Ellen Carey, U.S based experimental artist posed this question to women photographers worldwide, in an open call hosted by Hundred Heroines in 2020. ‘Light’s immateriality challenges its makers today, analogue versus digital, doubles our challenges. It is here, in the early stages of modern and contemporary art with its roots in photography, that our work has context.’ this exhibition symbolises strength and resilience, a 21st century version of The Linked Ring.
Valid Word Hall, Barcelona, Spain: 21st – 31st July 2021
Ellen Carey is an educator, independent scholar, guest curator, photographer and lens-based artist, whose unique experimental work spans several decades. Photography Degree Zero names her large format Polaroid 20 X 24 lens-based art, which she began using in 1983 under the Polaroid Artist Support Program. Struck by Light (1992-2018) finds her parallel practice in the darkroom with the camera-less photogram, a process from the dawn of the medium, discovered in the 19th century by William Henry Fox Talbot, both photogram and the phrase drawing with light continue today. Her experimental investigations into abstraction and minimalism, partnered with her innovative concepts and iconoclastic art making, often use bold colours to create new forms. Colour and light are the link between her two practices; light, photography’s indexical, is used a lot or a little or none at all; its absence or zero.
Jessy Boon Cowler lives and works in South London, United Kingdom. She is interested in the relationship between the physical versus the intellectual, specifically the common exclusion of one from the other within British culture, which leads to frustration and a need to escape. The desire those of us from cold countries hold for the South, the fantasy of an island retreat; the exoticisation of a foreign land where we can let go of our inhibitions, the shame felt due to an inherited history of colonisation.
Nettie Edwards lives and works in Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. Edwards is fascinated by humanity’s biological, philosophical, and spiritual relationship with light and colour, particularly, as her family genealogist and photo archivist: in the role played by light as an agent of memory. Her work is practice led, experimental and site speciﬁc, fuelled by her insatiable curiosity. Wide-ranging themes emerge from immersion in residency locations; long-term historical research projects and working with photographic archives.
Cristina Fontsare is based in Catalonia, Spain. Her practice employs Polaroid film shot on location and post-production manipulation. The project, Journey to the Centre of the Earth started on a family trip around caves and ancient forest in the Basque Country in the north of Spain. This inspired an imaginary journey in the search for MARI, the main deity of Basque mythology. She is the manifestation of the divinized forces of nature. Queen of the three kingdoms, Mineral, Vegetable and Animal and the four elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire.
Liz Harrington is based in Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, she is photographic artist specialising in analogue photography, alternative processes and camera-less techniques. Her work explores the theme of transience – the changing nature and fragility of environments, and traces of the past. The work is experimental and archival in nature, often finding beauty in the unseen or overlooked. The exhibited works consist of a series of camera-less cyanotype images made by physically immersing the light sensitive photographic paper in the sea during periods of low and high tide. The images capture fleeting traces of the waves and wind – and of the past – at the shoreline.
Poppy Lekner is based in New Zealand, her work is sometimes purposefully biographical and sometimes simply the results of play generated from a desire to explore an object with light, or explore the light itself. Cameraless photography and experimental photography provide a space to play that is neither purely photographic nor painting but somewhere in between. There is a directness of contact with the object and the photosensitive medium/surface that has kept her fascinated with this mode of working.
Ky Lewis is based in London, United Kingdom, her approach to working experimentally is based in the slow lane, she works in a variety of ways using both camera-less and pinhole traditional and alternative processes. Lewis prefers a more serendipitous workﬂow, allowing accidents to steer work into new directions. The work in the exhibition is part of Lewis’s Solargraphic works which were set up to determine via the process of a double durational study of what inﬂuence the environmental conditions would have on the contents. Seeds were planted inside the pinhole cameras with 10ml of water. The cameras contained silver gelatine paper. The photo paper would record the passage of the sun and during the sixty day period the seeds would grow, toward the light.
Anna Luk lives and works in London and Kent, United Kingdom. Luk’s practice explores the ontology of photography by pursuing qualities typically tethered to painting and sculpture. She works with the materiality and the ability of the medium to not only depict an external subject but also record the physical actions exerted on it.
Originally from Australia, Sonia Mangiapane now lives and works in Holland. She approaches (the expanded field of) photography as a medium of light writing—over and above a medium of representation. Guided by her fascination with the physical properties and ethereal qualities of light she explores concepts of journey, place and notions of time. Mangiapane’s practice employs a range of camera-based and camera-less methods, producing a combination of representational and non-representational still and moving image works.
Emilie Poiret-Brown is based in South West of England. Her work lies on the boundary between photography and painting, it seeks to challenge the notions of what a photograph is and how it is created. With conventional photography, the artist’s intervention takes place off the surface. In contrast, painting is valued on the art- ist’s personal expression which takes place simultaneously with a physical interaction between artist and surface. The camera less process allows Poiret-Brown to interact directly with the surface and attempt to bring painting’s values to photography.
Megan Ringrose is photographic artist based in Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom. Her non-apparatus practice is grounded in research of the fundamental properties of photography: light, time, process, and materiality. Her practice is concerned with shifting photography away from its signifying function to explore and question traditional notions of the photographic medium. Ringrose defines her work as additive photographic abstractions linking the act of painting closely to my practice. She adds light and time to create photographic objects. She plays with long exposures and ways of slowing photographic processes in order to assemble the photographic works.
Erika G. Santos is based in Connecticut, United States of America. Santos works with photographic media to ‘dismantle’ or to take things apart, to use the pieces from destruction to rebuild and create something new and magical ,which in her own words, is the perfect way to define the human experience. Life is a series of birth and growth and rebirths. An endless cycle of positive and negatives. Santos takes this same approach with her photographic practice. She distresses her 35 mm negatives after they have been developed to create pieces of destructed and rebuilt beauty. This is a simulation of life and death, chemical paintings made to remind us that from fragments we can re-create and reassemble ourselves.
Kateryna Snizhko is based in Holland. Her practice posits photographic objecthood via the explicit merging of mediums, photographs and their derivatives. Snizhko explore photography’s potential to be metamorphosed with or into another form. Her goal is to provoke a deeper discussion by questioning: what is the photograph? when does the photograph stop being a photograph? When does an artwork arise in the process of creation? In her current series Debris Snizhko explores photographic waste and its transformation into other forms. She contemplates on the print recycling as an endless process of creation. Photography maintains the niche of the creative process far from the concept of solely image-making medium.
