Photographer Behind Infamous Subway Photo Gives Interview on Today Show

The New York Post got the whole world talking about it yesterday after publishing a morbid front page photo showing a man about to be struck by a subway train. The photographer behind the image, freelance photojournalist R. Umar Abbasi, has received criticism from people who believe he should have done more to help the victim, or, at the very least, do anything but snap photographs of what was about to happen.

Abbasi appeared on the Today Show this morning to give an exclusive nationally-broadcast interview to explain his actions and to tell the story of what happened from his perspective.

Here’s the 10-minute-long interview:

After the story broke yesterday, the Today Show ran a poll on its website, asking its readers whether Abbasi should have set his camera aside to try and help. Here’s the result of that poll:

Abbasi says that he would have helped the man if he could have, but there simply wasn’t anything he could have done.

My condolences to the family, and if I could have, I would have pulled Mr. Han out. I didn’t care about the photographs. If you were to see the raw photographs, you would say, I cannot see anything in them.

He also talked briefly about being paid for the photo:

I was approached that there would be interest. I would call it licensing to use it. Selling a photograph of this nature sounds morbid. I licensed these photographs. [How the image was used] is not my decision. I don’t control what image is used and how it is used and how it is presented. That was on assignment. It’s not that I ran to The Post and said, ‘Hey guys I have a photograph you might be interested in.’

After the general public began criticizing Abbasi, the New York Post published a piece by Abbasi with the title, “Anguished fotog: Critics are unfair to condemn me“:

I have to say I was surprised at the anger over the pictures, of the people who are saying: Why didn’t he put the camera down and pull him out?

But I can’t let the armchair critics bother me. They were not there. They have no idea how very quickly it happened.

They do not know what they would have done.

A number of Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalists have also weighed in with their own thoughts on the matter.

Earlier today, it was announced that the suspected murderer had been taken into custody. You can follow the ongoing worldwide coverage of this story here.

(via Today via PopPhoto)

  • Matt

    It bothers me that he “doesn’t know” if he zoomed in to take the photo. I would love to see the exif data of the picture.

  • brian

    if he was telling the truth then he quite probably didn’t know his camera’s settings, and it probably wasn’t optimally set for the conditions in that terminal. i’d be more interested to know if he held the camera up to his face. if so then it means that he was trying to catch an image otherwise you can flash the camera as he said, as a warning, from any position.

  • fuzzywuzzy

    NBC fails at math: apparently 101% percent of those polled responded.

  • Samcornwell

    Seriously, who rings a poll line, just to say “erm, hello, just wanted to let you know that I’m not really sure”?

  • This is stupid

    why is he not arrested?!

  • david davidson

    Wonder where the criticism is for the other by standers who did nothing to help?

  • Zach

    Recently, I was in Chicago and was a witness to a subway incident. I was on the train while it was coming into the platform and as soon as the doors open, all the people on the platform were yelling that a guy got hit by the train. Everyone had their phones out to take photos and videos. I talked with some of the people on the platform that saw it happen and they said their was no way to get to the guy in time. I tell this story because it’s hard to realize that things aren’t always how they happen in the movies, where the hero comes in at the last minute and saves the guy from the speeding train. The photographer has become an easy target because we always are looking for people to blame. No matter what the photographer says about his account of the situation, it will never be good enough.

  • matt jones

    this is what we have devolved to, hands off, I’m not getting involved, I’ll make money from this (sorry license this). Short of throwing him to the lions and photographing it what else can we do, it’s the society we have created.

  • Scott

    If you weren’t there, you just can’t know for sure what you would have done. My instinct would not have been to take photos, that’s disgusting. If you reached to help him and weren’t able to pull him up, I doubt he would have let go of you and you probably would have died with him.

  • Nathan Blaney

    Um… because he didn’t commit a crime, perhaps? Not being a hero isn’t a crime. However, the person who killed the victim was arrested and that’s the important thing.

  • eraserhead12

    I really don’t buy the “I was just using flash to warn the driver”–if that were the case, he wouldn’t have taken the time to zoom in/out, stick his eye through the viewfinder, etc–he would have just fired blind.

    I don’t think he’s a villain, and considering his age idk if he could have helped, but regardless he shouldn’t have sold the images and get pissed at the world for pointing it out.

  • eraserhead12

    it was probably like, 16.5% + 3.5% rounded up

  • Duke Shin

    Nobody bashed the guy who photographed the Hindenburg disaster. He was ‘only’ a few hundred feet away.

