The refusal to release photographs or videos of the corpse of Osama bin Laden brings the Image War to another level. It forces us as individuals to imagine bin Laden’s demise, and in doing so we are thrown back upon our own thoughts and emotions. There is no spectacular imagery for society to rally around, no media feeding frenzy, no grotesque image with which to measure our bizarre era or, more obscenely, for others to imitate or surpass. And in the relative silence there are no accusations of manipulation by or for the camera.
Obama’s decision leaves us with a related question: Is it helpful for us as citizens to be confronted by violent, horrific imagery on a daily basis? Does a competition for the sensational help us to comprehend the dilemmas of others, their aspirations and obstacles, or does it push us towards passivity?
We need to recognize that massive violence is a symptom of societal conflicts, but the underlying reasons are rarely explored. Why are they fighting in Libya or in Syria? The answer is not an image of bombs going off. A truer photography of conflict would help to show the roots of the violence, otherwise societies and their people seem repetitively irrational. And, as citizens, an irrational world is one we can barely comprehend, let alone do anything to change.
Certainly this is not the fault of photographers–many work, or would like to work, on longterm projects trying to understand and articulate what is going on in societies worldwide. It’s a problem with a system of media which seems to exalt in the misfortune of others, as long as the imagery is spectacular. The non-release of the bin Laden imagery, whatever the reasons that were behind Obama’s decision, can also be considered a step that can lead to a more thoughtful visual journalism