Lauren Spencer is based Rotterdam and the United Kingdom. The concept of I Dream of Screens is bound to its material and its process, with the work reflecting on the compulsive pull of the smartphone. In using analogue methods to re-make this portal into the digital world, the internet becomes something physical that can be controlled, paused to examine closely. The fleeting gestures of scrolling and swiping are distilled into a physical artefact, an analogue record of digital processes. In an experimental version of the photogram method, light-sensitive photographic paper used in traditional printing processes absorbs synthetic light from a smartphone screen, which is used to ‘paint’ or ‘stamp’ light onto the paper in the darkroom. This collage of ‘analogue screenshot’s is used to build the image of a device, a 1.5m tall slowed-down, smartphone- selfie.
Ellen Carey: Writes A Letter to the Artists
Light’s immateriality challenges its makers today, analogue versus digital, doubles our challenges. ‘What is a 21st century photograph?’ … and… ‘What does a 21st century
photograph look like?’ It is here, in the early stages of modern and contemporary art with its roots in photography, that this work has context.
At the dawn of photography, one finds the photogram. The word ‘photography’ means ‘drawing with light’ from its Greek roots; phōs for light, graphis for drawing. Originally
called ‘photogenic drawing’ later the ‘photogram’ a term that continues today, it was discovered by the British inventor, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) as a paper
negative print, contact printed for its positive. The photogram legacy continues under my darkroom practice Struck by Light (1992-2021). In colour, this history begins with
Victorian, Anna Atkins (1799-1871), Talbot’s contemporary, the first woman practitioner, also camera-less and the first woman in colour through the cyanotype, ‘sun pictures’
creating a Prussian blue, taught to her by Sir John Herschel, its inventor, a friend to both. Her photo-book pre-dates Talbot’s and her written words under her botanical
specimens, point to the future in ‘word art’. Anna Atkins has many firsts as a pioneer adding to the transformative power of colour embedded in her ‘light drawings’ one
sees – line-as-form in abstraction and minimalism, size and scale, edge tension, chaos and order, symmetry, asymmetry and much more.
Nettie Edwards work recounts ‘her’ story, in a distinct approach, in her series Grave Goods both a record and document, a family snapshot, if you will. She highlights
the story of the ‘shadow’ as a memento mori, in a photographic tableaux and homage to a loved one, who recently passed away. Her visual diary, underscores the ‘shadow’
in art and photography, adding context, while content is seen through her experimental tableau vivant — here, in her work, I am reminded of the Greek fable as told by Pliny
the Elder: Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History (ca. 77 – 79 CE), relates the myth of art’s origin in a fable about the daughter of Butades, a Greek potter from Corinth. She
drew the outlined profile of her lover’s shadow as it was projected on the wall by a lamp, just before he left for battle, and which her father made into a sculptural relief. Thus,
before the real shadow departs with its owner it offers the young woman an image with which to represent her beloved — that which she fixes on the wall for all time. Sun Pictures Catalogue (1)
According to art historian, Victor I. Stoichita, in his remarkable book, A Short History of the Shadow (1997) (2) the hidden meaning of this myth involves the transcendence
of death. The image of the lover’s face on the wall is a vertical, erect, life-like projection, a figure. What is the daughter’s intent? To memorialise him? Give him life? Induce a
phantasm of foreplay when besieged so by the throes of Eros and Thanatos? We simply do not know. She seems to vanquish the threat of his death in war by making an
image that literally stands in for his absence — she makes him upright, that is, forever alive. Although the image she traced is only a spectre, it is, nonetheless, the immaterial
counterpart or double of the absent lover. It is not lost on us here in the 21st century that Butades’ daughter is nameless — a namelessness standing in for the fact of women’s
absence throughout art history, and a marker of women’s invisibility in language that ignores this one fact: the need to name the world is a human need. Nevertheless, the
daughter’s image remains. It is timeless.
1: Sun Pictures ‘Thirteen’. An exhibition catalogue. Text by Larry J. Schaaf, in association with Hans P. Kraus, Jr., (New York: Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs, 2004). 2: Victor I. Stoichita, A Short History of the Shadow, (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 1997).
(Excerpts: Donna Fleischer essay: “The Black Swans of Ellen Carey: Of Necessary Poetic Realities” from the exhibition catalogue: ‘Let There Be Light: The Black Swans of Ellen Carey’ from her one person exhibit at Akus Gallery, Eastern Connecticut state University (ECSU). January – February 2014 ( www.ellencareyphotography.com)
“The negative depiction of black women as domineering matriarchs or exotic sexual objects was created, and still is perpetuated, by white (usually white male) social scientists, and even by a few black male social scientists trained by the … images of hyper-sexuality and overbearingness often merge to symbolize the black woman” (St. Jean & Feagin, 1998: 6)
From minstrel shows to mammies, black people, and more specifically, black women in film, have been portrayed in a damaging light. Caricatures that echo the dehumanisation of black people have been at large throughout the history of American film. With the Black Lives Matter movement sparking necessary conversation on issues surrounding systemic racism and white privilege, it’s essential that we turn our focus to the issues faced by black women. Often rejected from feminist spaces for being black, and from black spaces for being female (Crenshaw 1989: 140), black women’s voices need to be elevated more than ever. Throughout this Literature Review I will be exploring the existing material regarding black female representation in American film, looking at the history and contexts of certain stereotypes, and at how portrayals have progressed over the years.
Intersectionality: The Male and White Gazes
Due to belonging to two minority groups, black women’s struggle for representation, both on screen and behind it, is made all the more difficult. Even white women, whose experience of womanhood is made easier by their whiteness, have fought and continue to fight sexist portrayals. Most notable is Cindy Sherman’s photographic project Untitled Film Stills, (Figure 1) where she transformed herself into common tropes such as the femme fatale and the suburban housewife, playing with the concepts of the male gaze and voyeurism.
The male gaze is a concept introduced by Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual Pleasures and Narrative Cinema and highlights the objectification and sexualisation of women for the purpose of the male scopic drive (the pleasure in looking). The woman’s role is to sustain the “fantasies and obsessions” of men, having no authority and taking a “passive” approach in looking, as opposed to the “active” view of the male (Mulvey 1989: 15-19). John Berger described this concept years prior, as “Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” (Berger 1972: 47).
The white gaze, as explored in an article for The Guardian, “traps black people in white imaginations” (Grant 2015), limiting them to their expected roles and undermining their prerogative by forcing them to be a complicit aid for their white lead.
Statistics of Race and Gender Representation in Hollywood Film
The representation of race and gender in film has been well documented throughout the years. A study by US Cannenberg stated that out of the top 100 grossing films of 2019, one third didn’t include a speaking or named black female character, in contrast with the mere 7% of films that omitted their white counterpart (Smith et al. 2020). The UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report for the same year concluded that only “3 out of 10 lead actors in film are people of colour”, which shows the underrepresentation of racial minorities, especially when we consider that they make up more than “40% of the US population” (Hunt and Ramón 2020).
