had enough time to save the guy, he certainly had enough time to stick his eyeball through the viewfinder and capture the scene. and sell the image. “warning flash” my butt.

  • eraserhead12

    on my public subway station, the only warning they have is not to touch the electric third rail. there might be enough space, but they definitely don’t advertise it.

  • eraserhead12

    but the issue isn’t the guy who pushed him–it’s the guy who snapped pics and subsequently sold them to a newspaper who made some trashy sensationalist headlines. I’m sure he was too far away to help, but there’s little chance he was just firing blindly to signal the driver.

  • foolio

    I would like to hear what witnesses had to say as to what happened…

  • eraserhead12

    it’s the fact that he took and subsequently sold the images. maybe he didn’t realize it would create such raunchy headlines, but still. he clearly wasn’t just blindly firing flash.

  • fahrertuer

    Deep inside I hope this photo happened to spray and pray.
    But it looks too good to be true and I’m left with the impression that he didn’t run as he says

  • Bermellotheke

    My point is: why does a front page like this sells in the very first place? Don´t NY Post´s regular readers feel shame on them also? Or even the news market? This is a pretty common practice. If public opinion gets really against stuff like this, there will be no rush for such a picture. Bad, too bad…

  • Tutterz

    The comments from people about the photographer complaining he prioritized taking a photo over helping him, have they ever even heard of photo journalism? They open their trap when it’s in NY but if it was a photo of someone getting executed in Syria I bet they wouldn’t have the same tone!

  • Kevin Barbieux

    Where is the outrage towards the man who pushed him onto the tracks? Why are other subway riders in the area not being condemned? From the above video, it sounds as if the photographer is an old man who would not have the strength to do anything other than take pictures. Death by subway is a real issue in NYC, and it should be reported. The photograph is of a real life event and should be shown, regardless of how horrific. Facing all of life without blinking, without turning away, is what photojournalism is all about.

  • wolfwood

    Most 58-year-olds don’t “book” very fast. Jeez…

  • saraindc

    i find it hard to believe you’d be holding a camera in that exact right position to manage to just accidentally get the shot off – wouldnt it be shaking in your hands as you hit the flash button to alert the driver – the photo he took is poised, positioned and clearly well held to get it that good – he was the only one on the platform close enough to get the guy up and i’m sorry, i’m female, where the guy was you could have pulled him by the belt and rolled him up quick enough to get him up. the camera man didnt even try, he wanted his shot and he got it. Shame on him – he made no attempt and i hope he lives with that for a long time – id rather no shot and know i at least tried to help even if unsuccessful – this is whats wrong with these guys – its all about the shot and the money that shot will give them. The victims family should sue the cameraman in civil court for failure to help.

  • saraindc

    and if you look at the several photos he took (he took time to take one of han sitting on the rails as well thus showing he had lots of time to THINK differently but he chose to SHOOT photos. There was no one else close by on the platform other than the guy he had the confrontation with who is putting his coat on to get away but if the photographer had time to take the first photos, he had time to put the camera down go over and help drag kan up from the side of the track – there was time – he wasnt that far away, its obvious from the surveillance videos and from his own photos. i’d sue him

  • Teri Anderson Needham

    I am more offended by the panhandler who pushed him in front of the train to begin with…have they caught that guy yet?

  • Kris Wood

    There’s every chance he was telling the truth and that he had fired off a few frames from a distance before it became apparent the guy was in any danger from a train. By the time he realised what was going on, Abassi begins to run toward the train, firing off frames without looking through the viewfinder (ie just holding down the shutter to trigger the flash, which is pointed in the direction of the train) but still manages to get a lucky shot as the camera was already dialled in from the original couple he shot and was probably hunting in continuous focus.

    Also, Abassi is clearly well past middle age, if you’ve been working as a freelance photographer for that long chances are your knees and back are shot, there was no way in hell he’d have been able to run fast enough to beat the train to Han and even if he could, he had no chance of lifting him up.

