Nobody can deny the power of pictures. They evoke empathy and are tools for cultivating emotional identification with others. But perhaps the strongest photos are those that are controversial. This brings out the classical question: What a role should a photographers play when photographing something controversial? Should he or she seek out to take photos that make people uncomfortable, but are uncaptured? Or should he or she listen to their inner humanism and seek to resolve what is so controversial about their subject. Take a look at some of the most controversial pictures ever taken.
End Times by Jill Greenberg—Trick and Treat
The picture is End Times by the Canadian photographer Jill Greenberg. To catch the sorrow and grievance
of kids, she had a group of children including her daughter have their clothes taken off. She also gave them each a lollipop, but took them away just before taking these photos.
The Starving Sudan by Kevin Carter—-To live or die
This picture may be the most famous controversial picture. In March 1993, while on a trip to Sudan, Carter prepared to photograph a starving toddler trying to reach a feeding center. It was at this point in time that a hooded vulture landed nearby. Carter is reported to have taken the picture claiming it was his “job title”. He then left immediately after because he was told not to touch the children for fear of transmitting disease. He committed suicide 3 months after winning the Pulitzer Prize.
The St. Petersburg Times in Florida said this of Carter: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.”
The picture stunned the world. Hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask the fate of the girl. However, who is really responsible for the girl’s plight? Is it really the photographer?
A picture of wolves—–An outsider of the world
As Sontag remarks, ‘A photographer is not to evoke but to show.’ In this case, the photographer is showing suffering in a myriad of ways–starvation, war and betrayal. He shows us a cruel and bloody moment from the world of animals. By taking it though, he refuses aid to an animal in pain.
Regardless of how you feel about these photos, one thing is clear: photographers are often forced to decide between their own humanism and their pursuit of artistic value. When they take a controversial photo, it is because they are walking the line between whether they should capture something painful or rescue it. It isn’t an easy choice.
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