There is a statistical inequality between male and female black filmmakers, due to what Ed Guerrero describes as the “triple oppression” for black women: “independent vision, race and gender” (Guerrero 1993: 174). Due to both women and black people’s experiences being undermined in society, the lack of voice given to people belonging to both minorities is large.
The Bechdel, DuVurnay and Shukla Tests
In order to highlight the lack of representation of minorities in film, several ‘tests’ have been created to determine if films are being inclusive in both their casting and their portrayal. The test that initiated these measures is the Bechdel test, the premise of which was initially introduced as a feminist joke in a comic book. Despite its unserious origins, it’s now used as a tool of evaluation.
To pass the Bechdel test, the following criteria must be met: at least two female characters must exist with speaking roles, as well as conversing with each other about something other than a man (Bechdel ca. 1985. The Rule – Dykes to Watch Out For). (Figure 2) Some interpretations also require the women to be named characters. Despite its popularity, it has been heavily critiqued due to its low standards for female dialogue – it’s argued that audiences should instead be analytical of how their dialogue is perceived by other characters (O’Meara 2016), and if they make choices that “drive their own stories” (Ellis 2016).
From the Bechdel test came the DuVurnay and Shukla tests, the former coined by a movie critic due to the lack of Oscar votes for Selma, a movie about civil rights created by a black female director. (Figure 3) It was named after the director herself, with its aim to highlight racial inequality, the premise being that African Americans should be depicted as having “fully realized [sic] lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories” (Dargis 2016). With an emphasis on giving people of colour conversations outside of their racial identity, the Shukla test requires “two ethnic minorities talk to each other for more than five minutes about something other than race” (Shukla 2013). Unlike the Bechdel test, the analysis of films that meet the criteria of the DuVurnay and Shukla tests has been mostly unexplored, with only The Guardian reporting that just three of 2016’s best picture Oscar nominees had passed the Shukla test (Latif and Latif 2016). However, the mere invention of these measures highlights the fact that racial minorities in film are not given the representation or portrayal that is necessary.
“The new stereotype played to White perceptions of Black personalities who, in the vernacular of the era, ‘knew their place’ in American society. Blacks now appeared in movies for the purpose of entertaining White audiences within the context of social limitations… When in movie character, Blacks were subservient to Whites as maids, mammies, domestics, and sidekicks” (Clint et al, 2013: 73)
Stereotypes of Black Women: The Mammy
To understand the contemporary portrayal, we must first look at the origins of the main stereotypes that has dominated films from the beginning: the mammy, the jezebel, and the sapphire. Characterised as being jolly, middle-aged, overweight, dark-skinned and pertaining to have or evoke no sexual desire, the mammy’s sole purpose is to care for the white family she is a servant for (Jewell 1993: 39-39; West 1995: 459; Harris-Perry 2011: 73). Stemming from the Southern states, this stereotype bases itself on black women who served during the antebellum era (McElya 2009: 4). However, this greatly contrasts with the reality of black servants at the time as the majority would have been young and slim, the latter being due to poor diets (ibid, Pilgrim 2000, Jones 2019). These attributes were created to present black women as being against the epitome of white womanhood (Jewell 1993: 39-40, Pilgrim 2000) creating a further division between black and white woman.
As discussed in From Mammy to Miss America and Beyond, and quoted in Sister Citizen, this portrayal was created as pro-slavery propaganda by presenting black slaves as being “happy and content with their duties” (Jewell 1993: 38), despite the fact that these women lived with the “constant threat of physical and sexual violence” (2011: 72).
The most notable depiction of this stereotype is seen in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind, where the character Mammy is seen as protective and devoted towards the white family in which she serves (2009: 3). (Figure 4) This damaging stereotype can be seen in many movies, including The Help (2011) and the Big Momma anthology (2000-2011). However, in recent film this caricature has been subverted, creating a new narrative. The 2019 horror film Ma contorts this depiction of black women – initially starting out as a considerate motherly figure by inviting a group of young people into her home, the character Ma takes a sharp turn, becoming vengeful when they rebel against her rules (Jones 2019). (Figure 5)
Ma’s “terror, cruelty and vengeful rage are reserved exclusively for white women and children” (ibid), greatly contrasting with Gone with the Wind’s Mammy, whose care is exclusive for her white family. Despite critics’ analysis of this depiction of a subverted stereotype, the white director Tate Taylor denies the correlation between Ma and the attributes of the mammy trope in his own film (White 2019), highlighting the ignorance often held by white people when it comes to stereotypes of minorities in film.
Black women, however, are all too familiar with their representation, with a 2003 study reporting that 97% of the black women interviewed were ‘‘aware of negative stereotypes of African American women”, with 80% stating they have been affected by “persistent racist and sexist assumptions” (Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden, cited in Harris-Perry 2011: 35). Despite this, as Carolyn West discusses in Mammy, Jezebel, Sapphire and Their Homegirls, some black women find comfort in seeing the “warmth and resilience” of the mammy, including when placed on memorabilia (West 2008: 287). This opinion is not widespread however, as these depictions were used to “dehumanize [sic]” (Brown 2019) and are most often deemed entirely offensive.
Stereotypes of Black Women: The Sapphire & The Jezebel
Depicted as “the angry black woman” (Aljazeera 2020), the stereotype of the sapphire was based on the character of the same name in the mid 20th century show Amos ‘n’ Andy. “Hostile [and] nagging” (2008: 296), she is shown to emasculate the men around her, further reiterating the belief that black women aren’t as desirable as white women. (Figure 6) It was popular during the 1970s’ blaxploitation era of film, in which black people were depicted as being promiscuous, rebellious and criminal (Pilgrim 2002).
“The notion of the angry Black woman was a way — is a way — of trying to keep in place Black women who have stepped outside of their bounds, and who have refused to concede the legitimacy of being a docile being in the face of white power,” (Dyson in Ryzick et al, 2020)
In modern film, the sapphire transforms into the trope of the ‘sassy black friend’, often outspoken with unfiltered speech. She can be seen in Wanda Sykes character in the Bad Moms anthology (2016-2017), in which she acts as a humorously unprofessional therapist by insensitively giving relationship advice (Lucas and Moore 2016).
This trope is seemingly more prominent in comedy television shows than it is in movies, with these characters’ main contribution being one-liners to entertain the white protagonist, and having no story of their own, such as Donna Meagle from Parks and Recreation whose catchphrase ‘treat yo’ self’ has gained popularity (Mylrea 2017).
Hyper-sexual and possessing lighter skin and European features, jezebels adhere to the “sex objectification requirement of white womanhood”, greatly contrasting with the sexless attributes of the mammy, and the masculine aggressiveness of the sapphire (Jewell 1993: 46). The only power a jezebel holds is through her slim, attractive body, as this enables her to seduce men (Aljazeera 2020). Stemming from the rape and sexual assault of female slaves from male slaveowners, the jezebel has been used to cover-up these crimes by presenting black women as always having “desired sex”, infiltrating the belief that these sexual encounters were consensual (2008: 294), creating further ownership of white men over black female bodies.
