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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Documenting pain

Some time ago we went to see the World Press Photo exhibition, as we have done for the past six years or so. World Press Photo is a worldwide competition where professional press photographers can submit their images that cover not just the news but also nature, sports, science and everyday life.

Inevitably, in any given year, most of the images are those of war, terrorist attacks and natural disasters. It's not for the feeble-hearted, nor those with utopistic ideas of world peace. Those are the pictures I like least, and I try not to dwell on them too much; I prefer all other categories but the news.

This year there were two particular images that had me thinking long after we left the exhibition venue. One of them was of a wounded African soldier, blood spurting out of his mouth and the look of hysterical terror on his face; another one was of a man holding a dead friend or relative, screaming in desperation.

Both pictures were close-ups. Both had me thinking: was this really necessary? Not the mindless killing, which goes without saying, but sticking up a camera in someone's face when they are dying, or going mad with grief. Is this ethical? Don't people have the right to dignity when they are most vulnerable?

I wonder what was going on in the minds of those photographers as they were snapping--is it simply work for them and they switch off basic human compassion? I think there are many ways to document the atrocities, be it of war or disasters, without getting this close to personal pain.


Ruslan said...

Nice post. I think taking those kind of pictures is really necessary. It is not old age death but death due to political, ethnical and other conflicts. I think the seriousness of the outcomes of these stupidities has to be brought to people's attention and someone has to do it. All my respect goes to those photographers.

MissBuckle said...

I think we need those photos. And I think the press photographer is asking him or herself the same questions you are posing.

As a journalist I have to stand tall and defend putting people in the public eye dayly. Sometimes it is the happy stuff, other times it is so hard.

And they call me the next day, asking why I have to hurt them, their company or their family. The answer doesn't always come that easily.

We document pain to spare someone else of it. To protect those who noone stands up for. To make the world s better place (I have to believe that it can be better...)

Liss said...

I think photo journalism in this form is not for the faint hearted.

I often wonder how they get such moving images and I believe most photo journalist shoot with a telephoto lens like the 70 - 200mm and most probably at the 200mm range so they are not directly in these people's faces. allowing them the ability to capture people's true expressions.

Still this does not make the questions you pose any less relevant.

I think MisssBuckle's last paragraph sums it up well.

Jelica said...

I am not against war photography per se but I draw the line at taking a picture of someone in dying agony. You won't find a picture like that in Robert Capa's opus but you will still get the sense of the chaos and terror that a war brings to people's lives.

Dumdad said...

It's the continuing problem for war journalists - do you drop what you're doing and help someone who is wounded or dying or do you proceed with taking photos and making notes etc?

Re your comment on my blog: yes, I miss letters too and write few nowadays. But I still send postcards. In fact, I've kept every postcard sent to me. Moreover, when I go on holiday I send postcards to MYSELF. That sounds like Johnny No Friends writing that but it's a record of where we've been and years later a happy memory. We take photos on holidays why not have the postcards as well?

uncafediarte said...

Only pain can make people to belive in something.Only pain,not the truth.

Merisi said...

A friend of mine is a documentary film maker, mostly about human rights abuses in parts of the world where most people would not go even for a lot of money, often at great danger to get killed or sick. She does, bravely so. So do photographers who document the real horror, not some sanitized versions that would make us feel more comfortable and complacent about faraway suffering human beings. The faces you saw speak about what it really means to kill or to be a "casualty of war" or "collateral damage". We have a friend who spent many of his childhood years in Sarajevo, in the middle of the horrific war being brought upon civilians, who would have understand what was happening without having some brave soul showing us reality there? Pictures speak the truth.