Submitted by Emily Magdij on 16 January 2012 - 7:37pm
This photograph is of a fifteen year old girl, Fabienne Cherisma, who was shot twice and killed after looting two chairs and three frames following the Haiti Earthquakes. It was taken by the photographer Paul Hansen, and has subsequently been awarded the prestige of being Best International News Image at the Swedish Picture Awards.
This photograph, however, shows the same scene, but from a very different light. Captured by photographer Nathan Weber, it shows a swarm of photographers struggling together to get the best angle of a teenager who has been gunned down on the street. If you'll note, there is not a single one who has gone to check whether she's still breathing, to cover the body, or to do anything other than squat down and take the shot. At a glance, Weber's photo shows a casual sociopathy at best and a callous disregard of human life at worst. In short, it is not a pleasant picture to look upon: we, the viewer, are confronted with the lengths gone to in order to satisfy our voyeuristic need for emotionally compelling images.
In a single shot, we have our perception changed. No longer are we seeing the bleakness of somewhere foreign with foreign customs, and no longer do we cry out about the injustice of a fifteen year old shot dead for such a petty crime. Rather, we see the photographers jostling for a shot and we find ugly metaphors for them. Vultures, who have stumbled across a juicy piece of stinking, rotten carrion that they can take home for their greedy, ugly chicks to devour. We wonder aloud about the ethics of a shot like that - the stark and terrible reality that there is such an industry based around the suffering of others. As a collective, we are revolted when we are reminded that there is a real person behind the push of a button of a camera that delivers the image worldwide - and not only that, but that someone stands to profit from it. It is not a pleasant reality to be reminded of.
That gut reaction is shared by those who argue the ethics and morality of such images; people like the ones who, on the latter image, have made the following comments:
"Necessary ..the only thing they think of is the next exhibition, were[sic] they can flabbergast strangers with the deep suffering they have seen"
"Vultures at least eat the dead pray[sic], it's called the circle of life... That's just called press."
"ugly yes, necessary not so much"
But is that gut reaction really the right one? That picture, for all that the context appears to speak for itself, has the disadvantage of being just that: a picture. A single snapshot in time. A carefully framed - for let us not forget that there is indeed another person behind another camera that got that ugly shot - still image of one moment, no more, that allows all kinds of conclusions to be drawn from it. I would not for a moment presume to claim that there was a rush to help the girl before it was concluded that she was, indeed, dead, but why then would I find it easier to presume that there was not one of those photographers who might have checked before they stooped down to get their angle?
Even if the worst assumption of the picture can be presumed true - that no one stopped to help, and that they all really were simply going for the best shot and that was all the investment they had in the matter - then can they still be condemned so harshly? The ethics of photojournalism have always sparked heated debate and passion, from the Pulitzer prize winning photo of an African girl mere feet from a vulture taken by Kevin Carter to the picture of a dead Gaddafi splashed across the front pages of newspapers earlier this year. It has a perception of something ghoulish - something ugly - that I feel it does not deserve.
There is nothing pleasant about photos of horrific events abroad being sent back home, and there is nothing pleasant about the way they are gotten. It is fair, I think, to call it an ugly business, because there is no beauty in shock imagery. But the good it does in the exposure it brings to terrible events, and in making an audience emotionally connected to something that they had never even thought of before is a fair trade off. And though the criticism that it is morally abhorrent to profiteer off the suffering of someone you have done nothing to help is valid and worth examining, it misses the point at the heart of photojournalism: that the photographer may not be in a position to help, but that the rest of the world just might be. Without seeing the condition of the rest of the world, how is the average person supposed to sympathise with it? They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of these photos, photos that can touch the world and cause rile enough empathy and outrage to move those who have no real idea of the suffering outside their bubbles, I believe it is worth much more.
As Kenneth Jarecke said of this photo (warning: disturbing content):
"If I don't photograph this, people like my mom will think war is what they see on T.V."