P1: Are these pictures objective? Can pictures ever be objective?

Exercise 1

Look up some of the examples mentioned above online – or any other news photographs of emergencies.
Are these pictures objective? Can pictures ever be objective?
Write a list of the arguments for and against. For example, you might argue that these pictures do have a degree of objectivity because the photographer (presumably) didn’t have time to ‘pose’ the subjects, or perhaps even to think about which viewpoint to adopt. On the other hand, the images we see in newspapers may be selected from a series of images and how can we know the factors that determined the choice of final image?

The first image I looked at, not one in the suggested list, was the Syrian child on Bodrum beach in Turkey.

author unknown

Syrian child refugee -author unknown

I have avoided looking at this images until now as I was repulsed by the idea that any photographer would use the dead body of a child to get his image into the public domain. I have not been able to find the author of the image. Why did it take this image to awaken the conscience of the west to the plight of the Syrian refugees. while the body of a child, on a Gaza beach, killed by Israelian bombardment, did not cause any alarm.

author unknown

Gazan child

Are we being manipulated by what the media chooses to show us? Did editors choose the image of the Syrian boy because the colour contrasts attracted the eye? Was it chosen to increase newspaper circulation or television numbers?  Was the decision to publish one and not the other political?

The photographers of each child would, I feel, have brought their personal feelings to the scene. Maybe the shock of the scene forced them to try to get their image out there so the world would wake up to these continuing tragedies. We would have to know what were the authors doing at the scene. Were the photographers there to get the ‘scoop’ photo or there to help? In the case of the Gazan boy I doubt this as there are very few photographers on the Strip. What went through the heads of each of the photographers as they clicked the shutter? . A decision had to be made to put the image into the public domain. We cannot know why this was done. What we do know is in the case of the Syrian child the political classes were goaded into some sort of ‘rabbit in the headlights’ action to try to sort out the Syrian refugee crisis. In the case of the Gazan child we continue to keep our eyes wide shut….

The Abu Graib images were definitely influenced by the personal feelings of the soldiers taking them. There is a sense of triumph and boasting. The persons being tortured have no value in the eyes of the perpetrators. These images were first shared on social media as trophies of war. They were then picked up by humanitarian organisations and the press and went public. This was authorised abuse which we were not supposed to see. Did the decision to bring these images to the public attention change the abuse regime in Iraq? We have no way of knowing without going there.

I then looked at the London Bombings images. I found these less disturbing as most were from a ‘safe’ distance. They were very composed and I would imagine heavily sensored by the photographic editors of the various media. Again there is a sense we are being manipulated. Don’t show too graphic an image as the public might be repulsed, panicked or worse still turned off buying the newspaper…

So now to try to answer the questions:

  • Are these images object?
  • Can pictures ever be objective?

The definition I found for objective was as follows”:

(of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

I would think that the only objective images were those of the London bombings. A professional photographer was probably sent to the scene and did his/her job of recording the scene. In the case of the child images we must look at the objectivity of not only the photographer but also of the press. The answers are impossible to know for sure without being at the scene and in the press room. The Abu Graib images were recorded originally for private viewing and burst into the press unplanned. I would hazard a guess that the decision to publish these, by the press, was with the object of stopping these types of atrocities.

I can come to no definitive answers as to the obfectivity or otherwise of these images but Michel du Cille puts forward a convincing argument in this video of Michel Du Cille, (1) for getting the story out there.

1. What real war is like:’ Post photographer on Afghanistan – YouTube. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWImUPmW74o. [Accessed 09 October 2015].

 

 

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