In January 2009 when Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger splash landed a plane in the Hudson, the first picture to emerge was placed on Twitter. The photo was shot by Janis Krums, who was on a ferry that was first to reach the downed plane. At the time it was taken, neither he, nor anyone else, knew what kind of tragedy might await the passengers. Passengers stood on the wing with the icy waters beneath them.
Krums tweeted at the time:
“There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy.”
Fast forward to this past week and another photo taken amidst a potential tragedy. Ki Suk Han was pushed onto the subway tracks as a train approached. R. Umar Abbasi snapped a picture of Han before he was hit by the train and killed, which the NY Post put on the front page. Because that is what the Post does.
In contrast to the Twittering Krums, Abbasi said that that he ran as fast as he could toward him, snapping photos with his arm extended, partly to signal with his flash to the driver and partly because he thought whatever photos he could manage might help police later on. He didn’t bother with the viewfinder.
Two pictures taken at two different events that could have turned tragic at the time the photo was taken. You would think that the photographers would be treated the same, right?
Actually, no, they shouldn’t be treated the same. Krums not only took the picture, but then went to Twitter and knocked out a tweet while a tragedy was potentially unfolding in front of him. At the time, I wrote:
Why, on godsgreenearth anyone would think this is a “well-deserved” “win” of any kind and relevant to any serious issue of news reporting is beyond me. Why would it matter that someone twittered about a loaded airplane going down in full view of thousands of people on the edge of the biggest city in the country — other than to the guy who took the picture and spent his time twittering it to friends? Did Twittering save lives? Of course not. Rescue was already in progress.
While Krums was being lauded as a celebrity, I wanted to know why the hell he was spending time on his iPhone instead of asking the crew what he could do to help, getting life vests ready to toss overboard, looking for survivors in the frigid waters, and looking around to see where, if at all, there might be lifeboats that he might need to assist with. Obsessiveness to technology can also mean the difference between life and death.
But it was Abbasi, not Krums, who was vilified.
“I’m sorry, somebody’s on the tracks, that’s not going to help,” he said during the segment. “Try to get them off the tracks,” he added, a hint of disgust in his voice.
The Post just happened to have a photographer at the same subway stop at the exact moment when the man — identified as 58-year-old Ki Suk Han, a Queens father and husband — was pushed to his death.
The photog, Umar Abbasi, opted to help Suk Han escape a certain death in a rather unconventional way: by snapping photos as the train was barreling down on him.
And John Cook From Gawker (re-pub in Slate)
“amazing Post photog R Umar Abbasi took a focused composed pic of man abt to die on subway even tho he says he was just using flash to warn.”
Those are a few I found in 10 minutes of looking; there are more.
But the question that the media, and media critics, need to ask is this: Why are these two photographers treated differently in the public eye? Why was Krums given a free pass when so many jumped to conclusions about Abbati?
There is something very wrong with this picture.