Victim's family 'couldn't sleep' after seeing 'traumatic' NY Post subway photo

New York Times | Reuters | Technosociology | Time

The family of Ki-Suck Han, the man immortalized in a front-page New York Post photo of his impending death on a subway track, spoke publicly on Wednesday about the impact of the image.

The New York Times reports:

"After they saw this photo, they couldn’t sleep," the Rev. Won Tae Cho said of Mr. Han's wife and daughter during a news conference at Faith Presbyterian Church in Maspeth, Queens, on Wednesday afternoon as both women sat nearby. “They stayed at my home. It is difficult to see them. It was traumatic."

Jack Shafer's column today delves into why this image, of a man about to die, is actually more psychologically rattling than more-common news photos of, say, dead bodies in a war zone.

The subway photo doesn’t document human destruction, it documents the anticipation of destruction, and that rattles a separate part [of] our psyche. ... When such moments as the Ki-Suck Han moment are photographed in the real world and published in a prominent place like the cover of the New York Post, the first instruction our instincts give us is that his impending death could have been ours.

Technology-focused sociologist Zeynep Tufekci writes that she has "long advocated for publishing graphic photos" to, for example, display the reality of war or to motivate the public to helpful action after a disaster. But the subway photo was outside those bounds.

To be clear, the photo has news value. There certainly are reasons to publish it, if for no other reason to create the discussion it did on the role and obligations of bystanders in cases of dangers to others in such moments.

But, overall, the publishing of that photo and the manner it was handled is wrong on multiple accounts. ...

In sum: if the event is one-off and rare in nature, if the subject of the photo is not representative of an ongoing tragedy with many other victims, and if there is a split-second decision in which taking of the photo and trying to save the victim clash, that does not qualify as a graphic photo whose taking, purchasing and publication serves public interest and consequently what New York Post has done is crass and indefensible—and also indefensibly insensitive to the victim’s family.

Finally, Time critic James Poniewozik notes what the subway incident says about our changing society -- "We have become Homo Documentis, man the recorder."

As responders tried to revive the man. Abbasi told the Post, "a crowd came over with camera phones and they were pushing and shoving, trying to look at the man and taking videos." ...

Intellectually and morally I know that democratizing the ability to make media is for the better. If we are not all journalists now, we are at least all, potentially, recorders, and generally that’s a very good, empowering thing. Generally.

... But you would not want to live in a society entirely made up of people thus detached. In some moments, as on that subway platform, it would be good to know that some of us are not cameramen, not documentarians, not observers, but simply people.

Han's daughter, quoted by the Times at the Wednesday press conference, expressed a similar idea: "The thought of someone helping him up in a matter of seconds would have been great. But what’s done is done."

Earlier: Would you snap a picture or pull the man to safety? | Abbasi: "Every time I close my eyes, I see the image of death."

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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