Censorship vs Uncensored

21 11 2010

I was recently reading a review on Body Horror: Photojournalism Catastrophe and War by John Taylor and was refreshed with some new ideas on what type of photos should be printed for the public to see to achieve the goals of photojournalists.
In his book, Taylor argues that censorship on photojournalism created by human ethics are actually numbing society to the horrors of the world. Time after time we see photos in the newspaper of war zones, famines, violence, and poverty. But we see all of these things at their best. Censorship prevents photojournalists from printing photographs of war zones, famines, violence, and poverty at their worst. We never see in the newspaper a photo of a soldier being shot down or a photograph of a dead, starved body on the front page of the paper; that would be just way too graphic for society to see.
My opinion: if society wants to know, they need to see the truth; and the truth at its worst. The fact is that our ears are flooded with the monotoned newscasters talking about the war in Iraq and our eyes are fogged with photos of, for example, soldiers marching. Unsurprised voices and marching soldiers thus becomes war for us. Our imagination is halted by what the media supplies, or what it fails to supply. We scarcely see gruesome photos that reveal the realities of war; photos that put us on edge. A photo of an Iraqi boy with a leg blown off is not a photo that would show up on the front page. Does the public want censorship? My guess is that some do and some don’t but if people want to understand what happens at war, photos of marching soldiers just won’t suffice.

That is reality.

The article then mentions the other side of the argument. If newspapers are constantly printing photos of the worst of war zones, famines, violence, and poverty, people argue that “the persistent use of shocking pictures can induce an analgesic effect and ‘compassion fatigue,’ such that the desired acknowledgment of horror is replaced by ‘it’s only a photograph.'” This is a valid point but for me so many people are already saying “it’s only a photograph” because the media prints photos that really are “only photographs”. If people start saying “it’s only a photograph” regarding a gruesome photo such as the one of the legless boy that is their problem for being complacent with horror.
In chapter 3 of his book, Taylor (rather than just printing the photo) vividly describes it in a way that according to Abi Berger, “ironically created a far more vivid picture than [he] suspect[s] the original photograph would have done.” Berger also says that, “publishing the photographs alongside the text might have drawn [him] in, but printing them on their own–suspended in midair without text–would have most certainly been less powerful.” This proves that vivid description and powerful photojournalism really are the dynamic duo. The photograph catches the eyes skimming attention and the text provides the vivid and factual story.




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