  • David Bartlett

    If you indict photographer Abassi, then you must also indict those who witnessed the same series of events but also did nothing.
    Incidentally, while this is clearly a moot point, I do not find the photograph itself to be all that sensationalistic or ‘gruesome’, as another commenter exclaimed. If you were seeing it for the first time, without knowing the back-story or outcome, you might just think that the train is simply stopped, and that a man, perhaps an MTA employee, is down on the track for whatever reason, perhaps to fix something or clear debris off the rails.
    This more ‘benign’ impression is reinforced by the fact that we see no motion in the train itself, no blurring, which would suggest forward movement. In fact, the man on the tracks himself shows no movement either, as though in relaxed repose.
    But then, this is what incriminates the actions of the photographer, and his claim that he first tried to help the victim. If he had done so, these photos would have been not nearly as focused and steady. Clearly, they are the result of a person in control and composed.

  • Matt

    The photographer made a statement that he wasn’t strong enough to lift the man and that the man wasn’t in reach. Obviously he forgot that he has legs. He also forgot that if he had really tried to save a mans life, he would have had a massive adrenaline rush, giving him a temporary burst of strength. He had a choice to make, he chose to stand by and photograph a man staring into death’s face instead of trying to help. Us photojournalists have a hard time between whether to document a situation or assist in a situation. I don’t think the photographer had anyone in mind but himself and the possibility of such a picture lifting off his career.

  • Ken Yee

    What a major lying D8ck of a photographer!
    What’s appalling is no one else helped….if people were helping already, the photographer would just be capturing the event and doing his job. Capturing the event w/o helping means he’s lost his soul. Sad statement of NYC residents…and this photographer and newspaper in particular :-P

    At least they caught the panhandler according to the news. I hope he gets pushed in front of a train for punishment…along w/ the photographer…

  • brokenheart

    The point is he should not have taken the picture at all even if he was standing to far away to help which i don’t believe he was that far away the shot has no other people in it. if he were further away people would have been in the shot

  • Disgusted

    Wow, how horrible!!! Amazing that such a good, crisp photo came out if this guy was running to help. This photographer is full of crap!!!! He wasn’t trying to warn the subway driver, he was trying to take pics, it’s obvious. And the victim’s arms are on the side, he could have tried to pull him up!!

    The monstrous lack of humanity in humanity never ceases to amaze me. What is wrong with people nowadays?
    This photographer and the NY Post should be absolutely ashamed. How despicable.

  • El_Fez

    Yes, because there is no way that he was already shooting something, had his camera set up and ready to go before hand.

  • El_Fez

    Right, because there is no way that he might have been shooting down there before the incident. Nope, no way at all.

  • Prabawa

    1. Tele lens. Not probable, but possible.

    2. Crop. There’s no way that current cameras produce images as badly as this. Regardless of what lens was used, some cropping must have occured.

    3. “He shouldn’t have taken the picture at all”? The only reason I can think of is sentimentalism. You can’t blame people for not being sentimental..

  • Prabawa

    Sensationalism? Yes.
    “Promoting the behavior”? That makes just as much sense as stating that a headline about murder is promoting murder, and a headline about inflation is a suggestion to raise prices..

  • Steven Goetz

    I don’t think there is anything to sue for. Civilians aren’t lawfully required to help others out.

  • Neil Young

    I am a photographer. Not a freelance photographer, which yes, he was doing his job at this moment. Did he try to help? Who knows. What does bother me, is that from the photo you can see a TON of people on the platform. Why didn’t any of them help?? If the photographer did try to help like he said, but couldn’t pull him up, why didn’t anyone else help him??
    I think one of the main things that is being forgotten here, is the action against the alleged panhandler that pushed this gentleman onto the tracks. That’s manslaughter (I think…) 1 isn’t it??

  • Ted Nghiem

    According to the recent reports, he was about 100 ft away from mr. Han. And from that he most likely had a long telephoto attached. There was no way for him to get to Mr. Han. And then there are the other bystanders. Why is it that the photographer getting the hate?

