"To paraphrase several sages: Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time."
OK, the cover picture is disturbing. Actually, it just gets increasingly disturbing as you look at it more, and as you think about its implications. Susan Sontag's book Regarding the Pain of Others is about violence, essentially. Every day we are exposed--in newspapers, on the internet--to photographs of violence that is occurring in some distant part of the world. What effect does the viewing of that violence have on us? What effect does it have on the person whose suffering is depicted? What is the relationship between the viewer and the viewed, and how can we make that photographic relationship more compassionate and less exploitative?
Regarding the Pain of Others is a really interesting look at issues connected to photography, the gaze, representation in times of war and suffering, and the complex relationship between those who look and those who are looked at. This book deals with the outer limits of human cruelty and brutality, and how people respond when exposed to visual images of these kinds of acts.
Try this. I've recommended James Nachtwey's photographs before on this blog, but I want to recommend them again. Take a look at his famine photographs, for instance. They are not easy to look at, nor should they be. But as you look--as you gaze at this other flesh-and-blood person whose day-to-day reality is so different than yours--think about what you feel for that person. Think about how you are affected by the presence of a lens or the presence of the ocean. Think about how you are connected, and also the ways you will never be connected. Think about these words: complicity, silence, helplessness, voice. Think about whether there is even an appropriate way to respond to photographs like these.
Regarding the Pain of Others ends like this:
"'We'--this 'we' is everyone who has never experienced anything like what they went through--don't understand. We don't get it. We truly can't imagine what it was like. We can't imagine how dreadful, how terrifying war is; and how normal it becomes. Can't understand, can't imagine. That's what every soldier, and every journalist and aid worker and independent observer who has put in time under fire, and had the luck to elude the death that struck down others nearby, stubbornly feels. And they are right."
Playing Chicken in Kiev
2 days ago