When it comes down to it, the depiction of pain and suffering in the media is no new occurrenc. Today it seems our news screens are saturated with images of pain, war, and destruction. But have you ever stopped to think about your own reactions to these images? I’ll never forget the vision of my mother on the morning of the 9/11 attacks, staring at the TV screen in utter distress, with tears rolling down her face.
When confronting images are displayed in the media for the public to see, we as the audience are usually warned that some of us may find them disturbing. Whether we like it or not, most of us have been put in a position where we have to choose to view an image or video or even artistic representation of someone suffering. When we make the choice to view these images, what do we deem the most appropriate reaction?
In July 2014, the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was shot down by a missile and the plane crashed in the Ukraine city of Torez. I recall the tragic images of the wreckage that dominated news broadcasts in the weeks following the crash. Following the incident, TIME magazine featured the photographs of the MH17 crash site taken by war photographer, Jerome Sessini. The images, published in the article were concealed with the warning message above giving viewers the choice to open the gallery or not. Sessini described the images he captured as “horrific” and “almost unreal,” as well as feeling unprepared for “the weight of what he saw.” The included images show the corpses of victims of the crash as well as the body of a passenger that was thrown from the plane and fell through the roof of a nearby home. Sessini described the site as “a real nightmare.” (Gibson, M, 2014)
I personally believe that anyone, such as Sessini, who experienced, first hand the vision of such terrible events are justified in their responses of feeling horrified and extremely saddened. James Rainy in On the Media: Death rocks photo family, observed the impacts of war and disaster photography on the photographers. In interviewing war photographer, Corinne Dufka, Rainy explains how the photographers receive a true sense of loss through witnessing, first-hand, horrific tragedies of war and destruction, (Rainy, 2011).
However, the pressure of the competitive environment of photo-journalism proved, at times, to overshadow the true sense of disaster felt by the victims who have suffered (Rainy, 2011). Dufka details her experience following the breaking news of the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya. Upon confirmation of this news, Dufka, who was working on an assignment outside of Africa found herself upset, not by the fact that a disaster had occurred, but by the fact she had missed the opportunity to photograph the incident for her work. It was not until she saw the images of the disaster on the television did she realise that her focus on getting the ‘image’ had removed her from her ability to feel empathy for the victims (Rainy, 2011).
Additionally, the responses of you or I, feeling upset and disheartened at seeing these images seem like the appropriate and natural response to something that represents so much pain. My question is why do we respond or feel the need to respond in these ways? And in doing so, are we placing concentration on our own distress at looking at these images, rather than focusing on the pain and suffering experienced by the victims?
The London School of Economics and Political science considered similar questions, drawing on the idea that if we as the viewer are recognising the actual suffering endured by those in the images. The physical separation between those who are suffering in the photo and those of us who are viewing it, makes those who are suffering a spectacle. They are made to be looked at. Therefore the distance between us as a viewer and the suffer in the photo is not just on a physical level, but an emotional one too (Abril, A, 2008).
That’s all for now, thank you for reading.