Newseum Ethics Center

One of the exhibits at the Newseum focuses on the topic of ethics in news reporting. As part of this, visitors are presented with ethical dilemmas and then asked to make a decision about that dilemma.

The first scenario I was presented with was based off the photo below, “Starving in Sudan” by Kevin Carter.

Kevin Carter

The image depicts a young girl, too weak to crawl to a food shack nearby. She is near death and the buzzard is sitting waiting for her to die. The question presented was, if you were the photographer would you take the photo and not help the girl OR help the girl but lose the photo. I found this to be a very difficult decision, especially since the choices were so black and white. I wanted the option of taking the photograph and then helping the girl. Since this was not one of my options, I decided I would not be able to walk away without helping her. I would rather lose a photo than feel like I could have prevented a life being lost. The majority of the public agreed with me, however the majority of journalists did not. Journalists argued that their job is to tell a story in hopes of mobilizing others to help the cause, possibly saving more lives at the expense of this one. One did admit that it would have been very hard to walk away without helping, a sentiment I share. It seems that the photographer felt the same way; he voiced his regrets about not helping the girl and ended up committing suicide.

The second dilemma involved the photograph of an electrocution below, taken by Thomas Howard.

Thomas Howard Electrocution Photo

Even though it is illegal to take photographs during executions, Howard snuck a camera in and snapped this secret photo. The question asked was whether you would sneak a camera into an electrocution in order to take a photograph. This was not as hard for me to decide. I felt that the photographer was justified in sneaking the camera in. There is a story there that the public deserves to hear. Although the image may be gory, I feel people deserve to fully understand issues that they are asked to vote on, such as the death penalty. Journalists seemed to agree overall; they voiced the opinion that although this was a stunt and was used more for dramatic effect than to tell a story, in the end the “greater good” was served by this photo being taken. In other words, something that had been previously hidden from the public was revealed, which is ultimately the goal of investigative journalism.

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“After the Storm” – Patrick Farrell

After the Storm - Patrick Farrell

The image above was taken by Patrick Farrell along with a series of other photos documenting the destruction of Hurricane Ike and other tropical storms in Haiti. It won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography. This photograph presents a strong contrast to Carol Guzy’s image (see previous post). Carol Guzy’s is a joyful image, showing reuniting and rebuilding during a destructive time. Farrell’s image, on the other hand, highlights the misery in a disaster. While the vibrant colors in Guzy’s photo contributed to the cheerful mood, by presenting his image in black and white Farrell augments the gloomy feeling. While typically photographers working in black and white aim for strong contrast, the relative monotone of this work is effective. It gives the reader a feeling of being in Haiti after the storm: where everything looked the same because it was covered in mud or water. One especially visually interesting element of this photo is the fact that the subject (the boy and his stroller) are the same shade of gray, and nearly blend into the background. It causes the viewer to have to look closer to distinguish the different elements of the photo from eachother, and also adds to the bleak feeling portrayed in the image.

Other works in this series can be found here.

“Refugees from Kosovo” – Carol Guzy


kosovo_refugee

This pulitzer prize winning photo is of the reuniting of a family as part of the family seeks to escape from the violence in Kosovo. The first think that caught my attention was the vivid blue of the baby’s outfit. This blue matches the blue of the sky in the top left corner, helping move the viewer’s eye from the baby (the main focus) to another part of the picture. The strong lines in this photo also move the eye. The lines of the barbed wire and the fence contrast the line created by the mountain and the baby, helping direct the viewers eye in a sort of zig-zag around the image. Even thought the baby is centered in the photograph, the rule of thirds is still in play. The baby’s face is in the bottom right corner, along with the faces of two young girls. In this way, the attention is drawn to this section of the photo, rather than in the center. While the baby is centered, the actual human relations focused on in the photo are not.

