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A plea for aestheticization

August 16, 2012

Ever since Capa allegedly captured the fall of a loyalist militiaman at the moment of death in 1936, photojournalism has been accused of beautifying violence, of turning it into a subject of aesthetic pleasure, commodifying it for the news media, sacrificing the evidential proof for sentimental effect. Photographers have been charged with apathy, giving up basic humanitarian values to capture the most definitive image of the event. These allegations for the most part remain cogent, as questioning politics of representation, ethics of photojournalism and the position of the photographer vis-à-vis the event remain essential questions of the discipline, one that every professional in the field has to inexorably raise. The advent of affordable digital technologies of representation and their global omnipresence promised a new possibility of visual justice, one that is unchained from the restrains of professional photojournalism and its only premise is truth telling, no rants and slants. There is no doubt that the landscape of photojournalism has drastically changed since the digital turn.

However, (as a recent example) following the civil-protest-turned-civil-war that is Syria, where videos of half burned torsos of children stacked side by side are hoarded on web archives, updated daily, one wonders how the so-called professional photographer would have treated the subject. Moral questions of professional journalism aside, the repletion of the web with images of dismembered human beings, brutally tortured and killed or blown into pieces by mortars calls for a broader question of representational ethics. Here, the decapitated human bodies decomposing on sidewalk, equal to the ruble before the lens, is reduced into evidence. They call for aestheticization.

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