Viewing pictures of other peoples’ suffering can be hard. Not just because you might be affected by the image, but because you might not know how to react when it comes to viewing suffering.
There are a few questions to consider when viewing other peoples’ suffering:
What response is desired by the author of the content? What should the suffering mean?
If suffering makes us feel so good – for feeling so bad – what incentive is there to end it?
Is looking repeating or extending the torture? OR
Does not looking deny the victims the recognition and sympathy they deserve?
All of these questions prove at least one thing: Looking is POWERFUL!
I will attempt to answer the first question in this post. First lets look at this cover of Time Magazine (pictured right). This cover spurred a lot of controversy in America at the time. For some the picture could be seen as a symbol of the situation in Afghanistan, and therefore they would want soldiers sent to fix the situation. For some the image could be seen as propaganda, and those people would be angry at the government and at TIME for using this woman for the government’s purpose. For others the image could be seen as TIME’s grab for attention, a brutal image to catch the audience’s eye and encourage them to buy the copy. These people would be quite disgusted with TIME’s use of the image, and the purpose they have for the suffering.
This image is a perfect example of needing to consider the author’s intent. TIME wanted this image to grab attention. Whether they cared about the situation in Afghanistan or not, the image’s intent was to increase the number of copies bought.
On the left is a photograph that won the Pulitzer prize. The image captures “the devastation caused by the American napalm bombing during the Vietnam War.”
The intentions of the author also need to be considered for this image. The photo was obviously taken in a terrible time, with children running away from a toxic cloud on the road. Considering this, how did the photographer have time to take the image, and why was he not intervening with the soldiers who seem to be casually herding the children down the street. Of course, he may have wanted to capture the moment to show as evidence of the American soldiers’ actions during the time, and had no means of intervening at the time. But as we view this image, there is no way of knowing that for sure.
Emotions that are brought up when viewing an image of suffering are a natural response. However, we must consider whether the author intended for those emotions to be the response, and whether those emotions benefit the author, or show respect for the victims suffering.