Kosovo Map

This image was taken at a refugee camp at the Albania-Kosovo border. It depicts one of the many families that were reunited as ethnic Albanians fled the Serbian fighters in Kosovo. Violence in this area was caused by each groups’ sentiment that they had a historical right to the area. Ethnic Serbs began migrating into Kosovo in the 7th century but did not incorporate the territory into Serbia for several centuries. During 5 centuries of Ottoman control of Serbia beginning in the 14th century, a large number of Albanians and Turks moved into the area, and Albanians became the largest ethnic group in this Serbian territory. When Serbia regained control of the territory, Albanian nationalism grew and they began to call for an independent state. Simultaneously Serbia refused to recognize the independence of Kosovo and the Albanians believed it to be an independent state.  This disagreement led to many conflicts, including ethnic cleansing in the area. Many ethnic Albanians, such as the family depicted in this image, were forced to flee the violence.

This image was originally published in The Washington Post. The picture was included as part of a set of photos about the results of the Kosovo violence, which can be seen here. She shared her 2000 pulitzer with Michael Williamson and Lucian Perkins. She had been awarded two pulitzers previously. Among numerous other awards, Guzy has been named WHNPA photographer of the year, White House News Photographers Association Photographer of the Year, and National Press Photographer’s Association Newspaper photographer of the year.

Information for this post was recieved from The World Factbook, a Carol Guzy website, and the pulitzer prize website.

Art Museum as a Space

Hirshhorn Museum

Part of our assignment for this week was a visit to the Hirshhorn Museum, specifically to their current exhibition called “Strange Bodies.” The Hirshorn is ring-shaped building, making the upstairs exhibits flow beautifully. Strange Bodies, however, was held in the basement, which caused the room to have a completely different feel. It was much less open and airy, probably due to the lack of natural lighting through expansive windows. The exhibition had less of a natural flow than those upstairs, and I was forced to take in a lot more art at once. Slightly eerie music coming from a film being shown in an adjacent room added to my sense of uneasiness. Seeing as it was Labor Day, there was a variety of people there: groups of friends, couples, even families with their young children. What surprised me most was the attention that most people gave to the art. As I had expected, there were some who walked by each piece, only giving it a few seconds glance. However to my delight many more actually took the time to take in each individual piece, read the didactics, and have conversations with others in their group about them. Even the children seemed to be paying attention – One little girl said to her mom, “I like this one, but there’s no point to it.” I have to commend her mother for responding by telling her to go read the description. Way to teach your child how to appreciate art.

In the book Ways of Seeing, John Berger and his comrades discuss the idea of cultural mystification of art. Cultural mystification is essentially over analyzing a work of art to the point where something evident about the piece is clouded over. This happens many times with modern art, especially abstract art. People will try to draw a big political statement out of a piece of art that is simply supposed to leave the viewer with a certain feeling. This over analyzation may take away from the beauty or real purpose of the piece. I did not, however, encounter any specific examples during my visit to the Hirshhorn.

Focus on a Work of Art

The Third Tree, Airmail Painting No. 174

While many pieces in the Strange Bodies exhibit were interesting, the one that caught my curiosity the most was “The Third Tree, Airmail Painting No. 174” by Eugenio Dittborn. The piece immediately reminded me of a childhood blanket of mine that was made out of the same cotton sheet material, and had embroidery similar to that in the bottom right hand side of the piece. As I observed the work I was faced with emotional dissonance. While the images used in the piece were morbid and gruesome, I immediately felt happy looking at it. The colors used in the background made me think of a sunset on a beautiful clear day, and the embroidery not only made me think of my childhood but of serene hikes in the mountains. The quote written on the DHL mailing box mounted next to the painting (see enlargement below) also seemed oddly positive and inspirational to be associated with a work that focused on such dark, strong, gruesome images. The quote reads:

Think of tomorrow

Let your imagination fly

Give your work enduring quality and

Preserve

-Walt Disney-

Mailing Box

After looking at this piece I was left wanting to know more to try to understand it.

