Alex David Wright Writes

#3 The image encourages voyeurism, not involvement

To look upon something is to see the thing in relation to oneself, and this can engender intimacy or estrangement. Often, it is the latter. This is, as Susan Sontag points out, especially true of faraway places — they are more vulnerable to the dehumanising effects of distance. One’s awareness of suffering becomes a construct; there is nothing felt, really, because it is as if nothing has happened.

This is a problem partly of reproduction, in the manner explored by Walter Benjamin and John Berger (see Reproduction is not a neutral act). One must therefore distinguish carefully between that which is reproduced and that which is original. For images — reproductions — can be repurposed and reused with ease, especially nowadays. One should carefully consider the contextual framing of an image: what is being shown, who is being shown, and how is it and how are they being shown?

Images objectify, and this is particularly problematic in terms of images of violence — violence turns anybody subjected to it into a thing.

This is all vital to consider, because photographs influence collective societal thought and memory, a form of “collective instruction”. What results is “not a remembering but a stipulating.”

One must therefore take care not to fall into the trap of passive voyeurism when faced with the suffering of others. A new question therefore comes to light: what actions should one take?


Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag:

Perhaps too much value is assigned to memory, not enough to thinking. Remembering is an ethical act, has ethical value in and of itself. Memory is, achingly, the only relation we can have with the dead. So the belief that remembering is an ethical act is deep in our natures as humans, who know we are going to die, and who mourn those who in the normal course of things die before us – grandparents, parents, teachers and older friends. Heartlessness and amnesia seem to go together. But history gives contradictory signals about the value of remembering in the much longer span of a collective history. There is simply too much injustice in the world.

#society #selfhood

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