On September 12, 2001, dailies across the United States released photographs of people falling from the highest floors of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, documenting a few of the hundreds of people who had jumped or fallen from the towers the previous day. For their decisions to publish these photographs, newspaper editors nationwide faced harsh charges of exploitation and spectacle from readers who implied that the photographs stripped the subjects of their dignity. Beginning September 13, most newspapers openly and apologetically self-censored photographs of the people who came to be known in popular discourse as “the jumpers,” and their images quickly disappeared from the enormous photographic vocabulary henceforth used to describe and understand the attacks. In what was likely the most photographed disaster in history, images of people falling through the air became unanimously taboo in print and video media nationwide. This essay explores public reactions to the images of people jumping from the World Trade Center, as well as the narrative implications of the photographs' subsequent absence. By problematizing both the nature and the severity of public reaction to the images, I challenge these reactions as spontaneous or natural and explore the anxieties underpinning such resounding outcries.

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