Project 2 – Photojournalism

Reading further into critical debates around photojournalism, I found the idea of compassion fatigue very interesting.

Daily, even hourly, as a population we are bombarded with images from across the globe, especially of atrocities.
Do these horrific images numb our response to them as a viewer?

“the shock of photographed atrocities wears off with repeated viewings…” (Sontag, On Photography, p. 20)

Sontag made a few points about the numbing of the public’s response to these images, including this one. She believed that more images we saw, the more used to them we became, and therefore the less we were concerned about them.

Speaking in 1964, Dorothea Lange said: “It takes a lot to get full attention to a picture these days, because we are bombarded by pictures every waking hour, in on form or another, and transitory images seen, unconsciously”

Even in 1964, Lange made this point, and now in the digital society we live in, it is even more saturated, and easier to obtain these images.

Photographer Eve Arnold was reported saying, “You know in the beginning we thought we were going to change the world. I think people live in so much visual material these days, billions of photographs annually, that they grow numb after too much exposure”


On the other hand, there are arguments against the fact that viewers are become numb to these images.

Susan Moeller made the following comments, suggesting that it was actually the media’s fault, and how the press used the images, and inundated views with too many stories (and thereby, photographers to accompany the stories);

  • “It’s the media that are at fault. How they typically covers crises helps us to feel overstimulated and bored all at once.” (Ibid, p. 9)
  • “Causes of compassion fatigue are multiple. Too many catastrophes at once, and coverage that is too repetitious..” (Ibid, p. 11)

Even if viewers are becoming numb to the images they are seeing, the photographs are still making changes to the world. Disasters like the 2010 Haiti earthquake raised £107 million according to the Disasters Emergency Committee. ( Even though, many of the people that donated would have never, and will never, go to Haiti or meet the people that were affected in the earthquake, the photographs they saw urged them that they needed to make a difference to their lives.


After reading David Campany’s essay ‘Safety In Numbness’ (2003), although I believe that viewers are numb to images of destruction and war, the ‘late photograph’ has much more of an impact.

I agree with his point that “Mourning by association becomes merely an aestheticized response”. I feel when viewers see images of atrocity, they feel like they can do nothing to help the situation, but once they see the aftermath, it becomes more ‘real’, and they feel like they can help the situation.


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