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Documenting Tragedy

by on December 13, 2016

At what point does a photojournalist say “No, this is too much to publish?”  How much should we show?

There are many factors that help us decide what was too much and what was okay.  First, if the image(s) is crucial to the story, most agree that it should be published.  But once the New York Post published a picture of a man stuck on the subway tracks with a train headed his way, people started questioning whether or not it should have been in the story.  The photojournalist was asked why he didn’t help the man out, which he responded, “If this thing happened again with the same circumstances, whether I had a camera or not, and I was running toward him, there was no way I could have rescued Mr. Han.”  This example was scary but not gory (well, it’s pre-gory) and was obviously showing that the man was hit by the train.

On the other hand, we have war photographers who risk their lives to take pictures that sometimes they can’t even post.  Joao Silva, a photographer who was in Iraq and Afghanistan many times, took pictures while he was being dragged by soldiers after he stepped on a land mine.  He wrote, “The reality is hard work and a lot of time alone. Firefights can be exciting, I’m not going to lie, but photographing the aftermath of a bomb, when there’s a dead child and the mother wailing over the corpse, isn’t fun. I’m intruding on the most intimate moments, but I force myself to do it because the world has to see those images.”

Another war photographer, Greg Marinovich, had much more gruesome photos.  He took pictures of a man who was set on fire.  Someone yelled no pictures, and Marinovich said, “I told them I’d stop shooting if they stopped killing him. They didn’t.”

So at what point do we not share photos? Silva said he took pictures because it was important to show the world the images, especially politicians who send young boys to war.  Marinovich was in a dangerous predicament where he was shot three times in South Africa alone.  He said, “You’re not just a journalist or a human being, you’re a mixture of both, and to try to separate the two is complicated.”  When do we say “okay, the world doesn’t need to see this?”  Is there a limit?

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One Comment
  1. I think what needs to be considered is what the purpose of taking the photo itself is/was and then thinking about what purpose showing the public the images would/could serve. If there is no effective purpose, then revealing should probably be reconsidered.

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