Friday, March 21, 2008

Torture in living color

Two recent articles exploring the lives and motivations of photographers raise similar disturbing questions. The current Atlantic--yes, the one featuring the really unflattering cover photo of Britney Spears--takes readers into the alternately frenetic and boring lives of paparazzi and asks the question, "How did they get that picture?" And then in the March 24 New Yorker, Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris's article "Exposure" examines the complex motivations of Sabrina Harman, who obsessively photographed prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The Atlantic article suggests that celebrities and paparazzi exist in a torturous intertwined dance from which neither partner really wishes to be removed, but the New Yorker article makes a broader statement about public fascination with images of humiliation:

Of course, the dominant symbol of Western civilization is the figure of a nearly naked man, tortured to death--or, more simply, the torture implement itself, the cross. But our pictures of the savage death of Jesus are a byproduct of religious imagination and idealization. In reality, he must have been ghastly to behold. Had there been cameras at Calvary, would twenty centuries of believers have been moved to hang photographs of the scene on their altarpieces and in their homes?

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