Visual art is often subject to matters of taste, hence the ongoing debate over the proper way to address the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in photography and art. Much of the concern is over images of people falling to their deaths from the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Do such images qualify as valid historical documentation, or do they cross the line into cheap voyeurism? Do they help in honoring the victims, or do they desensitize us to their pain?
One image has attracted particular attention: "The Falling Man," a photograph taken by Richard Drew of The Associated Press. In the photo, a man appears to be falling in a straight line alongside the trade center's north tower (other photos reveal that he was tumbling through the air). The man has been unofficially identified as an employee of the Windows on the World restaurant on the tower's top floors. Novelist Don DeLillo took inspiration from the photograph for his 2007 book "Falling Man."
Two notable works of art inspired by the attacks on the World Trade Center were created by the same artist: Art Spiegelman, who is best known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel "Maus." With his wife, Francoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker, Spiegelman created the striking cover art for the magazine's Sept. 24, 2001, issue.
What at first appears to be a totally black cover actually features silhouettes of the Twin Towers in a darker shade of black. In 2004, Spiegelman released the graphic novel, "In the Shadow of No Towers," which was based on his experience of the attacks.
After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas, film capturing the tragedy emerged. The silent footage shot by Abraham Zapruder — "the Zapruder film" — was considered shocking at the time. But in 1994, the Library of Congress deemed it "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
In time, images documenting or inspired by the events of 9/11 may be viewed from a similar perspective.