  • Stuart Weber

    all these do gooders criticizing the photographer , typical I bet if they where there they too would not have helped. The photographer was there, they were not. Maybe the photographer wasn’t the only person there, besides the man pushed? What abt the other citizens why didn’t they help???

  • Ricky

    The NY POST is atrocious for publishing this. The photographer is scum for taking pictures when he could’ve been running faster to help save this man. Every single person on that side of the platform is a COWARD for not trying to help this man as well. Do I believe the photographer MAY not have been able to save him? Yes it’s very possible. He could’ve been on the opposite end of the platform and not really have known what was going on for a little bit. But that doesn’t mean you take pictures. And the excuse that you were using your flash to alert the driver is absolute crap. Anyone who has been at the front of a subway car and able to see through the door window can pretty much have a view of what the conductor can see, and at night they can see EVERYTHING. The subway car has HEADLIGHTS that are much brighter than a camera flash. It doesn’t mean the train can stop on a dime like a car from 40-0.

    The picture looks like there’s a train on the opposite side too. Seems like the victim froze, instead of trying to somehow squeeze himself to the other side. Either way, doesn’t look like anyone at that moment tried helping him. He didn’t look like a very heavy man…wouldn’t take much time at all for 1 or 2 people to grab his wrists and pull. The urban effect made each person there think “someone else is going to help him, so I don’t need to” instead of courageous people and leaders going “that man needs help, I’m going to help him”.

  • 9245

    But can you run faster than a train?, if not it’s a moot point. If you can not run to him, AND pull him out BEFORE the train gets there it doesn’t matter what you do. It takes only a couple of seconds to snap a series of pictures with a high speed camera, how long would it take to run down the platform, pull him out, AND get clear YOURSELF before the train gets there? , can you do all that in the same couple of seconds?

  • 9245

    But can you run faster than a train?, if not it’s a moot point. If you can not run to him, AND pull him out BEFORE the train gets there it doesn’t matter what you do. It takes only a couple of seconds to snap a series of pictures with a high speed camera, how long would it take to run down the platform, pull him out, AND get clear YOURSELF before the train gets there? , can you do all that in the same couple of seconds?

  • Bob

    I have not a clue if I could have run to the man and helped him in time before the train brought an untimely end to his days. I would even say it is safe that there is not a chance in hell I could have beat the train to him….

    One thing is certain though – I would have sure as hell tried my damn ass off to get to him and help. American mentally like yours is equally if not more disgusting than the Post putting this on the front page. “Huh – I can’t beat the train, I may as well get a few photo’s of the train smashing into his body so his family can remember his final moments”. Yeah – thanks douche bag, hopefully no one tries to get your family member out of harms way because it just seems way to impossible.

  • John

    What about all the people in the background? You should call them out for being cowards too? Whats next, are we going to start blaming CNN for the coverage of war and not helping people. If anything, the guy should have simply ducked under the platform.

  • Jeff

    Sad, sick, and disgusting cruel world. I hope the photographer has nightmares for the rest of his life over his ignorance.

  • Concerned

    did they arrest the Panhandler?

  • andrew

    he is lying. he could have made it. The photo of the guy on the ground and the photo of him trying to get out when the train is coming is in the same position. Unless he had time to zoom in and out (which he didn’t from what ive seen in his interview), he was nearly in the same position when the train was far and when it was close.

    hell i would have tried throwing my camera at the train if i was that guy. some people just are scum

  • chicken farmer

    he was so frantic he would have pulled you in with him.

