Beautiful Suffering

In 1993 South African photojournalist, Kevin Carter, took a photo of a young Sudanese girl during the famine, which caused a widespread uproar. The young girl, looking to be resting, crouches down while a vulture looks on.

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Kevin Carter

As instantly as the photo is published by The New York Times, people around the world write in to the magazine expressing concern for the young girl, wondering whether she had been saved from near death. Carter was blamed for not helping and received a lot of negative comments from the public (Ow-Yeong 2014). Unfortunately, the public were unaware that Carter was not allowed to touch the girl as he was surrounded by Sudanese soldiers so he would not interfere (Neal 2014). A picture can tell a thousands words but sometimes there’s still a thousand more.

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To look at the image is heartbreaking and quite confronting. But it also begs the question, if people are so upset by this image, what are they doing to help? Carter was part of a group of South African photojournalists called the “Bang-bang club”. The four photographers took some of the most devastating and confronting photos of the end of the apartheid and the famine during the 90’s. Without the courage of these men, we would not have seen some of these images, known of the incredible tortures of black South African people or seen the devastating effects of famine.

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The whole world would’ve turned a blind eye. But as soon as something as confronting as these images are seen, people want scrutinise the photographer and not look at the real issue. It’s like people don’t want to face the reality of the world and want to blame someone for all of these issues. Sadly, Carter committed suicide not long after he won the Pulitzer Prize. People attributed his death to the backlash of the vulture image, but really it was because he was tortured by the death of a Bang-Bang Club member and all of the horrific scenes he had witnessed, which really placed a toll on his mental health.

In contrast to Carter’s photos of truth and violence, we have an artist by the name of Sebastiao Salgado whose photographs receive reviews detailing that they are “too beautiful” (Kimmelman 2001). In a book titled Sahel: The End of the Road, shot in Chad, Ethiopia, Mali and Sudan, it depicts images of famine in these areas in the 1980s.

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By Sebastiao Salgado

“Black and white photos pair unforgettable horror with great beauty” (McDonald 2005).

 In 1991, Ingrid Sischy a writer for the New Yorker, wrote an article about the Sahel photographs. She said “Salgado is far too busy with the compositional aspects of his pictures—with finding the ‘grace’ and ‘beauty’ in the twisted forms of his anguished subjects. And this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity toward the experience they reveal. To aestheticize is the fastest way to anesthetize the feeling of those who are witnessing it. Beauty is a call to admiration, not to action”. (McDonald 2005).

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By Sebastiao Saldago

While in Carter’s photos we feel upset and almost helpless for his photographic subjects, in Salgado’s images I feel a sense of art and beauty. His photographs are something I feel you could hang up on a wall in your house and people would comment “how tragically beautiful”. It makes us look past the real issue unlike Carter’s photos. So, what do you think is the better approach to capturing suffering? Do we photograph the truth or do we find the beauty beyond?

 

References:

Kimmelman, M 2001, ‘PHOTOGRAPHY REVIEW; Can Suffering Be Too Beautiful?’, The New York Times, 13 July, viewed 28th March 16, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/13/arts/photography-review-can-suffering-be-too-beautiful.html?pagewanted=all

McDonald, M 2005, When People’s Suffering is Portrayed as Art, Nieman Reports, viewed 28th March 16, http://niemanreports.org/articles/when-peoples-suffering-is-portrayed-as-art/

Neal, L 2014, How Photojournalism Killed Kevin Carter, All That is Interesting, viewed 28th March 16, http://all-that-is-interesting.com/kevin-carter/2

Ow-Yeong, W 2014,’ ‘Our Failure of Empathy’: Kevin Carter, Susan Sontag, and the Problems of Photography’, Think Pieces: A Journal of the Joint Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies, University College London vol.1, no.1, pp. 9-17.

 

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Who wants to be instafamous?

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It is becoming ever so easy to become famous these days, and not even for being talented. I believe the rise of micro-celebrities really showed its prominence after the introduction of Instagram in 2010, although the term can be used around YouTube sensations and MySpace stars (pre-Instagram). Urban dictionary (although not reliable but is a concise definition) describes a micro-celebrity as “one who gains a cult or mainstream following due to viral internet distribution. Does not refer to those who have gained limited or cult followings through traditional media.” This definition was created by a user in 2006 and still this idea applies to those “Instafamous” people or bloggers.

For this post I mainly want to look at the Instafamous but it is important to find out the roots of the social media star. The term ‘micro-celebrity’ really came to academic prominence in 2008 when Theresa Senft wrote a book about Camgirls in the age of the Internet and social media. Senft (2008) defines ‘micro-celebrity’ as a technique that ‘involves people ‘‘amping up’’ their popularity over the Web using techniques like video, blogs, and social networking sites’ (p. 25). Marwick and Boyd (2011) also add, “this practice involves ongoing maintenance of a fan base, performed intimacy, authenticity and access, and construction of a consumable persona” (p. 140).

The points that Marwick and Boyd make about ongoing fan base, intimacy, authenticity and consumerism are key aspects in the success of the instafamous. Let’s use social media star Mimi Elashiry as an example. She’s a Sydney dancer who could never cut it as a commercial model, until she took things into her own hands and utilized Instagram to build a following, which in turn created jobs for herself. Post upon post of street style and a new era of “mystical traveler” vibes, people started to gravitate towards her daily posts and seemingly relaxed stylish lifestyle.  Now with over 800,000 followers on Instagram alone, she has maintained a loyal fan base with whom she creates intimacy and authenticity, as well as using her platform to promote products.

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It it funny to note that in Senft’s (2008) book on Camgirls, she writes that “unlike film and television audiences, Web viewers don’t seem particularly interested in purchasing products endorsed by Web stars”. Nowadays, it seems as though the main use for Instagram is to sell products through the Insta-famous. Although, maybe Senft is talking in a sense of campaigns and television commercials. I for one most likely wouldn’t be more inclined to buy Coca-Cola because Jenna Marbles told me to.

The problem with instafame is this newfound need for self-validation. More so than ever, teens are feeling the need to feel validation by the amount of likes an Instagram photo receives. People feel the constant need to post the perfect photo, no matter how long it takes to get it right, just so the world can see them as perfect. But really this is completely unrealistic and creates a whole new debate of self-confidence and worth in teenagers particularly. If you’d like to read more about this, you should check out some of my peers blogs like Ruby Taylor and Lucy Dean.

 

References:

Marwick, A & Boyd, D 2011, “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter.” Convergence, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 139 – 158

Senft, T 2008, Camgirls: Celebrity and Community in the Age of Social Networks, New York: Peter Lang.