Photographing grief: some thoughts on the new Ukrainian martyrology
Under the photo from the funeral of Dmytro Kotsyubail, which I posted the other day, a whole discussion about the ethics of such pictures took place. The shot was taken by Konstantin and Vlada Liberov, photographers who are currently on the front line and actually documented the battle near Bakhmut in which Dmytro died. The unit in which Dmytro served invited the Liberovs to document the farewell and the funeral ceremony – both turned into a huge public event, a public ritual that lays down a new Ukrainian martyrology, adding to the pantheon of heroes another person who passionately laid down his life for our freedom. A person whose death once again shows us, the living, what we are and always have been – as a nation whose resilience is revealed by the faces of the fallen in our history books. In order for this persistence to exist, it must be represented, so that knowledge about historical events beyond their immediate location and time frame is passed on. They were passed on to those who did not participate in them at that place and at that time. Representation is the social glue that creates a community. The unrepresentable escapes from historical memory. Photo from the funeral of Dmytro Kotsyubail. Used with the permission of the authors Vlada and Kostiantyn Liberovy Modern society is completely structured by the photographic image, and not by the graphic image, which, although it exists – people continue to draw – but has given up its social and form-creating role to photography instantly since the appearance of the latter in the 19th century. The unphotographed interrupts the historical stream, no matter how much it is retold in words or painted with colors. History is photographed, myth is painted. The painting “The Descent from the Cross” is an altarpiece by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden. Photo: wikipedia.org In her book “The Social Contract of Photography”, Ariela Azoulay talks about this photographic glue, without which modern society cannot function. Such a view of the photo as a fundamental, fundamental mechanism for the formation of social ties strongly contrasts with the postmodern criticism of the previous decades, with that “hermeneutics of suspicion” that accused the viewer of voyeurism to the point of paranoia and often with a remarkable moralistic pathos. Let me remind you that voyeurism is a completely devalued word, first of all, a term of psychoanalysis, which speaks of nasology from contemplation. But watching does not necessarily mean enjoying. There is a huge range of other emotional reactions to images. Read also: Is there an “unimportant” war experience? Five Conversations About Self-Censorship I look at this woman’s suffering and feel great empathy. Part of this grief is transferred to me, because I am a part of this social body that is grieving. A direct, integral part of this social burnt body – this is what the image of a person who lost the most precious thing tells me so that I personally could continue to live. Empathy and immense gratitude, not voyeurism. The conversation about the (un)ethicality of photographing someone in a state of grief has a logistical and worldview component. How can one avoid being photographed during a crowded social ritual in the main square of the country? During the ritual, which was attended by the highest leaders of the army, to which numerous TV channels were invited, to which literally thousands of people flocked? What mechanisms can be used to ensure that no photographs are taken in this public crowd? Announce it on the loudspeaker? Hire a special staff who would osmicize the photographers? To print thousands of paper instructions, which would indicate that it is better not to photograph a certain person? How can you avoid public representation, being a public person, whether for life or for death? Publicity is the burden of being present in front of people, when your heroism or service (military, deputy) pushes you under the soffit. You wanted to be there in joy, in struggle, in your passion. under this soffit you will find yourself in your grief, because this grief turns from personal to social. Read also: Witnesses of the greatest pain and happiness. How a couple of wedding photographers from Odesa captures the worldview component war – not about privacy and public presence – but about the fear of the image as such. Iconoclasm, as we know it in its postmodern dimension, is a much older phenomenon. In all cultures and at all times there are those who are afraid of the image, and this fear often manifests itself through the declaration of pathetic self-righteousness and shaming of the other – “you should be ashamed! don’t look!” I’m not ashamed. Maybe because I haven’t lived in a postmodern paradigm for a long time. I look. And in an absolutely internal, tactile, visceral sense, I feel that Ukrainianness exists – and I am also in it. Huge respect to the woman in the photo, who turns all of us into a living, pulsating Ukrainian social body.
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