Andreas Rentsch Virtue of Empathy

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Table of Contents,The Proliferation of Imagery and its Danger p 3. Empathy p 7,Personal History p 9,Abu Ghraib p 11,Summary p 17. Endnotes p 18,List of Figures p 19,Bibliography p 20. The Proliferation of Imagery and its Danger, With the proliferation of the internet and digital cameras often incorporated into cell. phones we are all inundated by a flood of images News is instantaneous often. unedited and raw With the rise of social media the flow is constant uncontrollable. relentless uncensored The deluge of imagery ranges from the mundane covering of. social events to the seriousness of life and death situations Photography has become. the most democratic of all media and has provided us with some incredible imagery of. news events still photo as well as video The new documentary photographer of wars. and other newsworthy events is no longer a James Nachtwey or Tyler Hicks or others. like them Although these professionals still provide us with exceptional pictures the. anonymous person with the camera phone has become the main source of. photographic material from conflict zones Few of these photographers would be. considered professional or even have any ambition beyond capturing a moment in their. lives They have become the new face of the documentarian in a way unimaginable just. a little while ago As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown us conflicts become. choreographed and sanitized events where the professional photographer is embedded. with the troops and operatives of the military and politics tightly control the flow of. images However with the ascent of the digital age the stream of information is. becoming harder and harder to contain to the exasperation and fear of many leaders. The civil resistance of the Arab Spring brought down despotic rulers in ways unthinkable. just a few years ago By no small means the use of social media played a crucial role. in organizing communicating and raising awareness of the conflicts and disseminating. images past the censorship and the attempts by authorities to suppress their message. Ironically in an age when the legitimacy of any image can and should be questioned. due to the digital tools available to manipulate photos the authenticity of these often. grainy and low quality snapshots are rarely questioned These photographers are. more concerned with spreading their message than wasting their time enhancing the. quality of their images The pictorial and technical quality is often low and the photos are. made available almost immediately or within the next news cycle. Figure 18 Unknown an image taken from a mobile phone camera shows the arrest of Colonel Gaddafi in. Sirte Lybia shortly before he was executed 2011, That almost obsessive need to share every aspect of our lives can however have.
serious consequences for the participants and endanger the lives of others There are. countless examples of sheer stupidity and recklessness in posting photographs and. videos for mass viewership Just in March of this year 2013 we were able to follow the. trial of two high school football stars from the Midwestern town of Steubenville Ohio. who incriminated themselves by posting a video and photos online of raping an. unconscious girl and bragging about it Besides being revolted by the cruelty and. indifference of these adolescents we must question whether society has become. anesthetized by and apathetic to the horror depicted on a daily basis on TV and in the. social media Are we becoming immune to shock or at least being desensitized over. time Do people want to look at horror or even get pleasure out of it Most probably do. not but there is no question of a certain fascination with the depiction of crime pain and. horror bordering on voyeurism Susan Sontag called for an ecology of images in her. book On Photography 1977 She revisits this thought in Recording the Pain of Others. 2004 and asks if it is even possible that images of carnage be cut back to say once. a week 21 Her obvious conclusion is the fact that in this day and age there isn t. going to be an ecology of images No Committee of Guardians is going to ration horror. to keep fresh its ability to shock And the horrors themselves are not going to abate 22. Therefore how are we supposed to deal with this type of horror on a daily base Ignore. it Impossible No one after a certain age has the right to this kind of innocence of. superficiality to this degree of ignorance or amnesia 23 But what is that age. threshold For her she divides her life into two parts before I saw those photographs. The images of Bergen Belsen and Dachau A R and after 24 This brought to my. mind memories of a similar experience At the age of 9 or 10 just after my family got its. first television the Swiss broadcasting station aired the series Switzerland and World. War II I witnessed vintage footage of close range executions and hangings of people. whose only crime was their incompatibility with the Nazi Regime based on race. ethnicity culture religion and political viewpoints These images on TV had a. devastating effect on my sense of justice and the human race It challenged my world. view of morality forgiveness and kindness that was taught to me by my parents Up to. this point my life was quite sheltered and was not exposed to any depiction of crime. and cruelty There is a certain irony in that as I spent the first 18 years of my life on a. prison compound where my father was the warden and where daily interactions with. convicts were common However compassion and morality were on display before I. could really comprehend the extent of it My father was a true believer in rehabilitation. and the need to treat each man with respect and dignity regardless of his crimes. These visual and real life experiences nurtured a sense of empathy in me for the human. condition that has been a guiding force in my life as well as my work. Figure 19 Photographer date and place unknown execution by Nazi officers in WW II. Our incapacity to deal with distant events of horror may leave us helpless and. indifferent As compassion is an unstable emotion it needs to be translated into action. or it withers 25 To empathize and sustain the horror in our consciousness is a crucial. act in insuring that these memories stay alive How we maintain these public. repositories is personal as well as cultural At the beginning of April 2013 Berlin. destroyed another section of the Berlin Wall a monument to a dark past that tore a. wedge between a nation families and friends Confronting the past is essential and. how better to remember than by witnessing the ultimate iconic artifact that came to. symbolize the political and humanitarian divide of the cold war Do the changed. landscape and the void created by the demolition of this monument affect our. memories Does it become a further eradication of a