Tagged: photojournalism

Why I’m okay with photos of the dead.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, during the American Civil War, by Mathew Brady. (Via.)

Joerg Colberg at Conscientious has a highly thought-provoking essay on his blog about the decision, by the New York Times, to reproduce a picture of the U.S. ambassador to Libya shortly after the embassy was attacked by Islamist militants. In the picture, Ambassador Christopher Stevens appears battered, bruised and glassy-eyed. He was one of four fatalities. The U.S. State Department asked that the picture be removed, but the paper declined, citing the picture’s “newsworthy” qualities.

In his essay, Colberg questions the premise that this is a newsworthy shot:

…there it is not a simple and obvious step to demand that we need to see the corpses of people blown up by our drones or, in this current case, the body of the dead or dying ambassador to Libya. In much the same way, if there is shootout in Manhattan then we also do not need to see the dead bodies of the various victims (as happened just a little while ago). Being told what happened is enough – seeing the bodies does not add even the tiniest amount of extra insight.

He adds:

I think a pretty simply rule would be to say that anyone who does not exist as a mental image in the larger public’s mind should be granted the dignity (yes, dignity) not to have her or his dead body shown in a news context (Not to mention what the relatives have to go through). There is no newsworthiness to showing such a photograph, as the case of Mr Stevens makes very clear.

Che Guevara, after being killed in Bolivia in 1967, in an image by Freddy Alberto

Initially, I was inclined to agree with Colberg, but after giving this some thought, I have to respectfully disagree. One, I think the photo of Stevens is brutally powerful, and it brings home the violence in the way that more abstract images (a man holding a weapon; charred architectural remains) do not. In addition, I don’t know that the purpose of a picture is always to add “insight.” Sometimes it’s simply to illustrate what happened — in this case, a brutal attack. Secondly, I disagree that showing some people’s deaths is somehow acceptable while others are off limits. (As in: Che Guevara, okay; unknown American soldiers and military contractors, not so much.)

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Calendar. 02.25.10.

Self Immolation in Afghanistan: A Cry For Help, by Stephanie Sinclair. Part of 2010, the Whitney Biennial, opening today in NYC. (Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum.)

The Digest. 01.18.10.

From the series Juarez, Narco Terror and Christmas by Jeff Antebi. (Photo courtesy of Antebi.)

It’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In tribute: the man on Meet the Press back in 1961.

The Digest. 07.31.09.

An audio slideshow of Bill Eppridge’s Woodstock photos can be found at the NYT Lens blog. (Image courtesy of Bill Eppridge.)

The Digest. 03.23.09.

A photo of a former prisoner named Hermanus. Part of the series Umjiegwana, of ex-prisoners in South Africa, by Mikhael Subotzky. (Image courtesy of Mikhael Subotzky. Thanks to Big Papi G for the heads up.)

Congrats to Greg from Tucson for winning the C-Mon Giveaway Extravaganza, IMA edition!

Calendar. 06.05.08.

Ben Chaney
From the High Museum’s Civil Rights Photography Exhibit: The Chaney family as they depart for the burial of murdered civil rights activist James Chaney; Meridian, Miss. 1964. (Photo by Bill Eppridge.)

Posted by C-Monster.

The photographs of Bill Eppridge.

Robert Kennedy by Bill Eppridge
Robert Kennedy addresses Berkeley students in 1966. (Courtesy of Bill Eppridge.)

In the various undistinguished jobs I’ve held in dead-tree media, the one cohort I’ve always counted on for scrappy companionship are the photographers. Photojournalists, as a breed, are hard-living, hard-fighting muthas who can kick your ass, drink you under the table and take perfect photographs of the proceedingsall at the same time. They’re easy to recognize because they’re typically unshaven, poorly dressed and have a gleam of crazy in their eyes. In other words, hanging out with them practically guarantees a good time. Or a night in jail.

In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to spend some quality time hanging out with Bill Eppridge, a former Life and Sports Illustrated photographer, who has taken some of the most memorable images of the second half of the twentieth century: a photo essay on heroin addicts in Needle Park (later turned into a movie with Al Pacino), the Beatles arriving in the U.S. for the very first time, the funeral of a civil rights activist in Mississippi, and, one of my favorites, a motorcycle race in the Mojave. He also took the haunting photograph of a busboy trying to comfort the mortally-wounded Robert F. Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.

Needless to say, Bill is pretty badass. And he’s got the scars to prove it. I’m lucky to get to chill with him (and his wife, Adrienne!) and shoot the shit about fishing, photography and the gustatory qualities of a slice of Junior’s cheesecake—as well as what it was like to watch hippies get groovy at Woodstock. Anyhow, Bill has a new book coming out at the end of next month, a compendium of his pics from the Kennedy campaign. And this month, Vanity Fair has a photo excerpt (in the June issue). Pick up the mag, or better yet, check out the online slideshow. It’s got photos no campaign would allow a photographer to take today.

Posted by C-Monster.