Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pictures of the Dead...

The issue of pictures being published of deceased individuals arose after the Tsunami and again after Hurricane Katrina, and now in the wake of the typhoon in Burma and the earthquake in China, pictures of the deceased are resurfacing again. Maybe it's just me, but I can't see the social relevance and or importance to publishing photos of deceased children. Lives are still sacred even after the soul exits the body. I know I wouldn't want a half clothed picture of myself, decaying from being partially submerged in water and exposed to the elements published so that someone half way around the world can be momentarily forced out of their apathy. Despite how noble the idea, it continues the cycle of necessary sensationalism in our desensitised world. The issue is how do we change the direction of our culture in respects to the medias view on life and death?

If you want to see the pictures I am referencing - check out the new Macleans. The photo above is from the same photographer who took the above photo. I've removed the link because I do agree with Shawn - there is not reason to contribute to the systemic growth of apathy in North America society.


Shawn said...

So why even link to someone who is exploiting the tragedy of others. I am not into shocking people to motivated them to make a difference. Helping those who need help is something I think that is weaved into our DNA to drive us to help one another. Taking a minute out of our 9-5's to think about a way we can help should be a task. We have financial resource at our exposal in the west and even something as small as five dollars can make a difference with an organization who has feet on the ground. Great post, but I wouldn't give anyone credit for exploiting death.

cheryl said...

on a TOTALLY unrelated note - i sent your banana order home with my parents this weekend so you or, more likely, your mom, can pick it up in south surrey.....lemme know when you need a phone #/address

jocelyn said...

I get your point - I abhor sensationalism as much as the next person... but the activist side of me knows how important images are to the communication of critical messages.

The picture of Kim Phuc, naked, running down a road in Vietnam, burned by Napalm, is one burned into the consciousness of the generation before ours. That picture helped turn the nation against the Vietnam war, and essentially helped to facilitate a much belated end to a bloody and ill-fought war.

In Somalia in 1992, a Canadian photographer caught a horrendous image which went out on the newswire within hours and changed a nation: an American "peacekeeper*" being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by one of the local militias. The minute this photo hit the US papers and news, the US pulled out of the Somalia mission and changed its foreign policy forever. Many believe it was this image that provided the impetus for the US to ignore the Rwandan Genocide - the risk of seeing that sort of loss of US lives in unpredictable situations in African countries already assumed to be "beyond help" was too much for the Administration.
These are extreme examples - how an image can move a nation to action, and how an image can embody the fear that would eventually lead to an even greater injustice.

Ultimately - I think it is up to our journalists and editors to think long and hard about how they use such images, and up to we as individuals to think about how we "consume" such images. When we mindlessly absorb them to fuel a desire for sensationalism, we are as guilty as those who feed them to us. But when we choose to look upon images as impetus for change, we are not objectifying the death pictured within them, we are using them to fuel change.

Almost a month ago, I remember the exact moment I looked up at the television tuned into MSNBC and saw the first footage of Cyclone Nargis' devastation of Burma's Irawaddy Delta. It profoundly moved me. It reminded me of my life-long interest in Burma, my longing for a just solution to the oppression and disastrous health status of the Burmese people. Anyway - I've blathered on enough... but just by way of saying that let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater - images communicate emotions, and emotions are what entice people to act. If we condemn these images, no matter how distasteful, are we not acting as elitists, and censoring one of the ways our society chooses to convey issues of grave meaning?

I agree that we need to choose wisely, in light of the spiritual and social meanings of death. I just don't think that blaming photojournalism is to blame for societal apathy.


jocelyn said...

Oops I forgot to add my note...

*: Speaking of peacekeeping. I just finished James Orbinski's book, An imperfect offering. It's amazing and you have to read it. You can borrow my copy if you want.

Orbinski is the Canadian who was the head of MSF between 1998 and 2002, and has been a long time doctor with MSF in Somalia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Congo, Central America, etc. His book is an incredibly eye-opening and thought provoking collection of stories from his experiences as a humanitarian aid worker. I wish our little ToC group could have read it.