Photographs are used to document history, however selected images are chosen to do so. Often times these images graphically show the cruelty of mankind. In her book, Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag asks, "What does it mean to protest suffering, as distinct from acknowledging it?" To acknowledge suffering is just to capture it, to point it out and show somebody else that it exists. In order to protest suffering, there has to be some sort of moral decision that what is shown in the photograph is wrong, and a want from the viewer to change that.
Sontag says that throughout history, things focused on in art and history tend to be the "product of wrath, divine or human." There is much art showing the suffering of Christ and the executions of Christian martyrs. These pictures are supposed to bring up emotion strong enough to make people have faith. "The viewer may commiserate with the sufferer's pain . . . feel admonished or inspired to model faith and fortitude." This is an example of protesting suffering. There are also many violent and disturbing things shown in the pagan myths. These are different because "no moral charge attaches to the
representation of these cruelties." So in that case, suffering is being acknowledged, but only to see if you can bare to look at it.
Sontag points out that it is much different to have a piece of art which shows a made up cruelty as apposed to a photograph which shows the close up of an actual person in the middle of a painful event. She says, "perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering of this extreme order are those who could do something to alleviate it." She is saying that unless we have a way to stop the sufferi...
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...he people. The boy on the porch has so much silent desperation, but also deeper understanding in his eyes than most kids his age. These photos weren't just presented with captions telling a date and place. They were instead accompanied by writings, which told the intimate details of their lives. This then creates an understanding in the viewer of the life and circumstances, which made the boy, look the way he does. Agee and Evans were not trying to get people to feel pity for the farmers, they were just telling the common story of strength and struggle which represents a group of people who were so far from famous.
James Agee and Walker Evans .Let us Now Praise Famous Men. The Riverside Press, 1960.
Sontag, Susan. Regarding The Pain Of Others, Picador, 2003.
Walker, Evans. Photographer: Boy on porch picture 33. Walker Evans Archive.
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