Turns out this piece is part of a whole series of works done by Dittborn that are meant to be mailed around to various museums (hence the DHL box). When he first began mailing his art in the 1980s it was done both as a means of avoiding censorship and to expand the reach of his art. The packages were always sent to the museums with another envelope for the next recipient. This changed his works from just a piece to a journey. The idea of the journey is also portrayed in the embroidered section of the piece, picturing a boat on a river. The mailing of these works also changes the typically sacred idea of art. When the works are unpacked, the creases are not smoothed out. They are left there as marks of where its been and what its been through. As Dittborn once said “…Travel is the politics of my paintings; and the folds, the unfolding of that politics.”

This particular painting was done in 2007, so is relatively new and has only been to one exhibit prior to the Hirshhorn. The images used are a particularly morbid drawing by a child, an image from a book about alchemy, and an image from a sixteenth century book about Aztec life in the new world. The only common tie between these works is the fact that they all involve trees. The title, The Third Tree, may reference a christian parable about three trees. In researching this parable, I discovered that it was actually one of my favorite childhood stories. In the story each of three trees has dreams about what it wants to be when it grows up. One wants to hold treasure, one wants to be a mighty ship, and the third wants to grow to be the tallest tree in the world. In the end, the first ends up being a manger for the baby Jesus, the second is the boat that he takes his disciples out on, and the final is built into the cross, forever symbolizing God’s love. While this is a hopeful story, the painting has a much darker appeal, perhaps suggesting the violent state of the world today. Rather than saving humanity, the third tree as represented by Dittborn seems to be making it miserable, or killing it.

As many artists do with their works, Dittborn has not made any statement regarding the meaning of this piece. Therefore I am left still wanting to know more. Based of what I know about it now, it seems to me to suggest that people today are not destined to do great things for mankind (like the trees in the parable), but instead are likely to cause pain or destruction (like the trees in the images). Perhaps the cheery colors are meant to show how we tend to glaze over the negative things going on in the world.

The parable of the three trees can be read here.

Information for this was received from the didactic in the museum and the following websites:

Dittborn Quote

Image and Narrative

Benetton Group: Unconventional Advertising

benetton baby

Shocking right? It’s gritty, real, and unglamorous – everything fashion is not. And yet it’s an advertisement for a high end clothing company? Upon first seeing Benetton’s ads I was left with this feeling of confusion. I knew they were a clothing company from having seen their stores in Europe and DC, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how somebody who didn’t know what they sold would be persuaded by this ad to go buy a sweater from their store. As I read the article on Benetton’s advertising, I remained unsure about what I thought about their approach. According to Luciano Benetton’s definition of advertising, a company should not make false promises about what their product will do for you, but should rather convey a “single strong image, which can be shared anywhere in the world.” While I agree with this statement, it still seemed to me that the advertisements should in some way indicate that they sell clothes. Benetton’s early advertisements, for example, seemed to do both these things. They both promoted unity by featuring a group of models of different nationalities and sold their clothes by having the models wearing them.

As I read the article I argued back and forth with myself about how I felt about the ads. While I could certainly see how the shock value gets their name out there and makes people interested, I also felt that Benetton was exploiting these issues for their own benefit. Yet according to the article, their method seemed to be working. The more controversial their advertisements were the more people were talking about them. Once their name was out there, they relied on people looking them up and then liking their clothes to make a profit. I realized that I would certainly be drawn in by one of their advertisements and want to know more about the company that made them. I’m sure I would go home and google the name, which would bring me to their website. Once I was on the website the clothes would sell themselves to me. By the end of the article I was convinced, and was disappointed to find out that, following their extremely controversial death row campaign, Benetton returned to a more traditional method of advertising. One of their recent advertisements was just that, traditional.

united-colors-benneton

While this is a nice advertisement, it looks like all the other fashion ads out there. I probably wouldn’t give it a second glance if I saw it in a magazine or on a billboard. That was the power of the unconventional Benetton ads – they warranted a second glance and a second thought about the company.