Paper! Paper! Dead refugee in the water! BUY IT. Starving children in Africa! BUY IT. World’s worst industrial disaster in India, what? Just BUY IT, you’ll be helping.
Really, will we? The objectification and exploitation of human beings in the media should bothers us, as it often does. So why do we continue to exploit others’ conditions and even their suffering for financial gain.
How are we formulating our views of the world, who has become in charge of making lives grievable? Has it really come down to the carefully constructed idea of field where we are separated as human and no human, road kill vs roast lamb. By adapting our thoughts to the way of situation we are allowing more crimes to be committed if they can be justified.
“Photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading toward their own destruction, and this link between photography and death haunts all photographs of people.” Susan Sontag, On Photography.
Today I question what it means to become ethically responsive, to consider and attend to the suffering of others, and, more generally, which frames permit the representability of the human and which do not. Butler and Sontag proposes to consider the way in which suffering is presented to us, and how that presentation affects our responsiveness. Suggesting, whether and how we respond to the suffering of others, how we formulate moral criticisms, how we articulate political analyses, depend upon a certain field of perceptible reality that has already being established. Meaning all images come to us already interpreted – this can occur despite the photographers meaning.
Sontag argued that photographs have the capacity to move us momentarily, but that they do not have the power to build an interpretation. If a photograph becomes effective in informing or moving us politically, it is only because the photograph is received within a context of a relevant political consciousness. For Sontag, photographs render truths in a dissociated moment, they ‘flash up’. Tough we do not react as we once did, by being drowned in photos our reactions have lessened, we still feel the need to share, like and occasionally donate, but have our Facebook likes and Twitter shares diminished the poverty in the world? Are the media, charities and sponsors turning to other measures to secure our customer value?
By utilising poverty for profit and gains it seems that we become separated into a human and inhuman norm. De-humanising these people who become exposed to a world they are not even part of. Often the names of the victims are not included in the captions, but the names of the perpetrators are. Do we lament this lack of names? Yes and no. They are, and are not, ours to know.
“We might think that our norms of humanization require the name and the face, but the face and name are not ‘ours’ to know, and perhaps affirming this limit is a way of affirming the humanity that has escaped the visual control of the photograph” (Butler, 2007).
To expose the victim further would be to reiterate the crime. Though some may argue that it is impossible to restore the ‘humanity’ of the victims without their names.
Those who do good for the world are able to do so without intensifying the `exposure’ of the victim, either through discursive or visual means.
When Donna Haraway asks, “have we ever yet become human?”, she is at once positing a `we’ that is outside the norm of the human, and questioning whether the human is ever something that can be fully accomplished. The question remains, who is in charge of these terms and classifying a life for a human who is not the same as the norm that determines what and who will count as a human life, and what and who will not.
In a hopeful future, when they look back, what will they see when they look at us?