Photograffiti

Posted: August 17, 2012 in Philosophy, Provoked
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Photograffiti

            When a girl was molested in the streets of Guwahati, a few months ago, there was a journo at hand capturing every single moment of the assault in his cam and got it later streaming in the Youtube, of course pixellating the image to smooth the sensibilities of the viewer. Debates came in quick succession and fingers were pointed at the skewed ethics of the photojournalist. How vague are the lines that separate right and good! It is known that all our moral judgments are based on a value, which depends on one’s station. It was reminded that it was the duty of the journos to report and reproduce the event rather than preventing the event. That is a very professional view of things, of that sort of coarse and heartless professionalism that drove the Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Carter to a desparate end. Martin Luther King is reported to have stopped a photographer who sought to intervene when an outrage was committed against him suggesting that the latter should record the events and bring it to the world so that the world shall know them and thus it is not just a single instance of outrage that is prevented but all the future recurrences. Perhaps we are confusing the photographer’s “right” with our “good.” What if the photographer is only saving the records to bring it later to an audience who are ready to decide on the course of actions? Such newsfeeds should be maintained to bring a consolidation of events around us and to trigger corrective actions. That is the most natural thing we can expect from man.

            The problem does not stop there. We are confronted by a situation where every other person is wielding a camera and is quite senselessly adept at it. We have become a lot obsessed with the delights of vision. When everybody becomes a self-styled reporter the reporting is taken into a realm that transcends the primary, actual and immediate capabilities of man. We record events out of fascination. When everybody runs the cam then who is the target? One has the provisions to broadcast the video captures as raw as he meant it and get it running. Doing so would displace the responses that the report could generate to a virtual plane, where anonymity is the order and where nobody really cares. Suppose a brutal act of assault is taking place before a crowd and nobody cares to intervene. By later presenting a video footage of the same, sourced by various onlookers, we are depriving the victim of that justice he should have received immediately in space and time. What is the good of elevating an event to a plane of discussion and ideational exchanges when action was precluded in the first instance? We are a folk who have reserved stock words to express our pseudo-commiserations. There will be a time when even the most violent turnout in one’s life becomes only a piece of information for the world whose emotional appeal, if at all there is any, will be systematically painted over by the diktats of the technocosm.

            Susan Sontag has aptly observed that a camera is “the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.” She also notes that any knowledge derived from a photograph is not ethical or political and that it is at the most sentimentalist and that photographs cater to an aesthetic consumerism. Attempts have been made to reproduce a historical event using photographs and cinema and we shall call this supplement to historiography as historiophoty. Certain emotions are better conveyed in visual or imagistic depictions rather than verbal discourses of the traditional historiography. It was firmly believed that the pleasures of man are largely scopic and that of women tactile. This is the very reason that man is capable of ocular assaults- the very look which can engender a sin. This is yet another reason why the girls are always skimpily clad in the silver screen even when their male buddies will compensate superfluously for their deficit. That seems to be an old story if we believe the social watchers of our times- women have started ogling at men now and so you understand why the heroes move about baring their abs. This is no minor indication. The very sense of sight has overwhelmingly run over all other faculties of man. Just pay attention to the advances made in display technologies that we relish in our television screens. It is a race to capture even the finest detail and with the advent of ambient modification techniques we will be tempted to take the projections for reality. The designers may cut down anything but not the screen size. Read with this the deluge of reality shows that can go to the most ridiculous extremes. We are concocting reality.

            When an event is caught in an amateur cam (we can spare the journos because they are condoned by certain interpretations of their professional ethics) does the photographer makes an ethical evaluation of the situation- something like him saying that he caught it in the tape because it was an infraction which needed to be publicized? Very often, it is not so. When we speak about moral judgments, some are of the opinion that our moral judgements are drawn from sensory appraisals. We may call it a “Humean” version. There is the “Kantian” line which suggests that there involves reasoning behind all our moral judgments. Controlled experiments regarding the moral judgments one makes reveal that sense and reason play non-exclusive roles and so it is aptly suggested that men are “Rawlsian” creatures in their moral judgments. It was John Rawls who suggested that there is an inherent moral grammar which determines our moral valuations. The amateur photographer is largely the one who is detached from the gravity of the situation and is only concerned with the rarity of the sight. The intelligentsia who dwell on these problems are equally clinical. They represent the opposite poles of sense and reason. In the age of information proliferation, even the slightest of microhistories are prone to get global attention if sourced through the appropriate channels. This should not be a violation of the privacy that the dignity of the individual justly demands. As men we should be keener on coming to the rescue rather than feasting on the flesh of a violated, mangled or wrecked body.

            Sontag writes in Regarding the Torture of others that the lynching photographies, like the ones from Abu Ghraib are maintained as trophies. This happens in our place too, when the vigilante groups or individuals commit an atrocity in the name of an ideal they believe and represent and eventually circulate the record of the act in the web. Even when the act is blatantly criminal, they maintain a daring impunity over publicizing it. This is the case when an onlooker or a perpetrator take the photographs which is exactly the journos’ cup of tea. This ubiquity of photographs reveals a wide spectrum of emotions which can never be treated as one and the same.

            There is a very poignant message in the Jackie Chan starrer Police Story. A team of police officers are led into a deadly trap and are killed by a gang of cult gamers. They make that fatal operation into a video game and post it in the Net. Knowing that the whole plot is centered on the depression Chan is in, unable to reconcile with his state as “the one who lived to tell the tale” and accusing himself for the death of his team, presumably the most devastating phrase found in the script is “they made you into a videogame.”

Carelessvespers.blogspot.com

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Ephraem maria gilbert

Capuchin ashram Thumpoly

14 August 2012

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