Today was a good day.
Not only was it sunny (although, in classic English fashion, the sun was tempered with blisteringly cold winds), but we had a really good ‘cookie for a question’ event in the quad. I popped over for lunch, and it was great to see that, although the media may say that as a nation we’re getting less theistic and starting to look to other things, science, ‘spirituality’, humanity, the constant bombardment, people are still questioning. I think it’s the bombardment with religious, or areligious information, which brings it to the forefront of peoples minds. So behind the ‘oh but obviously there isn’t a God’ facade, there are genuine questions, struggles, some of which we saw today, more of which we’ll see in stuff to come. Really encouraging! I think it’s also really useful for ourselves, as Christians, as it makes us confront difficult issues that we ourselves may push to the backs of our minds, and learn from each others experiences.
I did have to leave after an hour, to get to my global health class, which is always a bit of a drag on a Friday afternoon, not to mention the sheer amount of reading we had to do beforehand. However, this week, we had a guest speaker talk to us about death and dying. It was genuinely one of the best lectures I’ve ever sat through. One of the focuses of the readings and the talk was on this picture by Kevin Carter.
This picture won him the Pulitzer prize when it was published. Inarguably, this is one of the most powerful photographs ever taken. The chilling combination of the sheer emaciation of the child in the foreground; ribs, twig like limbs, hunched over, almost foetal position, and the vulture in the background – dominant, watching, ravenous. It instantly evokes emotion, we almost suffer with her vicariously and something inside us wants to jump out and stop this creature from predating on this poor infant.
One of the key points Kleinmann wanted to get across was how images like this may change our views on suffering. How people may profit from experiences such as this, how people like Kevin Carter can make a living from pictures of suffering – dictators falling, people dying, children starving. How images like these and, I’m sure you’re familiar with the frequent television appeals for aid, almost desensitise us to the suffering; the exhaustion of empathy, we feel so much, yet at the same time, know that ultimately, at a personal level, we can’t do much, so we grow apathetic. As an aspiring photographer, I can’t help but appreciate this for its photographic merit, but I always assume(d) that following the shot, he’d rush to help, offering whatever water, food, services he had on him and, at the least, shoo the bird away. The article quotes this:
he wandered into the open bush. He heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the feeding centre. As he crouched to photograph her, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He would later say he waited about 20 minutes, hoping the vulture would spread its wings. It did not, and after he took his photographs, he chased the bird away and watched as the little girl resumed her struggle. Afterwards he sat under a tree, lit a cigarette, talked to God and cried. He was depressed afterward… .He kept saying he wanted to hug his daughter.
This really got me to question everything, how could he just sit there and do nothing? How could any human, for that matter? The article then follows on to the story of Clarke after the award, telling that he decided to take his own life due to the burden of horror.
Another interview, with some Spanish photographers, the lecturer brought up, says something entirely different to this interview. That him and his colleague went to the country along with a UN food aid ship, which, one landed, had 30 minutes before it took off again as that’s how long they took to deliver the supplies. This was at a feeding centre, so mothers brought their families to gather supplies. As the children were weak, the mothers went ahead to get the supplies and left the children some 20ft behind as it was more efficient that way, addressing our implicit assumption that this child is abandoned and needs outside intervention, assumedly because of her extreme frailty, that the parent’s can take care of the more viable children. They noted that the child was amongst a group of others, and the vulture was from the waste facilities of the feeding centre, they went there to feed, so that the vulture landed there had nothing to do with her near death appearance. He had never seen a situation of such abject famine, so was keen to snap up as many pictures as he could:
“So if you grab a telephoto crush the child’s perspective in the foreground and background and it seems that the vultures will eat it, but that’s an absolute hoax, perhaps the animal is 20 meters.”
As it stands, I’m not sure which to believe. I know which I want to believe, I want to believe in the good nature of people. However, the main message on our unusual relationship with images of suffering comes across either way, and affects us all as we consume what we’re fed. It was definitely food for thought.
Interesting lecture behind, I came home to one of the best bits of mail ever!
If you haven’t heard of the charity To Write Love On Her Arms, I’m not surprised. They’re still quite small, but they have big impacts on those they come into contact with. They work a lot with young people and self harm/suicide, trying to get across the message that help is real, hope is real, your story is important and rescue is possible. I really love what they do, and have always wanted to buy some stuff from their website and promised myself, that one day, I’d get one, but they’re over the pond mainly, and delivery is an ever present barrier to the student wallet. However, today I can finally tick this off the bucket list as a late birthday present from Pippa!
Slightly essay-ish as far as posts go but happy friday and thanks for reading!