New York Post Runs Pic of Man About to be Hit by Subway Train, Sparks Photojournalism Ethics Debate

December 5, 2012 /Photography News/ The New York Post received harsh criticism after running a front-page photo of a man trying to scramble to safety seconds before he was killed by a subway train. But this picture's existence started another conversation, summarized on NBC’s Today Show:  "Somebody’s taking that picture. Why aren’t they helping this guy up?"

R. Umar Abbasi, the freelance photographer who took the picture of the man who'd been pushed into the path of the subway train says he was too far down the platform to have saved him.

"It took me a second to figure out what is happening," he said. He saw Ki Suk Han (58) -the man pushed into the train's path- trying to get back on the platform, and then "the lights in the distance of the approaching train. The only thing I could think of was to alert the driver with my flash," Abassi said. 

The photographer did not put down his camera and attempt to intervene, but --according to him-- no one else on that platform set aside their fears and chose to act either.

Ki Suk Han tried to climb a few feet to safety but got trapped between the train and the platform's edge and died shortly after being struck.

Abbasi's photographs were hotly debated by media, with some saying he had a duty to help, and others defending his actions. The front page picture suggests that Abbasi would not have had long to help Han. But The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart says that earlier photographs taken by Abbasi suggest he had ample opportunity to pull Han onto the platform.

Never mind what the photographer did. What would YOU do if you were standing beside someone who was pushed to the tracks? 


  1. Anonymous says

    Photographers are documentarians not rescuers. I wonder if the photo would be so controversial if the indecent took place outside of the US. Just off of the top of my head I can think of Eddie Adams-'Execution of a Vietcong prisoner', and more recently Siphiwe Sibeko-'Media swarm around an injured man'.

    Anonymous says

    This actually takes no thought what so ever....I of course would do all I could do to help out the person in trouble. Last time I checked I am still human and with that comes humanity. This was an unnecessary accident which could have been prevented and leaves me angered as well as very sad!

    Anonymous says

    Photographers are documentarians not rescuers, what an utter bullshit statement. That photo is not going to stop a war, end global warming or feed starving americans. I'm not saying in the same situation I would't have taken the photo but I also don't think the newspaper needed to publish it. Wonder how many extra copies they sold that day !!

    Eli Vega says

    I am a professional photographer too, but that does not give me an exemption from humanity. I like to think that if I had been there, I would have tried to save that man, without endangering my own life. We as photographers need to realize that the world does not revolve around us. Sure, most of us look for that opportunity to get that "special" shot that becomes unique to us, but not at the price of someone's life. This reminds me of the time I was at a privately-owned American Indian site in Arkansas. I was with a Native American friend. I took several really cool photos of American Indian artifacts and such. But, when it came to seeing the remains of an American Indian in an exposed grave, I told my Native American friend, "George, somehow I am receiving a spiritual feeling that this is not something I should photograph." Would that have been a really unique photo? Might someone have paid money for it? Might it have gained a lot of attention hanging in a gallery? Probably so. But, I believe we need to draw the line between commercialism and respect for humanity.

    Just my thoughts.

    Eli Vega, Colorado/USA

    Unknown says

    We as photographers need to realize that the world does not revolve around us. AMEN - BROVO

    Anonymous says

    Photographers are citizens as everyone too. At some countries the witnesses, who refuses to provide possible help to someone in embarassment, are punishable just for that.

    Would be interesting to read about the legal situation at the States.

    Anonymous says

    I know my camera well enough to be able to frame a shot and shoot without even looking through the viewfinder and sometimes while walking. I'd probably consider trying to save him if I could make it there in time, but if not, I'd probably take the picture. Whether I'd try to sell it is a totally different story. If anything, I'd contact the police and see if they needed it for evidence purposes.

    Keep in mind that those trains move FAST if they're not coming to a stop at that station. He may have only had 5 seconds or so and if the train hit when he was helping the man up, he could have easily been dragged with and killed.

    Anonymous says

    the so called photographer who watched this happen beleive it or not wanted to see the man die, how many chances in a lifetime do you get to see this happen, I would bet everything on it, but he's not gonna own up to
    warning the driver with his flash what a load of horse shit, what goes around comes around , he will get his some day

    Deborah Flowers says

    I completely agree w/Eli Vega. Those are pretty great thoughts. It's true, that far too many people, not just photographers think the world does revolve around them. it's our selfish me me me attitude. I to am a photographer and I would not have been thinking of making a photo of someone fighting for their life in such a way. Even if I was unable to help him, I certainly wouldn't want to exploit him either. Warning the driver of the train with his little pop up flash??? Are you kidding me???
    I take that comment as mocking the sensibilities of people with a soul.
    And he was NOT a journalist under any type of ethical code, or whatever BS they call that.
    When someone is in eminent danger do not exploit their situation. Even if there is nothing you can do to save him. I don't care who you are.

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