The Objectification of Black and Female Bodies
The objectification of black bodies is historically evidenced by anthropometric photography which initiated during the 1860s. (Figure 7) Black people were photographed against grids in order to calculate their “physical characteristics” (Cohen 2015: 61). It’s also important to note Martha Rosler’s video piece Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained on the dehumanisation of women’s bodies (Rosler 1997), linking to anthropometric studies by showing a woman being clinically measured. This reiterates the increased oppression faced by black women due to both their racial and gender identities being subjected to objectification.
The First High-Profile Black Superhero Movie: Black Panther
“A commentary on African lives with minimal interest in, or need for, the approval of the white gaze” (White 2018), 2018’s Black Panther is one of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time (Hughes 2018). (Figure 8) Having a predominantly black cast and a diverse set of roles and for female characters, Black Panther passes the Bechdel, DeVurnay and Shukla tests. In an interview with Variety, the actress Lupita Nyong’o stated that the director purposefully created roles that would show the “influence” of women, showing eagerness to represent them as diverse individuals (Variety 2018).
Women can be seen physically protecting the male protagonist along with dominating the technological field (ibid), showing strength and leadership in a positive light, and diverging from the emasculatory demeanour of the sapphire. This creation of well-rounded characters subverts the male gaze, whilst colonialist viewpoints are defied by showing African tribes as progressive. The authority is passed over to black women themselves, something rarely seen in American film.
Overall, it can be said that the roles available to black women are slowly becoming more diverse. Shunning stereotypes rooted in slavery propaganda and trading them for complex, influential characters, the American film industry is starting to give black women their own voice. However, lead roles for black women are still scarce, instead going to their male or white counterparts.
“We need to be more aware of the persistence of stereotypes affecting Black girls and women – and avoid repeating those mistakes when making writing, casting, and other content production decisions. While it is encouraging to see some positive trends, it’s clear that much more work needs to be done to ensure that women of all backgrounds have the same opportunities when it comes to being depicted on screen.” (Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, 2021)
The notable academic research on this topic was created during the 1980s to early 2000s, and has taken a small decline since then, with newspaper and magazine articles becoming more prominent than academic journals or studies, the latter not gaining as much attention as reports in earlier years. With the rise in the acceptance of the LGBT community, and the acknowledgement of the struggles faced by those with disabilities, there is surprisingly little research about the representation of black women who also identify with these labels. Seeing this lack of research, there is scope for an investigation into how these additional components to one’s identify affect people’s casting, perception, and representation in film.
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“Without photography (or a video), it has been difficult to get people to respond; the urgency and relevance of an event, its importance, and sometimes even the fact of its occurrence might be called into question.” (Ritchin 2013: 8)
This paper explores the subject of superficial journalism and how the media use it as an excuse to shield citizens’ eyes from the visual horrors of war and conflict. It focuses on the arguments between the use of shock tactics and beautification in images, our decline in feeling compassion towards images of this nature and a case study on the way in which the Western media failed to report authentically on the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.
Drawing on the writing of Jean Baudrillard, Susan Sontag, Fred Ritchin and Susan Moeller; I shall also discuss a variety of conflicts such as Abu Ghraib, The Gulf War and the Algerian Massacre of 1997 and aim to conclude why the media censored such important images. Through the use of supportive material including critics such as Sean O’Hagan and Andy Worthington; artistic examples from photographers such as Alfredo Jaar and John Moore, I compare which of these were successful and those that were not successful in illustrating the terror of conflict in photographs.
By using a range of references, my paper argues the strategies we should be using to overcome the ever-expanding use of superficial journalism in the worldwide media. Additionally, how photojournalists such as Kenneth Jarecke and Gilles Peress are challenging the traditional media in the way in which current stories of conflict are presented.
Key Words: Shock Tactics, Compassion Fatigue, War, Photojournalism, Citizen Journalism
List of Figures
Chapter 1: Shock Tactics, Beauty & Symbolism?
Chapter 2: Tackling Compassion Fatigue
Chapter 3: The Rwandan Genocide: Did the Western Media Fail?
List of Figures
Cover Page: JAAR, Alfredo. 1994. A Victim of Tribal Violence, Nyarubuye, Rwanda
Figure 1: ASSOCIATED PRESS. 2003. An unidentified Abu Ghraib detainee
Figure 2: NILUFER DEMIR / GETTY IMAGES. 2015. A Turkish police officer discovered the body of Alan Kurdi on Sept. 2, 2015, after a boat carrying refugees sank en route to the Greek island of Kos
Figure 3: GOOGLE IMAGES. 2019. Google image search “sunset with a camel and a tank gulf war”
Figure 4: MCCURRY, Steve. 1991. Camels, Gulf War, Kuwait
Figure 5: JARECKE, Kenneth. 1992. An Incinerated Soldier
Figure 6: MOSSE, Richard. 2013. from The Enclave
Figure 7: MOSSE, Richard. 2013. from The Enclave
Figure 8: MOSSE, Richard. 2013. from The Enclave
Figure 9: WILLIAMSON, Michael S. 1994. Untitled from Rwanda
Figure 10: ZAOURAR, Hocine. 1997. The Madonna of Bentalha
Figure 11: ARANDA, Samuel. 2011. Yemen, Fighting for Change
Figure 12: BUONARROTI, Michelangelo. 1498-1499. The Pieta (The Pity)
Figure 13: RHONEY, Ann. 1991. United Colours of Benetton, Pieta
Figure 14: FRARE, Therese. 1990. David Kirby’s Final Moments
“The increasingly malleable photograph – whether manipulated before or after the shutter’s release – is employed to fashion the world according to the intentions of the person making it, or of the institution for which it is being made.” (Ritchin 2013: 7) In my opinion, the problem with photojournalism today is that too many photographers are opting for the easy option of representing global conflicts; known as ‘superficial journalism’. Photographers are masquerading the real narrative behind their images and denying the public of the truth. Personally, I feel that if photographers are not going to reveal the blatant visuals to a wider audience when covering conflict, the use of images may as well be obsolete.
By using photographs or video when it comes to this nature of work, it can bear a beneficial effect upon society and in turn attempt to help stop the situation that is occurring. Speaking of the Abu Gharib photographs from 2004 (Figure 1) and the impact they had on society, Sontag comments: “It was the photographs that made all this ‘real’ to Bush and his associates. Up to then, there had been only words, which are easier to cover up in our age of infinite digital self-reproduction and self-dissemination, and so much easier to forget.” (Sontag 2004)
Furthermore, the silence of action from authoritative figures is still relevant today in recent global events. For example, during the European refugee crisis of 2015, officials were aware of what was happening but simply did nothing until an image of a young boy from Syria who was deceased surfaced in the media. (Figure 2) Without this image, a wider audience would have been completely oblivious to the refugee crisis.
