Darkness in Light: Photography’s Heavy Weight

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By Jonathan H

Tiananmen Square Tanks Photo

Some of you may know the story of Kevin Carter, a young and promising photojournalist who brought us the hunger of Sudan in full force. And when one really thinks about it — when one looks deeply into the lives of the photographers who make a living off the worst facets of human history — we may realize that their mind contains an imprint far beyond the objective realm of film or zeros or ones.

I know because I’ve seen it first-hand, in a National Geographic photographer whose face carries the contours of his journeys in sad, sinking lines.

We may thumb through an old split-second in the spread of Life. We may look at a grainy representation of a misspent war. And that film may even last long – always longer than the life of the man or woman who recorded it. And the photograph lives beyond the photographer. The photograph becomes the photographer until we forget who was behind it. The photograph may tell stories of sadness or triumph. It may give glory to war, or it may embarrass the very notion that we should have a thing called war — it may make war look like an expensive game of bloody chess in the exacting display of a pompous plumage of power.

But most often, unless we are behind the viewfinder at that exact moment in time, we’re just observers looking at silver halide crystals or dot matrix pixels. And even if we are the photographer – active seekers of stories and truth we will always come to the full realization of the inevitability in certain truths.

Such was the case when Marcus Halevi was shooting for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and was sent on assignment to nearby Plum Island during a bad storm. A hundred feet away was a lonely woman, drinking and smoking as the wind, waves, and rain pummeled her frail body.

Storm Photo by Marcus Halevi

Photo by Marcus Halevi

Halevi saw its truth. So he recorded. What happened next probably still remains vivid in his memory. The sand embankment gave way after a pummeling wave hit – and the wave’s foamy fingers dragged the woman farther from the shore. He took the photos, and could have done nothing more — even if he tried. Fifty feet away is a pinch-length with a camera, but worlds away to make any rescue.

Photo at Plum Island by Marcus Halevi

Photo by Marcus Halevi

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Did you ever know who took this photo? Maybe not.

Boy with Hand Grenade - by Diane Arbus
Or how about this one? Less likely.

George Fiske image of Yosemite

As for the first, it was snapped by Diane Arbus, who committed suicide in July of 1971. The second was George Fiske, who — if it weren’t for his untimely death by suicide by gunshot — would have been the Ansel Adams before Ansel Adams.

And Carter? That young, Pulitzer-winning photographer who showed us our own brutality as humans – our carelessness and disregard towards our own species? Well, he had reached the pinnacle of his career in 1994 by winning a Pulitzer for this gut-wrenching image — an image that became the permanent frame of film in his mind and much of the world consciousness.

An Image that Killed Kevin Carter

After winning his “prize” for showing us reality in 1993, he procured a hose, ran the line to his car, and purposefully — with the sad sunken eyes of a man who has seen too much — took his own life.

“I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain,” he once said. “Of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners . . . “

3 comments on “Darkness in Light: Photography’s Heavy Weight

  1. Eric on said:

    Perhaps some of your best writing yet, I’ve found myself dwelling on it for the past few days. To be faced with unbelievable human misery and be completely helpless to help the sufferers.

  2. Jonathan Haeber on said:

    Thanks Eric. I must admit that I didn’t want to brood over the negative — hopefully some time soon, a positive piece to counteract it would be necessary 🙂

  3. Shaneka Diffendal on said:

    I am absolutely fascinated at how wonderful the stuff is on this web page. I have bookmarked this webpage and I truly intend on coming back to the site in the upcoming days. Keep up the great work!

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