All this week I’ve seen dead babies. Dead children, dead babies. In one photo, tiny infants lie dead in blood soaked sheets. In another, a small boy is smashed in half on the sand; his legs are pointing in impossibly different directions as his tiny face rests on the beach.
I don’t know if these images have changed my mind about anything. They have upset and distressed me – that much I do know.
Maybe I deserve to be upset and distressed; maybe it’s important to shock people who would otherwise look away. My discomfort might be part of the problem. How dare I care about my unease when these people have had their lives away? What they would give for the choice to feel uneasy about seeing such carnage from the comfort of their armchairs.
I understand that. But I can’t help thinking of something else: that these images are part of something intimate, something private. A person’s dead body is taboo for a reason. I know we’ve all been desensitised by trawling through splattered corpses and being confronted with shock sites since the worldwide Web first cranked into life. But there’s something that makes me wince beyond simple visceral repulsion.
Later this week, more corpses, scattered over fields from a plane that was shot down. Then, the intrusive photos of crying, shocked, grieving, desperately upset relatives. Somehow they seem even worse, the creepshot snaps of broken people whose lives have been wrecked; they seem more hurtful, more unfair, more harmful than the photos of dead people, who at least aren’t suffering any more.
I don’t know if my mind has ever been changed by a photo of a dead person or a dead body. I don’t know if I ever really needed to see one to emphasise the horror of death or war or violence. Which isn’t to say there isn’t a place for war photography, just that the repeated exposure might not have the effect that some people might want it to have.
I must be some kind of ancient relic. I just think there ought to be some dignity in death, some privacy. And that for those who are grieving and shocked and hurting, there needs to be a little more consideration. I don’t need to see a photo of a father or mother in tears to know the impact a tragedy has.
I must be in the minority because it keeps coming and I keep seeing it. It seems we want the power to shock, all the time, with the graphic image, the picture of suffering. I am becoming, not immune to it, but weary. But it seems that’s something I have to come to terms with.