Documents of Conflict and Suffering

“You are damned if you remember – condemned to re-live, re-enact the images of your fathers; you are damned if you don’t – condemned to repeat their hypocrisy.” – Gilles Peress

I am quite struck by this quote. There is no easy way out of the dilemma, because pain and suffering will always be there and every individual has a choice to make regarding the amount of pain and suffering they expose themselves to, besides the personal misery they are already dealing with. If one chooses to ignore this completely, you are bound to become part of the inflictors, responsible for the suffering you are choosing to be oblivious from.

This is such a difficult subject. I live in an international community and have German friends. We have talked about the roles their parents and grandparents played in WWII, the sense of responsibility and guilt that they still feel, the suffering their family has gone through, but don’t feel they can or want to talk about, because they are on the side of the enemy. It’s a burden they still carry, even though they themselves had nothing to do with it.

I think about this conscious covering of pain, whether inflicted or suffered and wonder about the effects of actually being confronted with it, what would be the purpose, would it make a difference in avoiding a repeat in the future? Also, what about the bystanders, do they need to know and if so, what will their response be? How about the sensational feelings that might be triggered, like ‘medical or violence pornography’? What kind of images do justice to the stories that need to be told and learnt from?

After reading the articles and listening to the interview with Don McCullin I came across a video ‘Choose Pussy over Pain‘ that tackles the fact that there is hardly any censorship when it comes to violence, but a healthy, human thing like sex or nudity is quickly condemned and banned in social media. Not only is this a strange phenomenon indeed, saying a lot about the taboos we have, but it also shows that there is an entertainment factor in violence and pain that we need to be aware of.

As Don McCullin noted, we need a ‘marked reflective attitude’ towards the suffering we portray and show, being aware of the fact that in order to learn from history you have to experience some of it, have knowledge and a personal attachment. However, violence can be off putting and trigger the wrong sentiments, the ‘goriest pictures don’t tell the story well‘.

It’s walking on a thin line, being aware that when it comes to telling about pain and suffering there cannot be easy answers and black and white opinions, only an open attitude that has respect for the victims and a striving for telling the story in such a way that will contribute to preventing it to happen again, even though we know it will.

Anon, (2017). [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2017]. (2017). BBC – Radio 4 Excess Baggage – 13/02/2010. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2017].

issuu. (2017). Issue 23. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 May 2017].




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