Don’t shoot the photographer

The New York Times’ front-page photograph of a victim of the MH17 tragedy was an example of the power of photojournalism.

Published on July 19, the photograph has received backlash, with people calling it shocking, gratuitous and disturbing. The fact is that the events of flight MH17 were shocking, gratuitous and disturbing, and the photo reflects that reality without being exploitative or sensationalist.

Dean Baquet, The Times’ executive editor, was correct in his defence of the photo when he said that now is “not the time for antiseptic coverage.” The MH17 plane crash is currently one of the biggest events in the world; it’s the responsibility of major news outlets to express this reality in the most effective manner possible.

Photography plays an important role in that. News coverage is often inundated with statistics and facts, making it increasingly easy to become numb to harsh realities.

The Times’ photograph, and photojournalism in general, is what adds humanity to these statistics. Photographs help readers feel a personal connection to a situation they’re otherwise far removed from.

The Times isn’t obligated to soften harsh realities in order to make readers more comfortable. People are free to remain oblivious to realities of war and violence; The Times is a paid subscription that no one is forced to read.

It’s understandable that this photograph evoked negative emotions, but it’s good that people are getting emotional over it — that’s how we combat apathy towards these tragedies.

It’s disrespectful to the victims to call photos like this one obscene, and to say they should remain out of the public eye. Photographs are how we can honour these victims by acknowledging the tragedy.

Journal Editorial Board

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