The other day, I hinted at a topic that’s been on my mind lately. Probably because my son and I visited the Newseum recently and spent some time looking at all the Pulitzer Prize-winning photos.
I should warn you that this could be depressing. There are some tough images in this post.
One of the Pulitzer photographs was of a dying child in Sudan with a vulture waiting in the background. (You can see the image here.) It was awful, because you knew that vulture was going to feed soon. Alongside the photo, the photographer’s words (paraphrased): “I wish I’d picked up the child.” Evidently, he was worried about disease. But was winning the Pulitzer worth being haunted for the rest of your life? What I’ve since learned is that the photographer, Kevin Carter, committed suicide shortly after winning the prize.
A month or so ago, my husband and I happened on an estate sale in a Georgetown neighborhood of beautiful old homes. I’d always wanted to see what one of these places looked like, and had never been to an estate sale before. There were lots of other people there, sifting through all kinds of stuff. The architecture was even more amazing than I expected, and I started taking pictures. The plaster was peeling in many places, but you could see that the bones of the place were magnificent.
We went upstairs and found more beautiful architecture. There was even a balcony overlooking the park across the street. Oh, to have the money to completely restore a gem like this! I took this photo of an antique bedstead:
(Shot on an iPhone with the Pic Grunger app)
Then I turned around and saw the closet. Old clothes were still hanging there, as if the owners had just put them away. Suddenly I felt uneasy. I was no longer a curious photographer and architecture buff, I was a voyeur. For me, it was crossing a line I didn’t want to cross. A family had lost one of its members, and their presence hadn’t yet been erased.
I put my phone away and told my husband I wanted to leave. I will never take photos at an estate sale again. And I’ll never be a photojournalist taking pictures of a woman as she falls to her death from a fire (another Pulitzer winner; the child survived):
The prize just wouldn’t be worth it to me.
I’m fairly comfortable with posting the photo of the bedstead, probably because it’s tightly cropped, and disguised with the iPhone app. Maybe I did that subconsciously? I deleted all the other shots.
Don’t get me wrong–I respect photojournalists a great deal. I just wish we could have our consciousness raised without such graphic and/or invasive depictions. I truly hope the “vulture shot” helped the situation in Sudan. But how did the “firescape” photo help anyone? Where is the societal gain? Was a line crossed?
In an interview, Stanely Forman stated that people checked their fire escapes after his photo was published, and he didn’t regret the shot. Forman thought a rescue was going to happen–does that make it OK? As for me, I’m wondering how the family of the deceased woman feels.