A David Campany Essay – Safety in Numbness

The 2003 essay by David Campany entitled, Safety in numbness, engenders some of the problems surrounding ‘late photography’. The essay can be read using the link below:

David Campany – Safety in Numbness

Campany begins his debate by discussing the large format photographs taken by Joel Meyerowitz after the 9/11 terrorism acts.  Meyerowitz was chosen as the official photographer to photograph the scenes in the prevailing aftermath.  Campany suggested that the photographs taken were ‘too safe and beautiful and therefore not fitting for depicting the horrific scenes of terrorism’.  Instead the photographs became a monument to national grief deadening the desire to seek political explanation.

I can agree with a lot of what Campany is saying in that some of the images do translate as quite objective, cold photographs in an otherwise highly emotional situation.  There are many images available on the internet which were taken by ‘citizen journalists’, people who were there, reporting the events as they happened.  These are the unbelievable images that our human brain struggles to process.  There were injured civilians being carried to safety by anyone who was able to help.  The entire scene had been converted to greyscale as the ash fell on everything in it’s path.  The raging fires that burned and the thick black smoke that took so many lives were part of the actual terror being inflicted on so many innocent people.  I saw an image of three men dressed in suits, shirt and tie who had suddenly been put into a completely different context when they were photographed wearing torn blood stained clothes covered in dark dirty dust.

These are the harrowing scenes that ‘late photography’ can’t depict.  What Meyerowitz couldn’t capture is the unseen stories in the form of the emotions felt by those who were so terrified the only thing to do was panic.  There are photographs online of people jumping out of the towers because their chances of survival were greater than not jumping.  Imagine having virtually seconds to make that decision on your own life.  Late photography can never capture these highly visceral emotions which in essence make up the true story.

Campany was right, Meyerwoitz’ photographs are beautiful but in no way do they represent the sheer terror that unfolded that day.


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