Figure 1: Associated Press (2003) An unidentified Abu Ghraib detainee
Figure 2: Nilufer Demir / Getty Images (2015) A Turkish police officer discovered the body of Alan Kurdi on Sept. 2, 2015, after a boat carrying refugees sank en route to the Greek island of Kos
“Connotation drawn from knowledge is always a reassuring force – man likes signs and likes them clear.” (Barthes 1977: 29) If the incorrect settings are publicised that censor the true dialogue of the event, then the inevitable happens – citizens become ignorant to their surroundings and immune to feeling compassion towards the images. As Ritchin has said here, “Without photography (or a video), it has been difficult to get people to respond; the urgency and relevance of an event, its importance, and sometimes even the fact of its occurrence might be called into question.” (Ritchin 2013: 8)
For example, the media failed in my opinion, in truly representing the conflicts of Eastern Congo, The Gulf War, Yemen (2011), Algerian Massacre of 1997 to name a few. The question of whether the use of shock tactics frightens the mass media and that is the reason for its lack thereof in photojournalism, has caused much debate in photography over the years; I discuss this further in Chapter 1 and argue that it should be more present today, especially when photographing the degradation of human actions. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic has stated on this subject that “sanitised images of warfare make it easier to accept bloodless language.” (Friedersdorf 2014)
These are not narratives that should be reimagined lightly, one must feel that they were present in that terror to understand its impact; I argue that the strategy that achieves this is citizen journalism. In Chapter 2, I propose that members of society have become more immune to feeling any emotion towards photographs of conflict, due to their poor representation in the media and have fallen into a category known as compassion fatigue. Additionally, the way to combat this problem is to allow citizen journalism to have a prominent stand in media today. In Chapter Three I shall specifically discuss the Rwandan Genocide of 1994; how I feel that the Western media failed to represent the Genocide through their use of imagery. (Cover Image) Also, how American security officials instructed photojournalists to only release culturally appropriate images to the public, censoring any other images taken – thus resulting in superficial journalism.
Chapter 1: Shock Tactics, Beauty & Symbolism?
“Do the media neutralise meaning and produce unformed or informed masses, or is it the masses who victoriously resist the media by directing or absorbing all the messages that the media produce without responding to them?” (Baudrillard 1994: 84) I completely agree with Baudrillard here, it is unclear when it comes to the mass media whether it is them who is at fault for delivering images that are useless to the focus of its subject; or if it is us as an audience who are looking at all the correct photographs and information needed to put a foot forward, but yet we choose to ignore what is not on our own terrain.
During the Gulf War in Kuwait of 1991, the true visuals of the conflict were lost due to poor media coverage. Many photojournalists attended the scenes to capture the unfolding events of horror that were occurring – but only one photographer in my opinion, managed to successfully produce authentic images and that was Kenneth Jarecke. “It was one picture after another of a sunset with camels and a tank.” (Jarecke 2014) As Jarecke has said above, the Gulf War was inconsistently covered by the media (Figure 3) and photojournalists were producing photographs that simply looked more like a theatrical film than a horrific conflict. This was due to the strict rules being enforced by the American government, that any shocking photographs captured must be censored from a wider audience; the government wanted the public to “rely on the ‘mind pictures’ suggested in correspondents reports.” (Burns 1991)
Photographer Steve McCurry also illustrated the Gulf War, but I feel that McCurry’s images were illustrated in a way that describes exactly what Jarecke meant from his comment about the array of sunset, camels and tank images that surfaced from the conflict. And unfortunately, these deceptive images were surfacing much quicker for members of the public to see; images that in my opinion offered no such visual importance of the aftereffects of war and were altogether superficial. As you can see in Figure 4, the image is exactly what the caption says it is – a roaring explosion of fire behind the silhouettes of camels. It is obvious that shock tactics were not considered when McCurry took this photograph, McCurry is only beautifying war and not showing the atrocities that coincide with devastating conflicts.
In comparison to McCurry, Jarecke’s photographs were completely representative of the Gulf War and showed the inside eye of what the public were being denied of visually. (Figure 5). Jarecke’s images sparked controversy as being distasteful and dishonourable because he was specifically photographing the dead. However, Jarecke commented when being criticised that “if I don’t take pictures like these, people like my mum will think war is what they see in movies.” (Jarecke 2014) I completely agree with Jarecke here, if photojournalists do not adhere to photographing exactly what is in front of them, then their images will result in looking like McCurry’s cinematic images from the war – aesthetically newsworthy but with the wrong intentions.
The subject of war and conflict amongst photography has often been a difficult topic to approach for photographers. They can either take two paths I feel, either they decide to represent conflict with raw visualities; however this can then lead to their audience becoming desensitised to the images, especially when there is a constant outpour of these types of images. In my opinion, this would be the obvious choice though if I were to document terrorisation of a community, it bears no dishonesty. On the other hand, some photographers such as Richard Mosse, choose to opt for stunning aesthetics and this is where I feel artists who try to mirror photojournalism in their own work are failing.
Mosses’ project The Enclave displayed several images from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in what I can only describe as appearing like a fashion shoot. (Figures 6, 7 & 8) Mosse documented how 5.4 million people have died there since 1998 due to ongoing conflict; the conflicts are still happening presently as rebel groups operate to this day in Eastern Congo. He used discontinued infrared colour film that was originally used by the United States military during World War Two to highlight camouflage. Mosse’s reasoning for this was that he wanted to represent “the crisis of representation artists, photojournalists and filmmakers are confronted with when trying to depict brutality, suffering and destruction.” (Smaidment 2015)
Figure 6: Richard Mosse (2013) from The Enclave
Figure 7: Richard Mosse (2013) from The Enclave
Figure 8: Richard Mosse (2013) from The Enclave
Personally, it does not represent in my view the experience of victims who have died amongst the midst of the landscape shown. Using film that changes the colour of its surroundings in the image to bright pinks and reds, is not a valid depiction of the horror that citizens endured. The colour red may connotate the blood of the dead, but I feel the photographs do not emit anything other than visual beauty. “The first and greatest humanitarian trap is this need to simplify, if not actually lie about, the way things are in the crisis zones, in order to make the story more morally and psychologically palatable.” (Rieff 2013: 137) I agree with Rieff here, photographers such as Mosse and McCurry, continually produce work that allows the true narrative to hide behind a blanket of beauty in order for it to be deemed more acceptable for viewing.
