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The Falling Man Part 3

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ERIC FISCHL DID NOT GO AWAY. Neither did he turn away or avert his eyes. A year before September 11, he had taken photographs of a model tumbling around on the floor of a studio. He had thought of using the photographs as the basis of a sculpture. Now, though, he had lost a friend who had been trapped on the 106th floor of the North Tower. Now, as he worked on his sculpture, he sought to express the extremity of his feelings by making a monument to what he calls the "extremity of choice" faced by the people who jumped.
He worked nine months on the larger-than-life bronze he called Tumbling Woman, and as he transformed a woman tumbling on the floor into a woman tumbling through eternity, he succeeded in transfiguring the very local horror of the jumpers into something universal—in redeeming an image many regarded as irredeemable. Indeed, Tumbling Woman was perhaps the redemptive image of 9/11—and yet it was not merely resisted; it was rejected. The day after Tumbling Woman was exhibited in New York's Rockefeller Center, Andrea Peyser of the New York Post denounced it in a column titled "Shameful Art Attack," in which she argued that Fischl had no right to ambush grieving New Yorkers with the very distillation of their own sadness . . . in which she essentially argued the right to look away. Because it was based on a model rolling on the floor, the statue was treated as an evocation of impact—as a portrayal of literal, rather than figurative, violence.

"I was trying to say something about the way we all feel," Fischl says, "but people thought I was trying to say something about the way they feel—that I was trying to take away something only they possessed. They thought that I was trying to say something about the people they lost. 'That image is not my father. You don't even know my father. How dare you try telling me how I feel about my father?' " Fischl wound up apologizing—"I was ashamed to have added to anybody's pain"—but it didn't matter.
Jerry Speyer, a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art who runs Rockefeller Center, ended the exhibition of Tumbling Woman after a week. "I pleaded with him not to do it," Fischl says. "I thought that if we could wait it out, other voices would pipe up and carry the day. He said, 'You don't understand. I'm getting bomb threats.' I said, 'People who just lost loved ones to terrorism are not going to bomb somebody.' He said, 'I can't take that chance.' "
PHOTOGRAPHS LIE. Even great photographs. Especially great photographs. The Falling Man in Richard Drew's picture fell in the manner suggested by the photograph for only a fraction of a second, and then kept falling. The photograph functioned as a study of doomed verticality, a fantasia of straight lines, with a human being slivered at the center, like a spike. In truth, however, the Falling Man fell with neither the precision of an arrow nor the grace of an Olympic diver. He fell like everyone else, like all the other jumpers—trying to hold on to the life he was leaving, which is to say that he fell desperately, inelegantly. In Drew's famous photograph, his humanity is in accord with the lines of the buildings. In the rest of the sequence—the eleven outtakes—his humanity stands apart. He is not augmented by aesthetics; he is merely human, and his humanity, startled and in some cases horizontal, obliterates everything else in the frame.
In the complete sequence of photographs, truth is subordinate to the facts that emerge slowly, pitilessly, frame by frame. In the sequence, the Falling Man shows his face to the camera in the two frames before the published one, and after that there is an unveiling, nearly an unpeeling, as the force generated by the fall rips the white jacket off his back. The facts that emerge from the entire sequence suggest that the Toronto reporter, Peter Cheney, got some things right in his effort to solve the mystery presented by Drew's published photo. The Falling Man has a dark cast to his skin and wears a goatee.
He is probably a food-service worker. He seems lanky, with the length and narrowness of his face—like that of a medieval Christ—possibly accentuated by the push of the wind and the pull of gravity. But seventy-nine people died on the morning of September 11 after going to work at Windows on the World. Another twenty-one died while in the employ of Forte Food, a catering service that fed the traders at Cantor Fitzgerald. Many of the dead were Latino, or light-skinned black men, or Indian, or Arab. Many had dark hair cut short.
Many had mustaches and goatees. Indeed, to anyone trying to figure out the identity of the Falling Man, the few salient characteristics that can be discerned in the original series of photographs raise as many possibilities as they exclude. There is, however, one fact that is decisive. Whoever the Falling Man may be, he was wearing a bright-orange shirt under his white top. It is the one inarguable fact that the brute force of the fall reveals. No one can know if the tunic or shirt, open at the back, is being pulled away from him, or if the fall is simply tearing the white fabric to pieces. But anyone can see he is wearing an orange shirt. If they saw these pictures, members of his family would be able to see that he is wearing an orange shirt. They might even be able to remember if he owned an orange shirt, if he was the kind of guy who would own an orange shirt, if he wore an orange shirt to work that morning. Surely they would; surely someone would remember what he was wearing when he went to work on the last morning of his life. . . .
But now the Falling Man is falling through more than the blank blue sky. He is falling through the vast spaces of memory and picking up speed.

NEIL LEVIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, had breakfast at Windows on the World, on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower, on the morning of September 11. He never came home. His wife, Christy Ferer, won't talk about any of the particulars of his death. She works for New York mayor Mike Bloomberg as the liaison between the mayor's office and the 9/11 families and has poured the energy aroused by her grief into her work, which, before the first anniversary of the attack, called for her to visit television executives and ask them not to use the most disturbing footage—including the footage of the jumpers—in their memorial broadcasts. She is a close friend of Eric Fischl's, as was her husband, so when the artist asked, she agreed to take a look at Tumbling Woman. It, in her words, "hit me in the gut," but she felt that Fischl had the right to create and exhibit it. Now she's come to the conclusion that the controversy may have been largely a matter of timing. Maybe it was just too soon to show something like that. After all, not long before her husband died, she traveled with him to Auschwitz, where piles of confiscated eyeglasses and extracted tooth fillings are on exhibit. "They can show that now," she says. "But that was a long time ago. They couldn't show things like that then. . . ."