The little one is screaming, a cry that comes from the place of fear and sadness where words do not exist. Around her, people lie dead or dying, killed by a suicide bomb in Kabul. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this image.
Just as I won’t forget Kevin Carter’s photo of a vulture stalking a starving Sudanese child . . . the photo for which he won a Pulitzer. The photo that haunted him so much because he did not pick up the little girl; the photo that – in some way – contributed to his suicide.
But I, I don’t fault Massoud Hossaini – the Afghani photographer who also just won a Putlizer for his photo – or Kevin Carter. They are journalists, not rescue workers. Their job is to document and thereby to save, not to step in and act themselves. I believe that is the role of all artists – a very specific role – to paint a picture, to tell a story, to take a photo because there is a larger value that comes from that act.
That said, this is not an easy question – this question of whether an artist, a reporter, a photographer – should intervene.
A friend recently commented that she felt Hossaini’s photo was a violation of privacy, and it is. This is a personal moment, a private one in that sense – her pain is real and individual no doubt.
But then is there is a higher value than privacy here – the value of documenting a reality that many of us do not see? Does publishing a photo like this spur people to act so that more children do not scream in anguish among the bodies of their friends?
I don’t really know the answers to these questions, and they are ones I struggle with regularly as a writer. What is my story to tell? When am I using people’s stories for a larger purpose and, thus, perhaps invading their privacy? When do I step in and take action rather than just write?
Or is my writing my action?
One thing I do know – looking away is not the answer.
What do you think about this? What is a journalist/photographer/artist’s role when witnessing tragedy? Do we intervene? Do we record? Do we try to do both? And what does that do to our bearing witness if we intervene? Are we credible then, and will our story carry as much power?