  • szfofa

    He did a poor job of defending himself. Isnt there a small space between trains where one can stand straight up and avoid being struck? Like where the support columns are?

  • steve

    I was on a train to NYC when it struck a car.
    No idea how a car got on the track for NJ transit, but it hit the train.
    Everyone grabbed their phones or cameras to take photos.

  • Burnin Biomass

    I don’t believe this guy at all. Yesterday, Han was too heavy to help, now he wasn’t near him.
    Licensing the image sounds less morbid then selling them? STFU.

  • Burnin Biomass

    They are a**holes too. They didn’t run to the Post to “license” their images, so they are not as known.

  • Albi Kl

    It is not a new phenomena for bystanders to choose to remain spectators in interest of self preservation. This also extends to the animal kingdom. Further it has always been the nature of those who were not present to pass judgement and vilify those that were, despite having no direct knowledge of the events that passed and worse, who would have most certainly have reacted in the same way as those they seek to disparage.

  • Albi Kl

    Nothing new here. A tragedy has occurred and people need a scapegoat to make them feel better about themselves.

  • some dude in the park

    Obviously, none of us commenting about it were there and don’t know the real facts about the scenario.
    There are any number of things that could have happened that we’ll never really know the answer to.
    How many people have “witnessed” an accident? Of all the witnesses, how many different versions of the accounts and whereabouts are there when they are asked. 10 people can stand and witness 1 event and you’ll have 11 different versions of what happened.

    I am not going to bash this guy for taking the photo, when he may have not even known what was unfolding in front of him until it had already happened. He may have bee trying to be artistic and tried to capture the trains as it was approaching the platform. I’m not sure, so I am not going to judge.
    I was taking some photos, just some randoms in a park, when a lady fell down a 60 slope injuring herself. I didn’t realize it until afterwards when I got home to download the photos, that I had inadvertently captured her up to just before she fell down the hill. It wasn’t clear as she was off in the distance and my f stop was low. Luckily, she was fine, minor injuries, not like this situation.

  • CX717

    I don’t believe he was the only human being standing on the platform.
    Why blame him?Because he took a picture and sold it?
    Don’t be a hypocrite..

  • Amon

    But you can easily tell if an image is zoomed or not from the exif data so him not knowing sounds fishy.

  • Gordon Ling

    and no one blames the guy who pushed the man down

  • Dénis Wettmann

    That is a comparison that is out of context. He could have potentially helped the guy of the subway tracks where helping the people on the Hindenburg was a rather impossible thing to do.

  • Dénis Wettmann

    Fact is he choose taking a photo over trying to help. Even if he would have failed he could have tried. But choosing to take a photo instead is just a sign of poor character. Irrelevant is that other people weren’t helping either, because he made photos and sold it to the newspapers, not the other bystanders.

  • Chris Russell

    Very well composed image, if he was panicking and trying use his flash as a flare or some type of warning signal, the composition would not have have been so good. He also contradicts his story in regards to his awareness of his view of the victim being pushed. He clearly could have aided the victim more than what he had done.

  • Rodrigo Blanco-Schmidt

    Easy to blame the photographer… who didn’t push the victim and was further away…

  • Andres Trujillo

    How do you know he was in a position to help? if he was (let’s guess) 10 feet away, and the subway is approaching the station at 33mph (being generous on my numbers today), there was nothing he could do.

    He is however a freelance photographer, and he was in a position to take a picture, in his place, I would like to think I wouldn’t take a picture, but I won’t be a critic of somebody doing his job

  • Nate Parker

    I think Michael pointed out yesterday that Abbasi is a journalistic photographer that was doing his job. I thought about this a lot yesterday and talked to some people about it and this is what I think: if all journalistic reporters suddenly become afraid to report on tragedies out of fear of “not helping” they will in the end just run away from the news ultimately instead of helping or reporting! Plenty of other people were on that platform that weren’t blamed for not helping. The Post’s cover was in the end the most tasteless aspect of this whole thing. Yup.

  • Andres Trujillo

    To be fair, I have a bigger issue with The Post running the caption they used

  • 9inchnail

    The image is propably cropped and composed that way. So we don’t know if he actually took the time to take a good shot. But I agree that he could have done more to help. The flash might have even distracted the conductor. If someone flashes in your phase, you look at him not at what’s in front of you on the tracks. He should have waved his arms and pointed at Han or something. Instead he decided to cash in and made the situation even worse. If there was any chance to stop the train in time, he might have sabotaged it.