Along with beautified images, I feel the media often uses biblical symbolism in their imagery or will refer to religion when broadcasting the news. (Figure 9) However, along with doing this, they have at times fabricated captions with images to make the story appear more dramatic – resulting in the truth of the news being pushed aside. An example of this can be found in Hocine Zaourar’s image, The Madonna of Bentalha. (Figure 10) Zaourar’s image depicted a woman crying out in despair just outside one of the hospitals within the town of Bentalha, Algeria. The Algerian Massacre of 1997 accumulated hundreds of deaths across the country, started by the Islamist guerrilla groups; they were opposing against the government and the cancellation of the elections that were due to start. The massacres had no organisation associated with them, the independent groups went from house to house, killing every man, woman, and child. Although the image had critical acclaim and benefited in the world knowing about the violence occurring in Algeria, the journalists changed the text accompanying the image and stated that the woman was a mother mourning the death of her eight children. The real story behind the photograph is that the woman was mourning over three of her relatives; changing the narrative behind the image inevitably gave it more power visually as McGonagle has said here: “positioning her as a mother mourning the loss of her eight children allowed commentators to draw parallels with notions of motherhood worldwide.” (McGonagle 2014: 80) Of course, any family member dying is devastating for a person, but society tend to feel more empathy towards a supposed mother and her incomparable grief over her own children in the centre of war.
Figure 9: Michael S Willaimson (1994) from Rwanda
Figure 10: Hocine Zaourar (1997) The Madonna of Bentalha
Religious iconography is another factor that the media include in images of conflict, this is something that I feel can be a positive attribute. Such as with Samuel Aranda’s image (Figure 11), the photograph depicts a mother cradling her adult son after she found him to be alive during the devastating chain of events; the picture has been linked to Michelangelo’s Pieta. (Figure 12) In comparison to Michelangelo’s Pieta, advertising company Benetton released a controversial campaign in 1991 of the same name, exposing the reality of AIDS. (Figure 13) The photo depicted AIDS activist David Kirby as he laid on his deathbed in hospital, surrounded by his family. The original photograph was taken by Therese Frare (Figure 14) and Benetton’s art director Oliviero Toscani enlisted artist Ann Rhoney to colourise the image with oil paint to give it more shock value.
Figure 13: Ann Rhoney (1991) for United Colours of Benetton
Figure 14: Therese Frare (1990) David Kirby’s Final Moments
Figure 12: Michelangelo Buonarroti (1498-1499) The Pieta (The Pity)
Figure 11: Samuel Aranda (2011) Yemen, Fighting for Change
Although the campaign was received both negatively and positively for its Christian comparisons to Pieta, I feel that it is an authentic representation of human suffering, much like Aranda’s Yemen work because we know it has happened and is still happening globally today. Benetton’s advert and Aranda’s image, I feel, are successful examples of when Christian iconography is used properly. In relation to my view, Toscani has commented that “The Michelangelo’s Pieta during the Renaissance might be fake, Jesus Christ may never have existed. But we know this death happened. This is the real thing.” (Toscani 1991) Relating images of conflict and suffering to a biblical narrative such as Mary and Jesus, is an exceptional way of attracting the viewer’s attention. Audience’s usually feel more empathy towards imagery of a family circle in my opinion, their compassion becomes heightened due to them thinking about their own families and how they would feel personally in the same situation. As Coomes says here of Aranda’s image and I believe that it can also be connected to Benetton’s advert, “the Renaissance style of lighting elevates it from an illustrative news picture to something that has a heritage.” (Coomes 2012)
Balog argues, “I’ve tended to look for an engaging way, not always a beautiful way, to pull people into the subject and make them care about it. And then, at the same time…(to) deliver a message behind that beautiful picture that says, ‘Things aren’t what you wish they were; things aren’t what they could be.” (Balog 2013: 132) This comment I feel, can be connected to how people reacted when the Abu Ghraib images were released; they again present religious tendencies, but in their case at a much darker level. In particular, the image that circulated at a faster rate than any other from Abu Ghraib was that of The Hooded Man. (Figure 1) The way in which the man’s arms are outstretched like Jesus’s were during his crucifixion (Figure 15), his hands being attached to electrical wires, much like Jesus’s hands were pinned in with nails to the cross – the image mimics the brutality that Jesus endured before his death.
Figure 15: Diego Velazquez (1632) Christ Crucified
Figure 16: The Economist (2004) Front Page
Figure 17: Various Newspapers (2004) Front Covers
The Hooded Man was also chosen for many international and global newspapers/magazines covers (Figure 16), most likely because I feel journalists knew it would attract immediate attention due to its raw and intense visuals; additionally that religious symmetry favours the eyes of most.“These forms of savagery are neither mere images nor mere actions, but are designed to be both: they are propaganda of the spectacle and of the deed.” (Linfield 2010: 152) As Linfield says here, these types of images are not there to beautify conflict but to create a reaction among people and educate them on how humans can become the overall enemy of humanity itself. The Abu Ghraib images were not released to be easy to view or to understand the actions of the American military. They were shown to expose the brutal truth of conflict behind closed doors; not everything we read about is proof of its subject and the issue certainly attracted the media’s attention (Figure 17). As Cartier-Bresson says here: “Life isn’t made of stories that you cut into slices like an apple pie. There’s no standard way of approaching a story. We have to evoke a situation, a truth.” (Cartier Bresson 2013: 36)
In addition, images such as the ones that came from Abu Ghraib should be the types of images we all collectively see when it concerns the topic of conflict; we need to see the chaos of a situation to understand its origin so that eventually, conflicts are reduced gradually. Without these types of photographs, the narrative cannot and in my opinion should not be released into the world. “As a journalist, I’m obliged to concede that the broadcasting of the images was a succinct demonstration of the visceral power of photos over the written word.” (Worthington 2009) Overall, I feel that shock tactics used in a conflict image are always the worthier choice; the subject of conflict should not be approached with caution, especially when vital visual information is at stake of being disregarded. Although talking about Abu Ghraib, I feel that this comment can be applied to photographs of a similar nature and represents how I feel about shocking images of conflict: “These photographs expose the essential blindness that constitutes the act of seeing as such.” (Phelan 2012: 55)
Chapter 2: Tackling Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue and pleasing aesthetics create a vicious circle and, in some way, marry up to one another surprisingly. Without beautiful aesthetics, society becomes immune to the empathy they should be feeling when divulging conflict of war images; and when contradictive beauty takes its place within a photograph, people tend to only focus on that factor and not the narrative behind the colours. Whether or not this complication will ever be fixed is a question I cannot answer, but what I am certain of is that photographers should be focusing on what Ritchin says here – we must “incite discussion and attract attention.” (Ritchin 2013: 39)
