Le Nouvel Observateur, France
A Scandalous New York Post:
What Would We Do in
the Photographer’s Place?
By Marion de M.
Translated By Laura Napoli
5 December 2012
Edited by Peter L. McGuire
France - Le Nouvel Observateur - Original Article (French)
In terms of scandals, we are accustomed to the gritty humor of “Charlie Hebdo,” the big bad Islamist reviewed and corrected by L’Express or Le Point. But all that seems silly when compared with the New York Post.
The U.S. tabloid published a pretty incredible, yet difficult to view, photo: a man who has fallen on the subway tracks, just seconds away from death.
The photo does not leave us indifferent and we can understand it. We are all spectators to this horror.
After the excitement passes, we ask: but what was the photographer doing? Well … he was taking the pictures. Instead of trying to help the poor man up, he was clicking away, hoping to alert the train conductor.
Now that we have the facts, I ask myself two questions:
1. Should the New York Post have published this photo?
2. Was the photographer guilty of failing to assist a person in danger?
1. On the New York Post
Why do horrendous images get published? That’s the eternal question, bringing to mind previous cases. One example is the “falling man” from September 11, 2001, the man we saw falling headfirst into the emptiness, images of the fatal luge accident from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and photos of Gaddafi’s bloody corpse… the examples go on.
In general, the answer is the same: the images are hard to look at, but they reflect a reality that we cannot deny, it’s the price we pay for information, etc. Why not.
But in the case of the man who fell on the subway tracks, can someone explain what value the photo adds, if it does not make you want to vomit? As a citizen and a newspaper reader, I do not see the point, unless it is to deliver a creepy show on a silver platter.
As one journalist (editor of the Guardian) emphasized on Twitter, “Imagine how this man’s family feels.” The word that best sums this up is “trash,” to borrow the expression used by another Twitter user, Lee Gerowitz.
2. On the Photographer
On this point, I’m a little less severe. The photographer took the photo. He said he wanted to alert the train conductor.
Talking to our computer screens, we quietly ask, “But why didn’t he grab the guy by the arms to take him out of there, instead of taking a picture?”
Easy to say. In this situation, who knows what we would have done, how we would have reacted? Seized by fear and panic, I can only imagine the paralysis that would have invaded us. This is, rationally, not the right reaction, but it must be difficult to reason in those times, to be calm, to say: I have three seconds to react without making a mistake; a man’s life depends on this.
It’s difficult to predict how each of us would have reacted.
In any case, we could predict the scandal this would cause. A cover of shame. Shame for a newspaper that isn’t worth its name. And shame on me. Yes, on me, who despite everything, looked at this photo, seized by an unhealthy curiosity. A curiosity that I wish I did not have but against which I cannot fight. When I read about “the scandalous photo,” the “controversy,” etc., I wanted to see the image so that I could form an opinion for myself. And it is an image that I would have rather not seen at all.
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