My most recent writing project is the play 'New Wave' (even though I had sworn off writing plays after a number of failures). One of the themes is the idea of 'capturing'/depicting suffering, and I specifically use the word capturing, as if there is a predatory nature to it. It's not an ethical problem unique to photography, but the play does use that as a reference point. Just like music, there is such a visceral and potentially beautiful nature of the art. And while I know Susan Sontag and other writers many times more insightful than my limited self have tackled this subject, I thought it an idea worth exploring in a play.
This photo just won the World Press photo of the year. And it is an amazing photograph; it shows a Venezuelan protestor caught on fire during a clash with government forces (he survived, and, miraculously, only with first and second degree burns). It is necessary, and important, and the strangely dark and eye-catching composition, especially with the graffiti on the wall showing the gun shooting out the word for 'peace', is just about perfect. And the striking nature of the photograph is what makes it work as photo-journalism. One of the best ways to disseminate information is to make it memorable.
And yet. Read the award committee's description of the photo at:
It is talking about a man's suffering in terms of artistic merit. It is absolutely correct, noting the composition, etc... But there is something about it all that spins my moral compass.
I just don't know.