Photographer R. Umar Abbasi has received a lot of attention—most of it negative—since his photo of a Queens father about to be struck by a subway car was put on the front page of the NY Post yesterday. Abbasi has come swinging in defending himself, both by writing an editorial for the Post blasting "armchair critics," and by going on the Today Show this morning. "The victim was so far away from me, I was already too far away to reach him when I started running," Abbasi said in his first-person Post piece. "The train hit the man before I could get to him, and nobody closer tried to pull him out."
Abbasi said he was on assignment when he saw 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han had been allegedly pushed onto the tracks by "homeless drifter" Naeem Davis just after noon on Monday at the 49th Street N/R/Q station in Manhattan. "I had no idea what I was shooting. I’m not even sure it was registering with me what was happening. I was just looking at that train coming," he wrote. "It all went so quickly; from the time I heard the shouting until the time the train hit the man was about 22 seconds." However a police source told DNAInfo that "More than a minute — and possibly as long as 90 seconds — elapsed before the train slammed into him."
Abbasi claims he was only flashing his camera to get the conductors attention, and didn't even realize what he had shot until much later that day: "When it was over, I didn’t look at the pictures," he wrote. "I didn’t even know at all that I had even captured the images in such detail. I didn’t look at them. I didn’t want to." Nevertheless, he allowed the Post to use his photo, telling the Today Show how they approached him to use it: "I would call it licensing to use it," he told Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie. "Selling a photograph of this nature sounds morbid. I licensed these photographs. [How the image was used] is not my decision. I was on assignment. I don't control what image is used and how it used and how it is presented."
Most of all, Abbasi reiterated several times that not only was there nothing he could do, that he was too far away. Further he reiterated there were people closer than him who froze up: "People think I had time to set the camera and take photos, and that isn’t the case. I just ran toward that train," he wrote. "The sad part is, there were people who were close to the victim, who watched and didn’t do anything. You can see it in the pictures."
Despite that, Abbasi and the Post have been highly criticized for the photo and cover, a fact the Post has not directly commented on, even though they have collected many of those complaints in a post. IMediaEthics is also highly skeptical of Abbasi: "note that for a guy frantically flashing his camera just "trying to save a life," Abbasi manages to get pretty consistent shots, almost as if he was looking through the viewfinder."
One thing is for certain: the victim's family is very upset by the photos. “They are shocked. They are upset by it,” Charen Kim, a lawyer representing victim Ki-Suk Han’s grieving wife, Serim, told the Daily News. “They can’t believe that their father’s picture is out there, about to get hit by a train. The widow is very upset.”