Research point – David Campany: “Safety in Numbness”

Aftermath and aesthetics

I read with interest David Campany’s essay “Safety in Numbness”, in particular his reference to Joel Meyerowitz and his photographic project of Ground Zero following 9/11. Meyerowitz was the only photographer to have been granted comprehensive access to the scene and the clean-up operation. Following a Channel 4 programme and international exhibitions, he went on to publish the photographs in a large format book Aftermath. Campany comments on how Meyerowitz’ imagery is not so much the trace of an event as the trace of the trace of an event.

Late photography, showing the aftermath of events, particularly in war-torn countries is often said to be beautiful, quiet and serene. Far removed from the scene of conflict where the pictures were taken.  Usually depicting buildings reduced to rubble, empty streets, injured people (often children) and discarded weapons and ammunition. Can these “late” as opposed to “as it happened” images have the same impact on the reader? Campany argues that video – whether manipulated or not, is the preferred method of capturing the moment and that photographs come later appearing in newspapers, magazines and on gallery walls.
DoubleCheck062606-001This bronze sculpture, “Double Check” created by John Seward Johnson Jr. was so named for what it depicted, a businessman making final preparations before heading into a nearby office building. The familiar sculpture was situated in New York’s Liberty Park, across from the World Trade Centre.

 

 

 

 

Mermelstein-Jeff-911

After 9/11 the sculpture became an icon as New York photographer Jeff Mermelstein captured it in a very different context and covered in ash. So lifelike, rescuers approached the statue to offer assistance. Mermelstein’s usual subject is everyday life but this was not everyday life “I was on autopilot the day of the attack on the World Trade Centre. I don’t really remember finding that statue covered in debris…..I am not a war photographer, so this wasn’t an easy experience for me. The constantly shattering glass was terrifying and distracting….But because for years I have been taking documentary pictures of New Yorkers out on the sidewalks, there is a way in which I was prepared”. (Bjp Nov 15 “Quintessence of Dust”)

This is an example of aftermath photography and I think it works very well. One is drawn into the scene to search through the rubble and take a closer look at the man preoccupied with his briefcase. The image is a permanent and poignant reminder of the tragic event.

I agree with Campany that photographs rarely break the news these days, but I still think late photography has a firm place in photojournalism. It can allow the reader to contemplate, much like one does on Remembrance Day or Holocaust Day. The stillness may remove some of the action and violence but the late photograph is an aesthetic response, its purpose is still to freeze a moment in time, but more remotely and provides an air of melancholy and poignancy as in the image above.

Aleppo boy, Omran

omran
Omran Daqneesh, silent and in shock in the back of an ambulance, became the face of Aleppo overnight. The photographer, 27 year old Mahmoud Rslan, from Aleppo, took the picture of  5 year old Omran at the scene.

This image points to the fact that the power of war photography is still strong. It conveys a human story in war-torn Syria. The little boy has become a ‘poster boy’, a symbol of suffering. For me this image is so visceral, it transforms the ordinary (a little boy sat in a modern vehicle, in a clean plastic seat), into the extraordinary (he is covered in dirt and blood). Dazed and bewildered, he sits still and patiently, almost as though the experience is a daily occurrence for him. There is video coverage of this event showing Omran wiping the blood from his face, as he would if it were chocolate or ice cream.

I agree with Campany that photographs rarely break the news these days, but I still think late photography has a firm place in photojournalism. It can allow the reader to contemplate, much like one does on Remembrance Day or Holocaust Day. The stillness may remove some of the action and violence but the late photograph is an aesthetic response, its purpose is still to freeze a moment in time, but more remotely and provides an air of melancholy and poignancy as in the image above.

So, having read this section my view has not changed, if anything it has strengthened it. Aftermath and aesthetics photography for me is less harsh on the eye (and possibly the conscience). I feel drawn to the style of Late photography for the reasons given above.

References
http://davidcampany.com/safety-in-numbers/ %5Baccessed 27th May 2016]
http://www.forgottendelights.com/doublecheck.html [accessed 27th May 2016]
British Journal of Photography. “Quintessence of Dust”. November 2015.
http://www.time.com The Night Omran Was saved. By Andrew Katz. 26th Aug 2016.[accessed 30th October 2016].
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/18/boy-in-the-ambulance-image-emerges-syrian-child-aleppo-rubble [accessed 30th October 2016].

 

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