  • YourNeighborhoodVJ

    I am not sadden by the photographer taking the picture, that is his job and above all his purpose is to tell a story. Its the story, which saddens me most, where are the rails on the platform to protect people from falling down to the tracks. Why was this man pushed in the first place, where is the man responsible for this despicable action and why is the public not torch burning and hunting him down. Shame on the community for not doing more to protect it’s citizens and I hope that you have caught or catch the vagrant soon. Maybe some actions will be taken because of the public’s reaction to this photo, I only hope that, that reaction is directed properly towards the people responsible and not towards the photographer who we should be grateful for bringing this problem to our attention. This poor situation would otherwise be a small blip in the news, and nothing would be done to prevent this in the future.

  • Jose V Ruiz

    Taking pictures is not as important as saving a human life. The photographer distracted the metro driver with his flash and he didn’t concentrate on the rails.
    Shame on the NY Post for publishing such disgusting image.

  • Ginahassim

    I never saw the pic until now. I didn’t wanna see it. I wanted to read if the post was being sued. They posted him dying on Facebook. I hate this whole thing. Instead of worrying about all this anti bullying and gay rights….look at how callous people are getting. This taking a million pics for the fun of it because it’s “cool” is beyond words. I want everybody on the platform on trial. Including the photographer

  • tatteredsoldier

    Not to justify, of course, any indifference for the victim of this tragic circumstance; but one good thing did come out of this – which is that we are all appalled by this photograph, and to read that others are equally appalled and asking very important questions from themselves – is comforting that in these comments American society has been provoked to put deed above thought. Even for instance the NYPD story of the good-policeman. This is the good, bad and ugly of life. But even in the bad & ugly, we still see that possibilities of good are there and here within us.

    Our condolences and sympathies for the victim’s family and friends. He has not died in vain. May peace and love remain.

  • Juan C. Ettedgui

    wasn’t the man pushed down the track by a “harasser”? how is the photographer guilty of the man’s death? where where the other people on the station? the authorities preventing a harasser pushing people in a metro station? those are the real ones to blame and to shame.

  • Bua

    Taking photos with flash would have taken the attention of the train driver away from the victim. Also agree with Samcornwell about speed with which one could move and availability of hands (assuming this photographer is human and has two hands) for helping a poor soul in need. Doing your job is one thing. But not caring about the person about to die; that is really taking it to another level of inhumanness. Hopefully you also win the Pultzer prize my fellow human.

  • Henning Kristjansson Nilsen

    Ehh… I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on US law, but I’m pretty sure you are.

  • yrs

    Ok, i am a photographer, seeing this photo, he probably had some wide-mid range lens on to get this type of image, he probably wasn’t as far away either, definitely less than 100m away. 22 second till the actual impact, perfectly fine man sitting with his legs crossed in the fame news interview, he could’ve ran and pulled the guy out well in time !! Firing flash nearly 50 times? lol your just one of the doomed crowed! THIS Photographer is NOT TO be blamed for Han’s death, BUT this photo can’t be acted as a hero or even a story teller. I would love to pull that RAW file out and see what he was shooting on!

  • WhatAboutTheOthers

    I do not see the point of bashing one man for not attempting to save the other. By accounts there were upwards of 50 people at the station, many of whom were far closer than Mr. Abbasi. Why is no one giving those 50 people a hard time? General psychology dictates that most people will run away from a physical conflict than get involved. In fact, I can tell you now that in such an event 2/3rds of you will NOT get involved. This man deserves to be verbally assaulted for not assisting, however, by that logic the majority of the people on that platform should be as well. Those who were there will probably feel just as ashamed, helpless and hopeless as Mr. Abbasi does, most of them so ashamed they will not dare recount the story. If Mr. Abbasi is to be persecuted for his lack of action, so should the rest of those involved.

  • WhatAboutTheOthers

    Abbasi was not the only one to leave these people to die. It was the 50 others, most of whom were far closer to the victim than Mr. Abbasi himself. Yes, his photo in the times is inexcusable. Yes, he should have tried to physically save him. In the end the blame should fall a. on the man who pushed him, and b. on all those other bystanders who didn’t even bother to lend a hand.

  • ——-

    This is SAD !!!!

    Human is Worth Less than Photo ………………………..