This is not the first time for disturbing photos on newspaper front pages

I’m not bothered by the photo by freelance photographer R. Umar Abbasi of a man about to die in a New York subway. Abbasi is being criticized for being everything from a Godless man who enjoyed the opportunity to make money off his photos of the death to a coward for not having made an attempt to save the doomed man.

He doesn’t deserve such criticism by readers. Only his peers can participate in the discussion about shooting first or helping first.

Take the case of  photographers Horst Faas and Michel Laurent in Bangladesh.Horst Faas, Michel Laurent Bangladesh Pulitzer photo

Their photos of the brutal execution of men suspected of being spies earned them similar condemnation as they took a shared Pulitzer Prize for the shocking series of violent photos.

Faas said he and Laurent left as they killing continued fearing they were the reason it was such a public display of civil justice. They later returned to see it had not ended with more men involved on both sides.

Visit the Newseum to hear Faas discuss photographing such difficult events.

It is never easy. I’ve watched people die. Shot over the casket at the funerals of children who died at the hands of a murderer. Stood on a piece of plywood at a plane crash that was used to cover the collection of body parts. Sneaked through woods to shoot a deadly crime scene.  Wished I had a more clear view of the body for a better photo.

At the same time, I have edited photos when I knew some of the selections would never make the wire because of  sexual, violent or grisly content.

I have a very large collection of photos saved from my days as a wire service photographer. The folders are labeled “Sex, Violence, and Stupidity.”

Eddie Adams was haunted by the impact of his Saigon execution photo as was the shooter and this nation.

Criticism of what’s uncomfortable will always exist. The need to ignore the discomfort and tell the story will always exist.

Without it, we are less human.

Editors Note: I’m adding a link to the story about the impact of AP photographer Julie Jacobson’s dramatic and frightening photo of an American soldier dying in battle in Afghanistan.

1 Comment

  1. This is a pretty ludicrous comparison; R. Umar Abbasi had the opportunity to save a life but chose not to in order to make a buck on the gruesome pictures but the photogs of the brutal execution were powerless to do anything but document the massacre. How can you possibly compare the two incidents man??!! It should also be obvious to any amateur photog that his story of blindly taking pictures in order to alert the conductor with the flash holds absolutely no water at all based on the composition, framing, focus, etc… Also any high-school level analysis (eg. would show that based on the visual clues in his photographs he was the only one close to the vicitm, he started shooting pictures when the train was nowhere in sight and had plenty of time to put down his camera and help save a life. It’s one thing to be in a tragedy beyond your control and take pictures to document it and quite another to be in a tragedy that you are able to prevent but choose not to in order to cash in on their deaths. Less than human indeed!


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