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.