The Pain of Seeing (NSFW)

Should photographs like the following be published?

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Why do we look at these pictures?

  • News?
  • History?
  • Propaganda?
  • Insight?
  • Curiosity?
  • Empathy?
  • Excitement?

Since it’s invention we have relied on photography to function as a privileged verification of events we might otherwise never know.  In the twentieth century, photography was called upon to verify what we could not even imagine and hence not believe.

The photographer was called to witness in a form that becomes both a document of the event and of the witnessing.

Griselda Pollock Dying Seeing Feeling:  Transforming the Ethical Space of Feminist Aesthetics

Being a spectator of calamities taking place in another  country is a quintessential modern experience, the cumulative offering by more than a century and half’s worth of those specialized tourists known as journalists.

If it bleeds, it leads

– Susan Sontag Regarding The Pain of Others 2003

Are they justifiable?

My personal view

I think that these images are key to the understanding of the subject that they document. Photographs have no language barrier, they can reach a larger audience than an article or news report. If it wasn’t for photographs like the ones taken during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, most of us would have little idea of the magnitude of the disaster, we would be told about the horrific sights, but we would not see them. These images show the personal side to such global issues as war.

As Susan Sontag has said,

Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and of itself.  Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead.

 – Susan Sontag Regarding The Pain of Others 2003

I agree, the individual people, such as the ‘Falling Man’ in Richard Drew’s image, would not be largely remembered if the photograph was never taken. We need documentation of these atrocities because, if we don’t, over time  we could lose the personal aspect of these events.

They would become little more than words on a page.


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