Fire Escape Collapse

1975
Photograph by Stanley Forman

I was shooting a routine rescue when it suddenly went to hell.

Stanley Forman

Fire Escape Collapse

  • Stanley Forman
  • 1975

Stanley Forman was working for the Boston Herald American on July 22, 1975, when he got a call about a fire on Marlborough Street. He raced over in time to see a woman and child on a fifth-floor fire escape. A fireman had set out to help them, and Forman figured he was shooting another routine rescue. “Suddenly the fire escape gave way,” he recalled, and Diana Bryant, 19, and her goddaughter Tiare Jones, 2, were swimming through the air. “I was shooting pictures as they were falling—then I turned away. It dawned on me what was happening, and I didn’t want to see them hit the ground. I can still remember turning around and shaking.” Bryant died from the fall, her body cushioning the blow for her goddaughter, who survived. While the event was no different from the routine tragedies that fill the local news, Forman’s picture of it was. Using a motor-drive camera, Forman was able to freeze the horrible tumbling moment down to the expression on young Tiare’s face. The photo earned Forman the Pulitzer Prize and led municipalities around the country to enact tougher fire-escape-safety codes. But its lasting legacy is as much ethical as temporal. Many readers objected to the publication of Forman’s picture, and it remains a case study in the debate over when disturbing images are worth sharing.

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