Figure 18: John Moore (2007), The Moment the Bomb Exploded
Figure 19: John Moore (2007), A Survivor Grieves at the Attack Scene
Figure 20: Alexander Chadwick (2007), Mobile Phone Image of People Caught in the 7/7 Bombings
A strategy that I believe combats compassion fatigue is that of citizen journalism; this type of imagery is raw and attracts the attention of people that abstract journalism cannot.For example, the assassination of Pakistan’s former prime minister Benazir Bhutto that was captured by photojournalist John Moore at the very moment it occurred. The images (Figures 18 & 19) are visually catastrophic in keeping with the tone of the event; although they are not necessarily clear to understand, the physical facial expressions of surrounding people and the blurriness of the scene are enough to comprehend how disastrous it would have been to be there. Moore is not a citizen journalist per say, but his illustration of the attack was unplanned and is not the initial reason that he was there in the first place. He was at that time, a citizen voluntarily photographing the event – images that would later be a representation of the brutality endured by the involved people. The reason that I feel Moore’s pictures can be related to that of citizen journalism, is that they are closely similar to the images taken at the scene of the 7/7 bombings in London. (Figure 20)
These types of images may not be perfectly constructed to fit the editorial choices of magazines and newspapers, but they are an honest outline of how events of conflict can happen without warning – we must continue to deliver these photographs to inform people within the area. We can relate more efficiently to citizen journalists and I support my argument with this statement from Ritchin: “Many viewers may empathize with the motivations of these ordinary citizens, which are possibly similar to their own.” (Ritchin 2013: 11)
In comparison, artists Broomberg and Chanarin have said in an interview discussing photojournalism and conceptual photography, that Moore’s image from Pakistan was the catalyst for them to create their project The Day Nobody Died. Their intention for this project was to “create in the mind of the viewer, a question. Which was; what do you expect to see, what do you want to see and how much would be enough evidence for you.” (Chanarin 2012) Broomberg and Chanarin wanted to question whether images of conflict should be as brash and visually raw as the images that come mostly from citizen journalism. They took a roll of film out to Afghanistan and each time a conflicting event would happen; they would expose the film for 20 seconds into the light. (Figure 21)
This piece of work in my opinion, is not a valid alternative to citizen journalism and does not contain any valuable information at all regarding a scene of conflict. I agree with O’Hagan with his opinion on the project that, “they are in a warzone and their decking about with some conceptual joke, I think it’s patronising and arrogant.” (O’Hagan 2012) However, I do agree with Broomberg when he argues that, “why in 2012, are we seeing images that are less analytical and critical than they were in 1960. Something’s gone wrong, we are being controlled, there’s a clear act of censorship going on.” (Broomberg 2012) Consistently, we are bombarded with images of conflict that are not representative of the narrative that has occurred and this I feel, is the reason for society’s demise in feeling any form of compassion towards the subject of visual warzones.
Chapter 3: The Rwandan Genocide: Did Western Media Fail?
The overstuffed nations watched CNN and shook their heads in silence.” (Gannett News Service 1999: 283) In my view, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 should have been an event that was publicised worldwide from start to finish; however, the Western media in their typical ‘late to the party’ fashion decided against releasing the images – that was until the death toll had soared to an unsustainable amount of 900,000 and help seemed to disappear into the abyss.“Only when the genocide turned into a refugee crisis, did either the public or government take any aggressive action.” (Moeller 1999: 284) As Moeller argues here, up until this point, nobody across the globe had an insight into what was happening in Rwanda. Yet the first images they were introduced to were of refugees fleeing the country (Figure 22) and not the cause of this action. It would not be for another four months that an international audience would be made privy to the true reason for the civilian escape. (Figure 23)
Figure 22: Gilles Peress (1994) from The Silence
Figure 23: Gilles Peress (1994) from The Silence
Only a select few of photographers such as Alfredo Jaar and Gilles Peress (Figure 24), succeeded in producing the right work that was representative of the horror during the Rwandan Genocide. Other photographers such as Sebastiao Salgado(Figure 25), simply masqueraded any importance from the genocide by providing the public with superficial journalism. Yet, these were the types of images that were chosen to be published first because the feelings of society were considered before the feelings of the victims. As Davies has argued here, “these are journalists who are no longer out gathering news but who are reduced instead to passive processors of whatever material comes their way, churning out stories, whether real event or PR artifice, important or trivial, true or false.” (Davies 2010: 46) It took a considerable amount of imagery to be released before any hierarchal figure decided to take action and offer their services of aid, as Polman explains here, “Africans especially have to kick up a considerable fuss to be heard and seen by donors, since modern history sets a high threshold for attention to ‘yet another African war drama.’” (Polman 2010: 161)
Figure 24: Giles Peress (1994) from The Silence
Figure 25: Sebastiao Salgado (1994) Rwandan refugees heading towards North Kivu and South Kivu. Zaire
In my opinion, the media had failed, as Moeller states here quoting from the 1996 report The International Response to Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from the Rwandan Experience, “The Western media’s failure to report adequately on the genocide in Rwanda possibly contributed to international indifference and inaction, and hence the crime itself.” (Moeller 1999: 298) Ritchin argues that “one of the most contested and restricted purviews of professional photographers has been the coverage of war.” (Ritchin 2013: 16) During thier time in Rwanda, photographers Giles Peress and Alfredo Jaar (Figure 26) managed to achieve what I believe to be almost impossible amongst photojournalism nowadays. I argue that they successfully produced images that represented what Western society should have been exposed to from the beginning; where beauty was not the favoured inclusion in the photographs and people could finally see the horrors that had occurred among Rwanda through their use of shock tactics. Although, it was not an easy task to follow through on because “imagery of a larger societal significance has a much harder time surfacing, let alone demanding attention.” (Ritchin 2013: 9) I agree with Ritchin here, as we know that with Jarecke’s Incinerated Soldier (Figure 6), that all American magazines/newspapers refused to publish the image due to its shocking graphics.
Jaar approached the genocide of Rwanda through the eyes of the survivors and it has been noted that “TheRwanda Project can be regarded as a form of epos, an epic poem dedicated to the Rwandan Genocide.” (Gervat 2014) TheRwanda Project is extremely intense in my view and includes repetition of certain images of his, but I feel that this appearance is vital in truly representing the tone of the subject; how powerful figures worldwide were repeatedly shown images from the genocide and simply did nothing. It is displayed in various forms and follows an aesthetic style to explain how the world failed to respond to the genocide.
