I am troubled by what I have seen.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed terrible, on-going episodes within our borders through photos and video that speak volumes about the tragedy of race. Racism is as old as human history, and there is a long, rich history of capturing race conflicts in the US by photographers like Charles Moore, Bruce Davidson, Gordon Parks and others.
But in this post 9/11 world, the balance of power has shifted towards authority — militarized officers outfitted with high-powered machine guns and body armor straight out of central casting for a Michael Bay film who seemingly police differently depending on the color of your skin.
This image by Charles Moore published in LIFE magazine changed history. Kennedy adviser Arthur Schlesinger commented that the image “transformed the national mood and made legislation not just necessary, but possible.”
In her seminal essay On Photography, Susan Sontag writes “Photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.” Photos and video are crucial to a functioning democracy, but if we’re too immune by the barrage of our digital world, what hopes do we have for society?
In Russia, the car dash cam is ubiquitous because of the level of lawlessness and corruption. Witnesses are shills, cops are corrupt, and dash cam footage provides the only factual account of crashes, bumps and dents. In other words, photography/videography is the only means to fight corruption. In the US, we continue to find inequality in the treatment and incarceration of blacks. Will photography help us to uncover this disparity and turn disbelievers into advocates? Can photos spur not only regional outrage, but national outrage and create a transformative dialog?