“I wanted to run to a safe place too…
But I also wanted to take pictures. As a journalist,
it was my duty to take these photos and show the world what was going on.
I knew I was the only one at this spot.”
Moments of history are immortalised by photographs. Through significant times in our past, there has always been the singular, defining image that people will remember when they think back to a day that changed the way we lived…or altered how we saw the world. The Syrian Toddler, The Falling Man, The Girl In The Picture from the Vietnam War, Vulture Stalking a Child, and unfortunately many more. I don’t even have to include the images, you already can picture them in your head, and the day or issue it is connected to: War, Famine, or Terrorism, Death.
They are all images we don’t want to see, moments we don’t want to remember, but we do. Images so intense and authentic we can’t turn away despite all our senses telling us we should. Why can’t we look away?
Susan Sontag believed only those who had the right to view photos of those suffering were those “who could do something or alleviate” the suffering, or those who could learn from it. There was a distinction that anyone else not attached to the events could not view the photos. But couldn’t we all learn from these photos? Images of horrific events happening from our own backyard to the other side of the world, of pain and fear that most of us hope to never experience.
Shouldn’t we all have the right, or opportunity, to see these photos and take a moment to think. Sontag argued “The sufferings most often deemed worthy of representation are those understood to be the product of wrath, divine or human”(2003 p. 36). It is not the spectacle of suffering we are drawn in by, or the ‘poverty porn‘, it is because these images define our world, and define how we view it. These photos serve as bookmarks to a moment or era, a visual memory and a reminder of the wrath of humans.
They force us to pause and reflect, to think not of you and not be classified as just a spectator, or how it makes you feel, but of the people in the photo and who it will affect. No man is an island, and there will always be a way for us to help even if it is vowing to yourself to be a better person, or just to be aware of the world and its dark corners.
We have a duty, just like those who captured the moment had the duty to take it and share it. A duty to learn from the horror of what humanity can unfold. To understand the vulnerability, the importance, and remember that it can be any of us. To respect, and to have faith in a better tomorrow.