For example, a section entitled Eyes of Gutete Emerita (Figure 27) shows the eyes of a surviving mother; the text accompanying this image explains how Gutete was attending Sunday mass at her local church when the slaughters of 400 Tutsi men, women and children began right before her eyes; among those were also her husband and two sons. At times, the entirety of an image is not needed to fuel emotive narrative, and this is an example of how it can be achieved. Gutete’s eyes are harrowing to stare at, to imagine what she must have seen – the same images that Western society would have been shown during the massacre, yet they failed and still fail today to feel compassion towards distressing conflict images in the media. “What had happened during the coverage of the genocide was in hindsight less compassion fatigue, and more compassion avoidance.” (Moeller 1999: 306)
Personally, I cannot understand why aesthetically beautiful images are more successful in the public eye, especially if it is concerning terror among cultures. The people of Rwanda experienced an event that is incomprehensible to the human mind; it was a menacing attack of massacre – massacre is not picturesque, so why should the photographer’s images appear this way? Indeed, Jaar also exhibited the Rwanda Project in a way that exudes power upon any person that viewed it; Figure 28 shows a secondary way that the Eyes of Gutete Emerita were exhibited
Jaar exhibited Gutete’s eyes on a huge light box, consisting of one million slides along with magnifiers for visitors to use to investigate the images closer. In my opinion, this allowed the audience to inspect closely the haunting stare and focus of Gutete’s eyes onto theirs, reiterating that her eyes, are eyes of sorrow from a deadly massacre. The proportional amount of slides connects with the final count of corpses from the Rwandan Genocide; the way in which the slides pile above people walking around the table extenuates I feel, both the presentation of how the bodies were piled on top one another without care throughout the killings, and the amount of onlookers during the carnage. Western onlookers who watched and waited for it to end so that their services would not be needed, regardless of the amount of graphic imagery they were shown through the media. Gervat has argued about the various ways in which Jaar exhibited his work, that “they are all poetic exercises in representation that are at once a dirge and exaltation, an effigy and an elegy, a promulgation and a denunciation of the Rwandan Genocide and the world’s failure to respond to it.” (Gervat 2014) I agree with Gervat here, Jaar is demonstrating to the public through presentation, the amount of fatalities and the experiences of survivors whose voices were ignored among the rubble of superficial journalism, courtesy of the Western media.
However, Jaar was sceptical about how he had produced work from the Rwanda Project commenting, “I feel that it wouldn’t make any difference to show these images because I feel people here have lost the capacity to see, they have lost their capacity to be affected.” (Jaar 2004: 62) But I disagree with Jaar here, he is proving how powerful cropped images can be, not always having to be explicitly graphic, but nevertheless pinning the audience in the same way. I do agree with Jaar however, that people – meaning the Western world – have lost their compassion to feel something when looking at an image of conflict or post conflict.
Williamson (1994) however, took a different direction when it came to publishing photographs from the genocide. In my opinion, the style in which Williamson chose was that of how photojournalism should be executed for news information purposes. Williamson arrived six days after the Rwandan president was assassinated, instantly hearing the cries of victims who were being hacked to death when he stood upon the bridge at night. Williamson’s image (Figure 29) of bodies floating in the Kigali river is shocking due to its graphic nature and shows no attempt to hide the true subject matter of murder. Yet, even with images such as this one where you can see bloodied, decomposing bodies floating in the remnants of other corpses, both the public and officials across the Western front did not intervene to offer help. “Our failure is one of imagination, of empathy.” (Sontag 2004: 7) I argue that Sontag’s comment relates to how Western society is continually falling into the deep depths of compassion fatigue; fuelled by the ignorance that it is simply not their business to interfere in another ‘helpless conflict’, regardless of the floods of horrific images that come from it. In addition, I feel that this fatigue is not helped when we as a community are informed first with images (Figures 22 & 25) that can only be labelled as superficial.
In comparison, I would argue that the majority of Williamson’s images were lacking the accessories that are vital in an image to evoke a sense of ‘stand up and act’ in people. Such as, this image here of a child in Rwanda suffering from a cold. (Figure 30) This photograph has clearly been constructed for beauty purposes only; when a genocide is raging within the walls around this image, these are not the visuals we should be seeing instead. On the poor construction of images, Baudrillard argues that “rather than creating communication, it exhausts itself in the act of staging communication. Rather than producing meaning, it exhausts itself in the staging of meaning.” (Baudrillard 1994: 80) Although the media is aware that an audience responds well to the face of another African child in the midst of conflict, this image is not representative of the true context behind it. This photograph in particular, should not have been printed to be a representation of the Rwandan Genocide; caption or no caption, it still does not show the massacre that was happening, resulting in deaths that were accumulating “at nearly three times the rate of Jewish dead during the Holocaust.” (Gourevitch 1999: 280)
On the other hand, Jaar’s work from the Rwanda Project is more illustrative of the Rwandan Genocide and the controversies behind it especially. I feel that Jaar was extremely clever in showing just how neglected the genocide was when it came to being included in the worldwide press. He exhibited this piece (Figure 31) entitled Newsweek, in which he exposed how it took a renowned American magazine like Newsweek, sixteen weeks before their front page was covered with the horrors of Rwanda. Yet, that the journalists of Newsweek were most definitely aware of the genocide; yet they simply ignored the conflict because they were ordered to do so by American security officials. Instead, they were told to fill their front covers with more ‘culturally appropriate’ stories for the people of America. When Rwanda’s time finally came to be in the spotlight, it was August 1st 1994, four months after the genocide had begun and an estimated 900,000 Rwandans had been slaughtered alone, as well as another 2 million people who had fled, eventually dying from cholera.
In my opinion, what Jaar has shown here, is that anything that is covering our newspapers or magazine front pages, could be completely irrelevant compared to more important events happening that we are unaware of; the mass media “are the vehicles for the simulation internal to the system and the simulation that destroys the system: (Baudrillard 1994: 84) Additionally to this point, “as a result of the risks and costs, ‘a lot of the coverage has been superficial.’” (Jennings 1999: 293) Or in this case, non-existent for sixteen weeks while women, men and children were killed on their own territory for simply not having the right identification card.
Conclusively, I argue that without the use of shock tactics within conflict photographs, we can never truly understand the storyline of the event. These types of events are not meant to be reconstructed for our viewing pleasure, they are available to us in order to show the realism of everyday conflicts and the inhuman actions that take place. As Taylor has commented here: “What would it mean for knowledge if the images ceased to circulate, or were never seen in the first place? What would it mean for civility if representations of war crimes were always polite? If prurience is ugly, what then is discretion in the face of barbarism?” (Taylor 2014: 85)
If photojournalists can use their valuable access to warzones for the benefit of illustrating the authentic story to citizens around the world, this could result in us seeing illustrations that we do not see often, due to the control of censorship from hierarchal officials. Journalists must push against these ridiculous expectations from powerful figures; figures who are not in the centre of the conflict and in turn have no authority to dictate what should or should not be shown in the media.
Superficial journalism is unfortunately becoming more apparent presently in the media; this downward spiral of dishonesty must be dealt with before we no longer have an urge to witness any form of media, due to continually questioning what is and is not a true representation of conflict.
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