Task: Find a recent photograph within the public domain that you consider to be ‘controversial’ or to transgress social barriers. Write a short entry about why you feel it is controversial.
On the evening of the 14th June 2017, a huge fire engulfed a 27 storey tower block in West London. The image above shows the Grenfell Tower, in north Kensington, fully ablaze. Sadly, 71 people died in the inferno.
A quick image search onTinEye reveals that the above image was used 42 times on news websites and blogs. I find this image controversial because it is a constant reminder of the horror that the victims and survivors suffered. It is clear from the ferocity of the blaze that anyone trapped in there, when the photograph was taken, will have perished.
Of course there is a need to have a visual record of this tragic event, to support investigators when they try to determine how this could have been prevented. However, surely the relevant authorities will taken the necessary photographs. On further reflection, I think that it is more the photographer, rather than the photograph, which I find controversial. What would be the motivation for a human to photograph another’s suffering? Would they accept the same if the roles were reversed? It is the equivalent of motorists slowing down on the motorway to ‘rubber-neck’ at the accident on the opposite carriageway.
The citizen photojournalist now has the capability of an outside broadcast unit in the palm of their hands. For some, they are wanting the fame of having their photograph ‘retweeted’, ‘shared’ and ‘liked’ across social media platforms. ‘Likes’ and ‘retweets’ are the currency of social media status and kudos. For others, it’s the fortune of having their photograph published on the front page of the tabloids.
With us spending an ever-increasing amount of time on screen, it would appear as though our first instinct, when confronted with a horrific scene, is to experience it through the screen. It creates a barrier between the viewer and the subject.
Images from the Grenfell Tower fire reminded me of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. Haunting images of the plane circling and colliding with the Twin Towers, and people jumping out of their office windows looped on television newsreels. Capturing a person’s last terrifying few moments is degrading and disrespectful. The silhouetted figures of Grenfell and the Twin Towers were more to their loved ones than a few pixels.