REGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS
One of the distinguishing features of modern life is that it supplies countless opportunities for regarding horrors taking place throughout the world. Images of atrocities have become, via the screens of the television and the computer, something of a commonplace. But are viewers inured – or incited – to violence by the depiction of cruelty? Is the viewer’s perception of reality eroded by the daily barrage of such images?Susan Sontag’s now classic book On Photography defined the terms of this debate twenty-five years ago. Her new book is a profound rethinking of the intersection of ‘news’, art and understanding in the contemporary depiction of war and disaster. She makes a fresh appraisal of the arguments about how pictures can inspire dissent, foster violence, or create apathy, evoking a long history of the representation of the pain of others – from Goya’s The Disasters of War to photographic documents of the American Civil War, the First World War, the Nazi death camps, and contemporary images from Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, and New York City on September 11th, 2001.