As hackneyed as it may sound, a picture is worth a thousand words and even more. Apart from disseminating news/information, a visual presentation engages the viewer to dwell on the plight and sufferings of a subject and empathise with them. One such striking and intense image was that of ‘the pleading man’ by Arko Datta. The photo was taken during the unfortunate episode of the Gujarat riots in 2002. The image shows a misty eyed Qutubuddin Ansari, crippled with fear, folding his hands and pleading to be spared. Ansari’s fearful face screamed slogans of utter despair and helplessness of a broken man in a country festered with communal prejudices and its consequences. The image was followed by an outcry against the state patrons and their role in the systematised and well orchestrated violence.
The men behind the lens have been hailed for bringing the stories to the public. Working in severe conditions, getting grilled on the field and encountering the worst of circumstances to capture an honest and truthful account of the reality certainly calls for great fortitude.
However, regardless of the life-threatening work they indulge in, photojournalists have often been condemned on ethical grounds. Kevin Carter, the man behind the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a girl stalked by a vulture in the famine struck Sudan, was vehemently criticised for being a mere spectator and not saving the dying child. The photo shows a vulture waiting for the malnourished child to die and feed on her. However, despite the baggage of perilous projects and criticisms that follow their work, photojournalists such as Raghu Rai have remained true to their passion and continue to document honest and true stories. “No audience exists for me. I have always worked as an individual who has come to understand a situation and captured the truth of it,” says Rai. He further quotes a friend: “You have no right to cut rocks from the Himalayas and bring it down here and chisel, unless by chiselling it you have given the experience of the Himalayas to that chiselling” and avers, “our job is to capture the situation in the most truthful and intense way so that you can share an honest experience of tragedy, of joy or of madness.”
These powerful images have initiated protests, speedy trials of the perpetrators of crime, flow of relief funds and compensations, or at the very least dissenting thoughts or conscious discussions and debates. These visual narratives of pain and suffering in the face of wars, famines and disasters serve as a mirror that reflects the dark side of the degrading humankind. Every image works like a ticking clock, a reminder, telling us of our steady decline towards a catastrophic world bereft of humanity.