Just how brutal should a picture be?
Reports of a bomb blast in Pakistan come into the newsroom. Sadly nothing new. Dinner guests and casual acquaintances within earshot never cease to be shocked when they hear me ask on the phone: “How many dead? Who are they and where was the blast?” It shouldn’t matter, but it does when it comes to news coverage.
Photographers are dispatched, and with cameras crashing about on their backs ride hell for leather on small motorbikes to get to the blast scene before security cordons off the area. The coverage plan is usually the same. One photographer goes to the blast scene, another goes to the hospital. The desk in Islamabad can do nothing but wait and monitor the wires, amid a strange calm. All Reuters photographers are trained to deal with hazardous environments. They are issued with safety equipment. They know the risks. But they all feel lucky … and they all feel immortal.
18:27 05Feb10 -Blast in Pakistan commercial capital Karachi-police
KARACHI, Feb 5 (Reuters) – A blast went off in Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi on Friday and police said casualties were feared.
A police official Aamir Farooqi said it took place on a main road. “We fear casualties,” he told Reuters.
Photographers are called, they are on the way, one to the bomb blast scene, one to the hospital. Be safe, be fast, be lucky.
18:50 05Feb10 -Bomb in Pakistan’s Karachi kills 12-hospital
KARACHI, Feb 5 (Reuters) – A bombing in Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi which targeted Shi’ite Muslims on a crowded bus killed 12 people and wounded 40 on Friday, hospital officials said.
“We have received 12 bodies and 40 wounded. Most of them have head wounds,” Simi Jamali, a senior doctor at Karachi hospital, told a television station.
No pictures yet. Photographers are at the scene and at the hospital
20:01 05Feb10 -Blast at Pakistan hospital treating bomb victims
KARACHI, Feb 5 (Reuters) – A huge blast went off at the premises of a hospital in the Pakistani city of Karachi where victims of an earlier blast were being treated, a Reuters witness said.
“It was a huge blast. It was in the hospital premises,” Reuters reporter Augustine Anthony said.
It was a classic case of two bomb attacks designed to create terror. The first blast is designed to kill, maim, cause mayhem and draw in security forces The second bomb, often a slight distance from the first, is timed to kill as many security personal as possible. But mixed in with security are photographers.
This time it was different. The second bomb exploded at the hospital where the injured and the relatives of the injured were gathering. The targets were Shi’ite Muslims — not security forces, but just ordinary terrified people trying to find out about their injured relatives. Shi”ites and Sunnis have been killing each other for centuries in an ancient religious rivalry.
Our photographer was lucky. He had just left but went back immediately. Local photographer Anwar Abbas was even luckier. He was at the hospital but was not injured.
He then starts to take pictures, the dead, injured and people trying to help the injured. Relatives that had come to help the injured from the first blast had now become the victims themselves – a horrific attack producing horrific pictures.
Pictures are filed, the horror of the attack brought to the calm of the desk. How much horror should be sent to the wire? Should all be sent, if so to who? Should people be able to see this imagery on the internet? I think it should, others disagree.
A young woman, her clothes singed and torn by the blast, her face covered in blood, screams down at her dead mother. This tightly cropped picture brings humanity to the bomb blast scene – her face frozen in horror, it could be you, it could be your daughter screaming, it could be your dead mother.
A wide crop of the same scene, the screaming girl is seen next to her mother, the smoking motorbike nearly disguises the brutality of the scene as the eye is led away from the spilled intestines of the dead woman. A warning is given on the caption – you reading this are warned about the image – it’s horrific.
And finally the picture that forces into your face the full horror and brutality of the scene, the resulting carnage of an indiscriminate bomb blast at a hospital. Instead of the eye being led away from the dead woman, it’s drawn into her horrific injuries. Her screaming daughter secondary to the picture. Again the caption warns the reader of the content. All the humanity has been stripped away.
Morality and politics of this attack aside, the question is what responsibility do photographers have to record these pictures. Are they responsible for bringing the news in all its ugliness to every viewer who actually cares to click on an “allow content” button? Or should they step aside from the grim reality, choosing to concentrate on people helping those not so injured, and if so, does this perpetuate the Hollywood myth of injuries created by a bomb blast? Once the picture is taken what responsibility do the editors have in transmitting these images?
Should the world be exposed to the brutality of this type of image or should this visual horror be confined to those exposed to it first hand – the victims themselves, those passing by and the journalists and security forces who attend the scenes? And if your answer is no, what is the point in sending journalists to the scene in the first place? Should we hide this from the world? Do we as news gathers have the responsibility to show it as it is – in my mind yes, we do. Does the fact that this was an attack on a hospital make a difference on what level of brutality should be seen – I think so, yes. Maybe you disagree.
People expect the truth and as responsible journalists we should deliver the truth, no matter how ugly it may be. You have the right to choose not to click “allow content” but the victims and the photographers and editors already have these images burned in their minds.