Regarding the Pain of Others - Susan Sontag

April 20, 2014

Graphic war photos can be very powerful, but they often elicit complicated and unforeseen reactions among viewers.



A few years ago, I was excited to go see a collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs on display in St. Louis. "The best of the best," I thought.
I hadn't browsed half the collection when I started to feel uneasy. I was almost depressed by the time I left. Why? What do those photos, a number of them war-related, display? Loss, sorrow, crime, suffering or death characterized most, the kinds of things that attract morbid curiosity.
Some of those photos documented injustice. Those were heart-rending, too, but perhaps they served a greater goal of raising awareness.
I can recall only one of the winners bringing a smile to my face. And the memory of it still does. It was William C. Beall's 1958 winner, "Faith and Confidence," featuring a friendly policeman talking to a little boy. I'd like to display that print in my home some day!