Sunday, April 18, 2010
I was at a dinner party last night for a friend who has joined a photography book on facebook. She was sharing the above image as one that has lately been discussed within the group. This is a picture that I have seen before (one taken in 1994), but I didn't know the story behind it. My friend told me that the photographer shot it quickly and left before finding out what happened to the little boy. It was known that the little boy was trying to make his way to a United Nations station for food while the vulture waited in the distance for the boy to die. The conversation at the dinner table seemed to settle on the horror of this image, the image as documentation of the Sudan famine for those people in the world who might not believe it, but also the outrage that the photographer could then just walk away. While my friend pulled up the image on the computer, everyone seemed to be mesmerized staring at the image, myself included. It's an image many of us have seen before and I don't feel the need to see it again, but when it is put before me, I can't even look away. As the conversation continued, I found myself thinking about our class discussions over the traumatic images of 9/11 and the degree to which exposure to images can almost make people numb. After sharing this with other dinner guests, there seemed to be consensus amongst the guests that the image of this little boy was more horrifying than images of 9/11.
Although the conversation moved on, I was left wondering why this was so. Could it be that images of 9/11 were so abundant that people have become numb to some degree? Is it because the majority of dinner guests were living in the NYC-Long Island area when it happened versus the photo in discussion was taken in Sudan? Is it because 9/11 was an act of terrorism - humans against humans, whereas the image of the vulture and the boy is nature at its worst? It is amazing to think that over 15 years after this image was taken, people on Facebook are still discussing the image, and it is coming up at dinner parties amongst friends. It also leaves me wondering if photographing events is enough. I can't help but get the idea out of my mind that this photographer saw the little boy struggling, took the photograph and left. The photographer committed suicide a few years later. Some images you can't shake.