Photographing The Suffering

Ever wondered where all these amazing photos of human suffering come from? Ever asked yourself “Why doesn’t the photographer just help the poor person!?”. Well, I suppose there’s a reason why people are always photographing the suffering instead of helping them, at least deep down. Maybe they’re thinking about their career, or maybe they care more about the overall issue and they’re trying to capture the life of the problem.

A great example that springs to mind about this issue is this photo of Fabienne Cherisma, showing a group of photojournalists surrounding Fabienne, who passed away after being shot by a police officer for lotting after an the earthquake in Haiti. It instantly makes me feel sorry for the victim, and make me feel angry with the journalists for not helping.

I suppose you could attribute the success of this photo, which was chosen as the best international news image, because of the emotional reaction we have towards the photojournalists. There’s a great journal about The relationship of virality and emotions by Jonah A. Berger & Katherine L. Milkman, which talks about how an angry reaction to content causes the potential virality to increase dramatically, especially when there are two opposing sides. A great example of this principle in action which springs to mind is the coloured dress craze of 2015 over social media

There’s a youtube channel ‘CPG Grey’, which talks about this, and uses plenty of amazingly beautiful graphics. I think plenty of professional journalists know about this concept subconsciously, just by watching by previously successful work from others in their fields, and so that sets the standards that others need to meet to compete in the industry. Similar to how in professional sport games, once one team adjusts their strategies which dominates the competition, the other teams are forced to adjust their techniques to meet this new standard. Anyway, enough sport, watch this awesome video and understand the concept!

Mr Salgado, a famous photojournalist, talks about how some of his photos are posed, because it’s the only way to get his subjects from crowding around him. In an interview with Michael Kimmelman, he says that, “The children would gather around to watch him work. They volunteered to have their photos taken so the photographer to work in peace”. I think this quote reflects well on the issues photographers have in-field, and speaking from experience, when a photographer is going for the ‘natural’ look, there’s nothing more frustrating then when someone poses, presumably because that’s how they want to be photographed and remembered.

So to summarise tangents about this subjects, it’s an interesting subject to research into, especially from the perspectives of the photographer, the audience, and as a content creator. I don’t think people will ever stop creating photographs and images like this, because it’s a formula that works to spread messages.

Kimmelman Michael, MK 2001, ‘Photography review; can suffering be too beautiful?’, NYTime, 13th July, Viewed 1st April <;

Richard Frances, FR 2010, ‘The think artefact: on photography and suffering’, The Nation, 23rd November, Viewed 1st April <;

Akbareian Emma, EA 2015, ‘The blue and black (or white and gold) dress: Actual colour, brand and price details revealed’, Independent, 27th February, Viewed 1st April <;

Berger, Jonah A. and Milkman, Katherine L., ‘What Makes Online Content Viral?’, December 25, 2009, Viewed 1st April <;




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