R. Umar Abbasi, the freelance photographer who took the stunning and horrific photo of Ki-Suck Han moments before he was struck and killed by a subway car, spent much of yesterday and this morning defending himself from the criticism and anger directed his way over the picture.*
In a first-person account in the New York Post, the paper that published the haunting image on its cover with an all-caps “DOOMED” headline, in an interview with the New York Times, and during an appearance on NBC’s Today show the photojournalist told largely the same story. The accident happened too fast. He was too far away to help. He snapped the photos out of some combination of instinct and effort to get the train driver’s attention. No one else helped either. It wasn’t his call to run the photo.
Based on his public comments, Abbasi sounds very much like a man who is still trying to make peace with both what he saw and how he responded, and how the world has reacted to his minor role in the tragedy. “I can’t let the armchair critics bother me,” he writes in the Post. “They were not there. They have no idea how quickly it happened.” More from his first-person account:
What keeps playing over in my mind, what haunts me when I think back on it, is that the man did not scream at all. I didn’t hear the man cry for help. And then I was standing there, with this poor man, twisted like a rag doll, and it was so painfully hopeless. …
When I finally looked at them late that night, my heart started racing. It was terrible, seeing it happen all over again. I didn’t sleep at all. All I can hear is that man’s head against that train: Boom! Boom! Boom!
Abbasi told a similar story to the Times:
Mr. Abbasi said he brought police officers to The Post’s offices, where they examined the pictures for any images of the perpetrator, and he left the camera’s memory card with editors at The Post. He was not part of the decision to publish the pictures, he said. “Every time I close my eyes, I see the image of death,” he said. “I don’t care about a photograph.”
And here he is on NBC this morning:
Elsewhere in Slate, J. Bryan Lowder explains what disturbs us most about the cover shot.
*Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Ki-Suck Han’s name.