Questioning the efficacy of images of suffering in the modern world
The recipient of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post calls into question the ability of modern imagery to stir a response from its intended audience.
Following the presentation of video footage from a Damascus hospital – its floor strewn with limp corpses following recent chemical attacks – to the US Senate Intelligence Committee, a link to a compilation of imagery was available for viewing on the White House website. Barack Obama insisted that Americans seek it out in the hope that such “proof” would galvanise support for Military action in Syria.
The problem, as Kennicott sees it however, is that the viewing public is nowadays anaesthetised against such imagery.
He states, “Images of children suffering form the ultimate emotional argument, compelling us to move from sentiment to action, from the particular to the universal, from passivity to engagement. In the past century and a half, we have credited photographs of dead, wounded or starving children with galvanizing political opinion — against an unpopular war in Vietnam and for humanitarian interventions in Africa.
We have arrived at a double crisis: a dissolution of agreement about what is civilized behavior and a dissolution of faith in the meaning of images — a crisis of politics and a crisis of representation. Given how closely photography and video have been linked to defining those international norms, this is a frightening moment.”
To read the article, visit the Washington Post’s website HERE.