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Culture

Should Some Photographs Not Be Taken?

The picture above was taken by Richard Drew in the moments after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The picture of the man falling from one of the Twin towers now represents a makeshift Unknown Soldier in an often unknown and uncertain war, suspended forever in history.

When the picture was first published there was a furore over newspapers publishing what is essentially someone falling to their death.

This leads to the question should some pictures not be taken?

This is a difficult question, especially when we consider some of the most iconic photographs that have been taken. The age old saying a picture is worth a thousand words comes to mind. Some pictures are horrible to look at, when I think of some of the worst pictures taken, I see images of The vulture and the child, The Burning Monk and more recently Death of Alan Kurdi. 

All these photos shone a light on issues that many were happy to ignore, it’s easy to overlook something if you read an article but when a young infant washed up on shore,  Nilüfer Demir photo showed us all the lengths many were willing to through in order to escape the warzone that is Syria. And because our governments were happy to paint refugees as criminals, this image changed everyone’s perception, there is no editor in the world that could frame the narrative differently. The image indeed told us the story of thousands, who had also died but were not photographed.

Images such as this have a lasting impact, Alan Kurdi ended up being a  major topic during the 2015 Canadian Refugee crisis.  In June 1963, most Americans couldn’t find Vietnam on a map but after Malcolm Browne captured the image of Thich Quang Duc immolating himself on a Saigon street. The world started paying attention.

Some images have disturbing subject matter, Kevin Carter captured the image of a starving boy being watched by a vulture, there was widespread condemnation for him taking a photo instead of helping the child.  When the outrage subsided. The immediate public reaction was to send money to any humanitarian organization that had an operation in Sudan.

Western society loves to watch horror and thriller films, we love gore and things that disgust us, we will pay to watch people get shot and killed on film. But when the lens points to the worst humanity has to offer we want to turn away and not look because reality gives us two choices. We can ignore what we see but our conscience will eat away at us or we can acknowledge our perceived peaceful world is only relative to us and there are others suffering. This is the beauty of photographs, they show you a snapshot of reality and its up to you how you react. 

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