3500 people drown every year in the USA. Why doesn’t AP distribute pics of their dead lifeless bodies?Written by Benjamin Chesterton
1: My partner walks in the room.
The picture of the drowned father and child is on my screen.
‘That’s horrible’ she says. Removing her eyes as fast as possible.
And walks out again.
2: An argument is breaking out on twitter (read the thread):
AP on their decision to publish horrific, dehumanizing photos of Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez & his daughter, Valeria:
“We feel that distributing this image is consistent with the AP’s values and principles to bring factual information to the world.”
— L Saunders (@_LSaunders_) June 26, 2019
Some agree. Others call Sanders opinion ‘dangerous’. One claims she’s ‘out of her depth‘.
Unfortunate. ‘Out of her depth’. Given what the photo depicts.
3: In the UK we are having a heatwave.
In the news. A twelve year old girl drowns in a river. We are spared the photo.
There are over 3500 fatal unintentional drownings annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day. One in five are children under 14.
Why doesn’t AP publish pictures of their dead lifeless bodies?
4: I’ve just finished editing the draft of a film. It’s a fundraiser for a UK charity. We test it with a general audience and the responses are extremely positive. People are visibly touched. Tears are shed.
The elderly survivor in our film had lived through war, evacuation, domestic violence, the loss of her only child and was just about surviving loneliness and isolation.
I present the film to a board at the charity. At least half the room hate it. They want the film to be harder. They feel no connection to the woman whose story we are telling. They’ve seen it all before.
Literally they have.
5: I’m teaching a group of refugees English at The Sanctuary in Birmingham. Every year a trip is organised to take them to visit Weston-Super-Mare, a typical English faded glamour, meth prescription sea-side town.
I ask them about the sea. I ask them if anyone swims?
I trigger a member of the group. He starts talking about being in a boat. It sinking. His eyes fixed in another space and time. His arms move up and down. He gulps for air. People are drowning he says. He is drowning.
The group sits in silence. Shaken. I am shaken. I have never seen someone disappear so quickly, so viscerally back into a trauma. We come around him and support as best we can.
It means something. For that group to be there for him.
6:I look at the photo again. Honestly I feel next to nothing.
It holds my attention for a moment. But only probably because others are looking. Re-posting. Reflecting.
And then I get tagged into a tweet linking to a post on Reading The Pictures.
‘I suspect that this photo of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter, Valeria, will stand the test of time …
I see the photo as a marker and container for the abrogation of the country’s values in this faux immigration crisis, much like the 1972 Napalm Girl photo memorialized US disillusionment and exhaustion over Vietnam, and hastened America’s final exit from the war.
Besides historical documents, news photographs also mark and define the moment.
… Under any of those conditions, I believe a photograph must be published, and deserves to be seen and experienced in its full impact. ‘
The rush to make cultural capital of the photo. The need to label. Centers the events around you. ‘Full impact’. It’s not about you.
I let someone at the sharp end of this issue respond:
Nothing we did today will make sure that kids will have a proper place to sleep.
Nothing we did today will make sure kids aren’t kept in cages.
We had an opportunity to address a humanitarian crisis and we wasted it. pic.twitter.com/OVoVf5SbSc
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) June 27, 2019
7: Get alongside people who are making real, practical differences in their communities. Food-banks. Community spaces for elderly people. Pick litter in your park. Make beautiful prints and gift them. Teach English to refugees (like my partner did). Make spaces more welcoming. Listen more.
Feel the ‘full impact’ of that on you and others.
No disrespect to photography but:
it will energize you and empower them more than a photo of death that takes less than seconds to recover from ever will.