A photograph places its audience in a unique position to choose either to indulge in the photograph or disregard it. When analyzing photographs of war, I found myself conflicted in this position with almost every photograph. When I wanted to indulge, I was thrown onto a brief emotional rollercoaster that started with fascination, peaked at horror, and ended in sorrow. However, after many rounds of this vicious cycle, the extent to which I was emotionally affected by the photographs began to dull. At a certain point, I was no longer able to allow myself to experience the photographs as I had been doing before; I would simply make a preliminary judgment on the photograph’s severity and then decide whether or not it was worth the emotional aftershock. In other words, I began to disregard many photographs that, had I originally seen, would have astonished me.

            In retrospect, I can now see the necessity for a “line” to be drawn, separating the audience from the photograph. In the case of traumatic photographs of war especially, one must not allow oneself to truly empathize with the images. In doing so, the audience can preserve his or her unique perspective as a viewer, rather than allowing oneself to be placed in the position of the subject of the photograph.

            Through my experience at the exhibit, I learned to question my prior tactics of analyzing historical photographs. Rather than completely indulging in an image for the selfish motive of taking on a new perspective like that of the subject in the photograph, I must first define the photographer’s intent. Acknowledging whether the photographer is attempting to exemplify emotions or illustrate a different perspective for his or her audience will enable the viewer to draw the necessary line that must be obeyed to effectively utilize the position as a third-party viewer. 

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3 thoughts on “”

  1. Being a third party member definetly makes you feel as if being judgmental is the only road for you to take after all the pics are for you and whoevers viewing them eyes. however some things i believe should not be shown and shouldnt be for everyones eyes.

  2. Thought-provoking observations here. This has to be difficult, especially as a photograph so dearly “wants” us to take on its perspective, right? Is the problem at the museum exhibit simply one of volume? We can do this with only one at a time and then have to take a break? And can we briefly take on others’ perspectives and then return to our own or integrate the new one somehow into our own? Also, is there a difference between symnpathy (feeling WITH–or maybe taking on the perspective of the photo) vs. empathy (intellectually imagining that perspective)?

  3. This is definitely something I was thinking about while walking through the exhibit as well. I had this conflict with a picture taken by Adam Ferguson in particular. The photograph, called IED Night Watch, Afghanistan, depicted a soldier siting in front of a telescope surrounded by mountains. It is nighttime and the only light in the picture comes from a green light shining from the telescope onto the soldiers face. When I first saw this picture I was immediately effected by its aesthetic appeal. I then had to remind myself that there was so much more value to this picture. I found myself contemplating whether or not I should be selfish and just look at it as a work of art.
    I find that its important to, like you mentioned, find the balance between aesthetic appeal and concrete value in a war photograph.

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