Photography, how much is too much, is not enough?

Take two minutes to read Joerg Colberg’s interesting post on our relationship with photography and human rights.

After examining how Nick Ut’s well-known photo of soldiers and Vietnamese napalm victims has been re-framed as a picture minus the children, and then as a picture totally devoid of human beings, Joerg states:

It’s time to add things back in. By “things” I ultimately mean us. We need to add ourselves back in.

I totally agree.

But don’t misread that as an argument for a visual feast of suffering.

From a personal and psychological point of view I am not persuaded that images of extreme suffering are conductors of change. Whilst there is a failure of balance in the way that wars are reported (we only really see ‘our’ soldiers), it’s dangerous to blame the imbalance for an individual’s antipathy on human rights.

It’s a bit like saying I would have cared more about priests buggering children if only you had taken a photograph of one in the act.

I’ll respond to Joerg’s statement with a question,

When we see more, do we give more of ourselves?

Author — duckrabbit

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White. We specialize in digital storytelling.

Discussion (4 Comments)

  1. Jack Nelson says:

    While I agree that there is a balance to be made when picturing suffering I think these sorts of pictures definitely have a place. Let’s remember that the Vietnam war was popular with Americans before the media (both visual and written) turned against it. That and the continual protests finally took their toll and public opinion changed and Nick Ut’s photo had a small part at least in making that happen.

  2. Stan B. says:

    It helps to look at this issue from a broader perspective. Back in the day, not only were these images (ie- graphic violence, poverty, suffering, etc) more novel, and therefore, shocking, everyday life was based much more on cause and effect reality. If a President cleary committed crimes, he was guilty and consequently removed; if a needless war was based on heinous acts and atrocities, society as a whole applied the pressure necessary to end it.

    Today’s disconnect from reality is not just a problem in photography via Photoshop, it is a massive societal crisis where politicians (repeatedly) get caught red handed, only to lie and deny and continue as before. As Republicans stated, “We create our own reality.”
    When there are no consequences, no responsibility for actions that effect millions both directly and adversely- how can mere visual representations be expected to hold the power they once did?

  3. iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher says:

    Good points Stan yet I do not think the power of the photographic image is going to diminish. Its story telling potential can still be liberated from the current contextual, political and structural constraints to make a difference in so many amazing different ways and I for one cannot wait to see this happen!

    Nick Ut’s powerful photo, PJG’s Vietnam Inc, Don McCullin’s work there to name but a few were supported by a vibrant photojournalism industry giving images power in society. I would love to see the day when the same level of trust is regained once more to an audience who are engaged again.

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