The Pain of Others

One of Sontag's classic works is "Regarding the Pain of Others" (2003). It is a short book, almost an essay length, on the depiction of pain through photography. Part history, part critical reflection. Few notes:

"nonstop imagery (televisions, streaming video, movies) is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite. Memory freeze-frames; its basic unit is the single image. In an era of information overload, the photograph provides a quick way of apprehending something and a compact way for memorizing it. No object is more equated with memory than the camera image. The photograph is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb. Each of us mentally stocks hundreds of photographs, subject to instant recall." (p. 17)

"Photographs had the advantage of uniting two contradictory features. Their credentials of objectivity were inbuilt. Yet, they always had, necessarily, a point of view. They were a record of the real – incontrovertible, as no verbal account, however impartial, could be – since a machine was doing the recording. And they bore witness to the real – since a person had been there to take them." (p. 21)

"People can turn off not just because a steady diet of images of violence has made them indifferent but because they are afraid. As everyone has observed, there is a mounting level of acceptable violence and sadism in mass culture: films, television, comics, computer games. Imagery that would have had an audience cringing and recoiling in disgust forty years ago is watched without so much as a blink by every teenager in the multiplex. Indeed, mayhem is entertaining rather than shocking to many people in most modern cultures." (p. 87-88) 

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Ethiopia Photographed (1867-1935)

Richard Pankhurst and Denis Gerard are well known to Ethiopians and those interested in Ethiopia. One of the many publications in their names, is "Ethiopia Photographed: Historic Photographs of the Country and its People Taken between 1967 and 1935" (1996). The book has a brief historical introduction, and it followed by hundreds of photographs spread over 168 pages, each with short descriptions.

The book has six sections: (1) Historic Personalities: From Tewodros to Haile Sellassie, (2) Historic Towns: North, South, East and West, (3) Addis Ababa: the "New Flower", (4) Economic, Social and Cultural Life: Tradition and Diversity, (5) Innovation and Modernization, and (6) Preparing to Resist the Impending Invasion.

For those who have spent time reading about Ethiopian history, this book provides imagery to color the narratives. Photographs have their own biases; who takes them, who gets photographed, which areas are represented and which are not, and so forth. Given these limitation, the book is an excellent and unique collection.

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