Disaster photography … When does disaster photography cross the line from informative to sensationalist?
Disaster’s. Extreme sudden events causing the uproar of our earth to go somewhat unhinged as a matter of physical, mental and emotional pain. Death and destruction whether its Natural or provoked by man kind is something our earth and our lives face every day.
We see these disasters through the the exploitation of disaster photography across the world which is shown in every crevice of media possible. We as a nation are fed this information through things such as the internet, to newspapers, to then news coverage on the tv, to also magazines. The endless photographs of disasters are made possible by the 24 hour media cycle.
The images from our worldly going’s on were considered as a traumatic revelation 20 years ago, but today, seeing these images is so common that we tend to see this as we read the newspaper with our morning coffee turning the page after feeling 30 seconds of sorrow or seeing it on the news as we sit own to our evening meal.
But the question is; has disaster photography crossed the line from these images giving rise to our knowledge and care in these shocking times of disaster, or are these overrated images that are not even showing the true revelation of these disasters used for pure entertainment where these sorts of things do not happen? Part of this may be due to the fact that in the media, we are not shown the true nature of what happens through photography. Instead we are shown overrated images of some debris left from the tragedy. However, These images are not shown in the laid back media, but are hidden in crevices for people not to see these shocking photographs of dead bodies and unsound humanity. Does this show that disaster photography has crossed the line from being informative to sensationalistic???
On the other hand, we could argue that the media do show signs of informative aspects to our nation. This coverage from 911 is shocking but are very realistic as they showcase the real occurrence of a disaster from the 6 news stations of live coverage. But where were the photographs of the thousands of dead bodies?
Whilst researching i came across Matt Mcdermott, a New York City based photojournalist with over twelve years of US and international professional experience. As a freelancer, Matthew’s work is very extensive in scope, ranging from breaking news coverage, portraiture and advertising, to world conflict documentation. Working for a wide variety of clients in a diverse range of shooting environments, Matthew has developed a high degree of photographic flexibility and creativity always needed to succeed in the dynamic and challenging world of photography.
While Matthew enjoys working in all arenas of photojournalism, he personally holds a strong affinity for documenting the human struggles and triumphs associated with natural disasters and hot spot environments. Matthew’s work from Haiti’s earthquake devastated streets inspired a generous outpouring of support especially by his “Kiki” photo, the young boy rescued unharmed with arms out stretched in joy after being trapped under rubble for eight days.
Some of Matthew’s international projects include the documentation of the massive earthquake devastation in Pakistan…… Also the earthquake in Haiti… Matthew also captured the horrific events of the 9/11/2001 World Trade Centre attacks, human sufferings in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the local effects upon the Gulf’s fishing community following the massive BP oil spill.
His pictures have helped to increase world awareness and instill hope within people during times of darkness. Some of his photographs have had a profound effect helping to stimulate the global heart of giving, leading to the contribution of millions of dollars to charities and worldwide humanitarian efforts.
To our eyes, his photography is so literal, and somewhat overwhelming that i feel there is no such mention of his work being sensationalistic. We view his photographs not to entertain ourselves of what is going on around the world, but view them as an informative factor of the disasters that our world consumes.
We have become a very realistic nation and we are filled in with more and more titillating images from the disasters that happen in our world today. Why am i questioning the publication of death scenes and destruction to be considered as sensationalism? To publish images of flattened buildings or destroyed infrastructure does not convey the human toll taken in events. Those of us fortunate enough to be spared devastation on this scale need to be reminded that real people lost their lives, the survivors are struggling to cope with the result and that humans will and do recover from such tragedy. We could argue that sensationalism is nothing new. Our media has been telling stories since the early humans.
Researching into the depths of disaster photography, i came across Arnold Genthe. He took a well known disaster photograph from that time of an earthquake that happened in San francisco. Born in Berlin in 1869, then following in his fathers footsteps, Genthe became a classically trained scholar. He is best known for his photo’s of San Francisco chinatown in 1906 of the san francisco earthquake. Emigrating to San Francisco in 1895 to work as a tutor, he taught himself photography after being intrigue by the chinese section of the city. He started photographing its inhabitants from children to drug addicts. After local magazines published some of his photographs in the late 1890s, he opened a portrait studio. Although in 1906, San Francisco suffered from a earthquake disaster and fire. It destroyed his studio yet he managed to capture the earthquake’s aftermath with this ‘Looking down Sacremento street, San francisco, April 18th 1906…. IS his most famous photograph. This shows that even before our time, disaster photography was considered as crossing the line into sensationalism.
Something in which i haven’t mentioned is WAR. There are currently wars around the world in which provoke the factor of being a disaster produced by man kind. I feel that war photography is somewhat of the informative influence as we see the true reflection in the media of the missiles being shot through the sky, and the children carrying guns unlike the hidden images of the blood ridden dead people lying on the streets of haiti. One thing we tend not to think about is how the photographs are taken. Here is a short video example of how disaster photography is done and the viewpoint from the photographer.
I enjoy watching the news, and i enjoy reading the newspaper, but entertainment in its largest and most fruitless sense has become the centre piece of our culture today. But this is to be expected as we are part of a society abundant in wealth and leisure. With moderation, entertainment can be a health part of life, however as a compulsion, it serves as an addiction to useless facts. Information that only holds credible significance within its own context.
The fact that our obsession within entertainment is evident within the rise of sensational news coverage and photography. By this i refer to stories that have no console relevance to our nation as a whole but become news worthy simply by virtue of intrigue. How many times have we read the newspaper and hoped to learn about events of national or international significance only to be let down with a photograph that doesn’t show the trueness of a disaster. I think overall new brains of photographic journalism need to emerge so that our standards are not of the entertainment for the public, but a vision independent of NOT sensational demand, but informative demand. Then will we appreciate disaster photography for what its really about.
I believe whatever the time or setting, sensationalism is unavoidable in the media and photography, because we humans are wired, probably for the reasons of natural selection, to be alert to sensations, particularly those involved in violence and exploitation. However, there are still aspects of the informative within disaster photography. These types of images will never be hidden from us thanks to all the photojournalists out there who believe in capturing something so raw to tell us the truth. Disaster photography has crossed the line from informative to sensationalist many a times but now at least we can come to terms with reality.