Photography, is in the news. Not just those photos. I recall Jeanne Kimball, a long-time member, showing me a photograph her grandfather took of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.
In 1839, the year the photographic process became public, Sir John Herschel gave it a name. The word is derived from the Greek words for light and writing. A nice metaphor, when you think about it. Now we’re thinking about the power of photography in its digital incarnation.
A man named de la Roch, 1729-1774, made a most amazing prediction. He wrote an imaginary story about how it was possible to capture images from nature on a canvas that had been coated with a sticky substance. This surface, so his story goes, would not only provide a mirror image on the canvas, but would remain on it after it had been dried in the dark. Sticky. hmm.
Like all things, photography has evolved. It gave us the photocopier-how could we survive without it? and the digital camera, now built into the cell phone, on which we’ve become dependent, though the unruly use of it is so often the source of sticky social problems-ring.
Photographs of caskets are sticky when they carry the ever-increasing dead back to their loved ones for private (secret?) burial. We’re not allowed to see those sticky pictures. It’s hard to continue to perpetrate such a ruinous war when the public watches, so they hide the hideous facts under the disingenuous pretext of a family’s privacy. Sure.
The mirror images from Abu Ghraib are also very sticky, dried in the dark, they remain.
In a powerful, penetrating and perceptive essay in yesterday’s New York Times, Susan Sontag sheds light with words. She writes, “The issue is not whether a majority or a minority of Americans perform such acts but whether the nature of the policies prosecuted by this administration and the hierarchies deployed to carry them out makes such acts likely.”
“Considered in this light, the photographs are us. That is, they are representative of the fundamental corruptions of any foreign occupation together with the Bush administration’s distinctive policies.”
We’re stuck with those not-nice photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib, ‘the father of the raven.’ They are painful reminders of what we’ve become, what he has done to us, no matter how often the president says that ‘we’re really nice people at heart.’
Maybe Mr. Bush should actually read his favorite philosopher who said, “The first will be last, and the last first. Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Etc. Etc. Etc.
Susan Sontag said it sharply: “Americans are dying not because of the photographs but of what the photographs reveal to be happening, happening with the complicity of a chain of command. In our digital hall of mirrors, the pictures aren’t going to go away, even if our leaders choose not to look at them.” The canvas in Iraq has been coated with a sticky substance, to which the flies are sticking. We who love this country with the full fervor of patriotism must speak out.