Saturday, June 18, 2011


Quoting myself from the past
On the front page of the NY Times this morning, below the fold, is a photograph taken by a camera hovering two feet above the ground, of a naked emaciated child with her head leaning on her mother's thigh.

Get up and walk away from the keyboard, into the middle of whatever room you're in. Bend forward and put your hands in front of your face as if holding a camera; close one eye and look towards the ground with the other and imagine that child at your feet. Move your index finger downwards toward your thumb and make a clicking sound, and see if you can understand what you've become.
Journalism is hackwork; it's ambulance chasing. Photojournalism is lower still because less necessary, but claims for photojournalism as art are more offensive than the work itself. Both the photographs above are crap, but one of them won an award.

Journalism needs to be defined again as advocacy not for justice or truth or high morality but simply for the public's desire, and need, to know. Advocates by title are not gatekeepers. Once journalism is defined again as it once was, then honest hacks will be more willing to accept responsibility for their actions, and on occasion may choose to intervene or at least not take the shot.

Weegee would have made something interesting out of the first shot, but he wouldn't have felt the need to travel very far to shoot it. He found his voyeurs and dead bodies where he lived, and voyeurs as much as anything were his subject. He photographed the totality. And again, the voyeuristic photograph here won the award.

Following the link above, takes you to a discussion in English and more links. It's interesting to follow the moral logic, the sense of professional distance and false intimacy: referring to the dead girl by her first name; the discussion out of a photo-club debate in 1955, of pudgy voyeurs in denial.

Regardless of the discussion of follow-up with the her family, and the rhetoric of journalists as medical diagnosticians of war the most obvious point is forgotten: if it were taken in Sweden and the girl were white the award-winning photograph would never have been published.

Jean Léone Gérôme, The Slave Market, 1866
Gérôme, like journalists, economists, and philosophers, saw himself as having an "extended mind"; he was observing barbarism, not taking part in it.

Photographs, from the top: Nathan Weber, Paul Hansen, Jan Grarup/NOOR Images, Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star

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