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On Not Looking Away | The Nation

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I can’t get the image out of my mind.” I get the text from my wife hours after seeing the photo of Óscar Alberto Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, drowned in the Rio Grande. For the next 48 hours the devastating photo is everywhere we look.

When my wife says she can’t handle looking at such awful images, I know how she feels. As the creative adviser at Independent Diplomat—a nonprofit that supports democratic groups and opposition movements fighting oppression—I’ve spent the past six-plus years working with images coming out of Syria, trying to draw the public’s attention to the tragedy that has been unfolding there. I am also a father of a 23-month-old and so I am understandably affected by what I see: photographs and video of children pulled from the rubble following indiscriminate barrel bomb attacks. Babies struggling for their last breath following chemical weapon strikes. Images of victims from the regime’s torture chambers, their eyes and genitals gouged out. Horrific things done to the human body that I did not think possible.

I wasn’t always aware of such horrors myself. Until 9/11 I was a struggling figurative painter working as a security guard at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. I had no interest in anything outside my bubble until I saw images of people making the impossible choice and jumping to their deaths. Those images, which were later censored, shook me awake. I switched careers and in my new role I was one of the first people to see the Caesar photos—evidence of war atrocities committed by the Syrian regime that the world has so far paid little attention to.

When my wife and others ask how I deal with viewing graphic imagery, I’m not sure I can answer. I feel the same sense of hopelessness, of anger, and impotence. I want to turn away too.

And yet, I’ve learned to put those feelings aside. While I empathize with the people in the images—human beings fleeing bombs and destruction, many of them parents like me or children the same age as my own—I recognize it’s not about me. In his essay, “A Too Perfect Picture,” Teju Cole compares the outsider’s view of India with the native’s, remarking that Westerners cannot help but overlay our own agenda and prejudices when photographing another culture. “Art is always difficult,” he contends, “but it is especially difficult when it comes to telling other people’s stories. And it is ferociously difficult when those others are tangled up in your history and you are tangled up in theirs.”





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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !