I wrote this paper for my Pen and the Sword honors civilizations class at BYU. We had the opportunity to write about anything we wanted to talk about from the semester. We had spent class one day talking about visual representation of war, and it got me really thinking about some of the lessons I learned about photography while on my field study in Ghana in the summer of 2011. These lessons I explored through Myra, my photographer avatar, or the way I chose to mediate my experience on that given day. I just thought including this paper here would be a nice conclusion on some of the thoughts I have about photographic representation and the ethical dilemma I ran into.
“Take” A Picture:
How Photography can be a Vehicle for Peace
On March 29, 1993 Kevin Carter’s infamous photograph, an emaciated child being stalked by a vulture (Appendix 1), showed up in the New York Times to document the civil war going on in Sudan (Lorchspecial A3).The response from the readers was overwhelming.People from all over the world called in wondering who the starving child was, what happened to her, and why the photographer did not help her. A few months later, just after winning the prestigious Puzzler Prize for the image, Carter committed suicide at the age of 33, unable to live with the things that he had seen and photographed in his troubled world (Macleod).
There are many benefits associated with photography that other mediums do not offer so readily. However, if we look at Carter’s story, the ethics of photographic representation are seriously called into question. On one side of the issue, we have the irate callers who blamed Carter for not saving the girl and for so heartlessly abandoning her, but on the other side we have the overwhelming response in general to an article that might not have been given a second glance had there been no photograph of the crisis in Sudan. This story is a useful example of the current tension that seems so representative of the field of photography, and it is a conflict I have certainly experienced personally as a professional photographer. Despite these concerns, I argue that photography can be an extremely viable medium to bring about peace, but only if certain limitations are acknowledged and fundamental rules observed. First, a photograph must be recognized within its limitations and problems as a medium, and second, we need to understand what the process is to improve the authenticity of a photograph and ethically represent the subjects. Last, I will address my personal experience as a photographer dealing with these tensions. By coming to terms with these three points, we can better understand how and why photography can be used to bring peace and raise awareness.