recollection of a horrible past a. blatant disregard of history and its memory or is it a way of healing and confronting the. future It is telling how the German nation is still trying to come to terms with the. horrors of the 20th Century and often resorts to repressing the past instead of facing it. But as Sontag says the memory of war like all memory is mostly local 26 As. outsiders how are we supposed to judge and react if we did not experience the pain. and suffering firsthand In our oversaturated world of instant news and imagery how. In the winter of 1986 87 three years before it came down I photographed the Berlin Wall extensively. in a photo essay Growing up in a penitentiary I was well aware of how walls and incarceration act on our. psyche I was fascinated and repulsed at the same time by what lengths the political machinery went to. separate enclose and protect a misguided repressive ideology. can we even with the best of intentions have empathy for all the conflicts that deserve. our attention Do we need to censor ourselves to some extent to keep our sanity. Does editing some memories become ultimately a survival instinct One thing is clear if. we loose our sense of empathy we lose our humanity. Figure 20 Andreas Rentsch Berlin Wall 1987 gelatin silver print. Personal History, As we all deal with images of horror in different ways expression of sympathy is. very personal I want to share some memories from my childhood that are directly tied. to the interest in justice and morality that informs my work Growing up in a penitentiary. I was confronted early on with existential and humanistic issues It was not uncommon. for inmates to be put in positions of trust that were incompatible with their. transgressions I remember P a sexual predator who acted as a night guard or T who. was an alcoholic and worked every day at our home that housed the wine cellar of the. penitentiary By believing in the good of mankind and having faith in the ability of a. person to turn his her life around my father instilled in many of the incarcerated a belief. and confidence in self worth We were especially fond of T who cut our hair played with. us and literally became part of the family After he completed his sentence he was. invited once a year to spend a week of vacation at our house and every time we were. overjoyed to see him Often the boundaries of private and public life were blurred As a. fanatic soccer player in my early teens I often sneaked out of the house to play in the. Thursday evening practices and Sunday regular games between teams comprised of. inmates My daily encounters with many prisoners were just an unavoidable fact of life. to a point that their crimes didn t matter in how we interacted with them We were fully. integrated into the routine of the prison life Our family often ate the same meals as the. inmates It wasn t unusual to have a detainee at our dinner table in order for him to get a. short reprieve from incarceration I can clearly remember one inmate with a large. bandage around his wrist way before I understood what the word suicide attempt meant. Although I felt at the time that my childhood was unremarkable and normal I ve come to. realize that my conservative and strict father was quite progressive in many respects. almost na ve and reckless in the ways we were exposed to this environment I often. wandered around and played by myself within the parameters of the prison that looked. more like a village with a church many buildings and without security fences Being a. father now myself of two pre adolescent boys I ve come to recognize that the trust he. put in us five children as well as the faith he afforded the prisoners to interact with us. was nothing short of astonishing Only years later after my father retired did I learn that. the prisoner who tended our garden had killed his son. Figure 21 Photo taken by my father Max Rentsch of me in the carriage on the right and my. three brothers with the inmate T at our house 1963. Abu Ghraib, Although many of these memories were embedded in my consciousness they. clearly resurfaced in vivid details after seeing the brutal pictures of the abuse and. humiliation of the Iraqi inmates at the hands of American soldiers in the Abu Ghraib. prison As the Americans were supposed to be the good guys who liberated Iraq from. the tyrant Saddam Hussein these servicemen became indistinguishable from any other. tormenters that are often present in these obscure and secret prison environments. While it may be unfair to compare these two dissimilar situations and settings the. horrifying images nonetheless triggered my memories of growing up in a prison and. relating with people that society viewed solely as criminals As everybody else I was. shocked by the inhumane bestial treatment at Abu Ghraib that defied any notion of. basic human values What was even more disturbing was the fact that there was real. enjoyment in the faces of the mistreating soldiers similar to the pictures of the lynching. of black people in the American South where white people posed with a smile on their. face underneath their trophy These images were shared and traded as souvenirs. not unlike the Abu Ghraib images that soldiers posted and shared with their comrades. Through this public display it became clear that the racist white people as well as the. American soldiers of Abu Ghraib felt perfectly justified in their actions or as Rush. Limbaugh said on his radio show referring to these same soldiers trivializing the. Many of these photographs from the collection of James Allen and John Littlefield were published in. the book Without Sanctuary Lynching Photography in America. occurrence You know these people are being fired at every day I m talking about. people having a good time You ever heard of emotional release 27. Figure 22 Unknown Abu Ghraib 2004 Figure 23 Unknown North Carolina 1916. Feeling empowered by the control they exercised the guards dishonored and degraded. the defenseless prisoners robbing them of any remaining dignity and human pride. Susan Sontag acutely observed in her book On Photography the power the camera can. exercise Although this quote was written 27 years prior to Abu Ghraib the writing. concisely reflects on the imagery from the Iraqi prison environment. The camera is a kind of passport that annihilates moral boundaries and social. inhibitions freeing the photographer from any responsibility toward the people. photographed 28, Perturbed and on a certain level personally affected by theses images I felt compelled. fanatic soccer player in my early teens I often sneaked out of the house to play in the Thursday evening practices and Sunday regular games between teams comprised of inmates My daily encounters with many prisoners were just an unavoidable fact of life to a point that their crimes didn t matter in how we interacted with them We were fully

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