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Choosing the Invisible

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


  1. Robert wrote:

    I agree and said something similar on my blog recently …though not quite as eloquently… if you want to take a look it’s here:

    Friday, May 20, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Permalink
  2. Fascinating concept. We’re hit with a barrage of images every day. Imagine what it does to the human psyche.

    Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink
  3. I agree and disagree. I do not need photo’s of a dead corpse to convince me that Osama bin Laden was killed during the raid. It stands to reason if he were not killed he would be doing everything within his power to show the American people that he is still alive. But there are those who have to see the evidence that the event truly happened to believe it, and I respect that side as well. After all, this is the person who was supposed to be the mastermind behind the worst terror attack in the U.S. history. Any how, that is my thought’s on the subject. Thanks for the informative and interesting post.

    Friday, July 29, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

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