  • Ted Nghiem

    Also, he probably took multiple exposures while running. He said he flashed multiple flashes. Literally running and gunning.

  • Zigmars Zilgalvis

    well, men crave blood. take a look at any historical period. guy who took the picture is the worst, life will eventually set him strait.

  • Zigmars Zilgalvis

    Other by standers are not in the spotlight so that argument fails.

  • Zigmars Zilgalvis

    are you 12?

  • Zigmars Zilgalvis

    no need for that, he is going on electric chair.

  • Zigmars Zilgalvis

    Yes, because he sold the photo. That is the subject of discussion.

  • Jeremy Madore

    The ones who do it online, since that was the only way it was ran…

  • Ted Nghiem

    If he was running and gunning and then handing off the CF card to the post, he obviously wouldn’t know the exif data. or where he was zoomed in to.

  • ddoran

    he says he has no control over how photo is used. heres a question, doesn’t your camera have a delete button? idiot. vulture.

  • Matt

    That is kind of the point. They should be. This guy is in the spotlight because of the accusations, he is not being harassed because he is in the spotlight.

  • Matt

    Ya, but they can’t really do anything. At least some people can feel better. I don’t like it, but should millions of people be without a way to release their frustration at a tragedy? I think it is easy to blame these people, but lately I’ve been realizing that without a different way for people to cope we don’t have a lot of choices.

  • Matt

    No, that is not the subject of the discussion. It is if he should be condemed because he took the photo, rather than helping the victim.

  • Matt

    I have to agree. If I were on the platform I would most likely not have realized what was happening until it was over. The seconds can seem like forever, but in reality they are seconds and it takes seconds to just get moving let alone become aware of a surprise situation.

  • Matt

    I don’t agree 100%, sure there are a lot of people (more than I would like) in the world that are self-centered sociopaths. But, in general it is just easy to label people this way rather than understand the cold hard facts of a tragedy. We want to think that there could have been something done, when a lot of times there is just no physical way for people to help in time. I think that is actually a good indicator that a lot of people care.
    Of course there are times when people could have helped and did not. I’m not sure this is one of those times though. Accidents happen quickly, if they were slow we would be able to avoid them…

  • 3ric15

    Why is everyone blaming the photographer?! BLAME THE GUY WHO PUSHED HAN IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!

  • nate parker

    ? No. No there isn’t!

  • David Eslick

    @Matt, I agree, that would certainly answer a lot of questions. I don’t see that happening, so let’s take what we learned from the ‘Photos of the Year’ article. For whatever it’s worth, he was most likely shooting a full-frame Canon with either a wide or normal prime or a 16-35 zoom lens. Based on IQ, the photo appears to be cropped and the flash (probably on-camera, since Canon’s FF bodies don’t have one built-in) is barely hitting the victim, which also puts him pretty far off.

    All that said, I was sad to read of this man’s senseless killing…what a horrible way to leave this earth. I don’t feel the photographer deserves the attention he’s received, though I suppose he’s an easy target (just one of the potential drawbacks to photojournalism). The Post’s use of his photo was absolutely tasteless and deserves far more scrutiny than the photog.

  • Dénis Wettmann

    Potentially, was the cue word!

  • photojournalist student

    Sadly we are not superhero’s. We can not fly, run at super hero speed or lift thousands of pounds. This man is a photojournalist, he was only doing his job. Photojournalists are supposed to stand back, let things happen. Not be the superhero, because lets be honest, if you were in that situation, would you run up to the man and try to help him? Think about it. Many would just crawl back, waiting for some superhero to save him.

    Maybe this photo just shows how we as a society are waiting, for a superhero to arrive. When in reality we should be the ones to run up and save him.

    Did it ever occur to you that maybe in a state of shock this man took a picture? He wasn’t close enough to go and save the guy. So why bash the photographer?

    I don’t hear any of you bashing the guy that pushed the poor man? No. We need someone innocent to blame or it wouldn’t be a worth while story to you guys.

    And C’MON PEOPLE, give this guy some credit. If you saw a man in that position, you would freeze up, yell, scream or anything but save him. This man actually tried to help this man with a flash, even if it’s stupid, it was better than what everybody else was doing.