Portia Placino

Repository of my thoughts and images of art, literature, travel, and life.

Sendong Tragedies, Power of Images and Aestheticizing Suffering

A picture paints a thousand words.

We heard that phrase numerous times in our lifetime. True to a certain extent. Yet, a thousand words may still remain silent on certain truths.

Sendong typhoon sent netizens into a frenzy. The power of social media manifested again. In a short time, various organizations collected millions of Pesos to help citizens of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. This is one of the best aspects of social media. Yet, there is one aspect that has been bothering me for some time. And I have no answers to the questions and issues that I will bring up.

In posting tragic images, where do we draw the line? Yes, tragic images touch us, it brings to the worlds the pain and suffering that the Filipinos underwent because of this typhoon. But, is it right to share, propagate and immortalize these images? These are private sufferings of the people of Iligan and Cagayan De Oro. Social media and even our traditional media (TV and newspapers in particular) use and re-use these tragic images, without permission from the people represented in their worst suffering. If we can ask them, would they want us to spread images of their despair?

Historically, photography has always been a powerful medium in moving the world. The image by Nick Ut of the Napalm Attack in Vietnam is one of the most powerful images in photography’s history. It was also one of the images that swayed public opinion in going against Vietnam War, which eventually added pressure to end the war. Images are just that powerful.

Napalm Attack by Nick Ut, 1972

I have always been impressed with this photograph. But I view this photograph under the telos of history. I now realize, as tragic photos and videos haunt us left and right, that there are certain ethical concerns which documenting tragedies and sufferings overlook. Before, there was always a certain period of time that distances us from viewing a photograph. Even if it was just a day or so, a photograph was historicized. Now, with the immediacy of publishing photographs, tragic photos rub us the wrong way. We know that these people are not so far from us, and are suffering right at this moment. Is it right to photograph them as we do? And share these photographs as we are all guilty of?

Kim Phuc, the girl from the Napalm Attack, was fortunate. She lived. They found her a couple of years ago, alive and happy, presently living in Canada. She formed a friendly attachment with the photojournalist, Nick Ut. But not all stories are that fortunate.

This brings me to Vulture Stalking a Child by Kevin Carter. This image was just as powerful as Napalm Attack. But it was received very differently by the public. This photo was published in The New York Times in 1993 and won Carter a Pulitzer Prize in 1994. The success did not silence the critics of Carter. He stated that it took him 20 minutes to get the settings correctly and his critics took that negatively as he did not help the child while doing this. A few months after winning the Pulitzer prize, he committed suicide.

In a way, his guilt is our guilt. A lot of us, do not help, a lot of us just view. We take photographs and share it everywhere, to everyone we can reach. Voyeuristically, we look at such tragedies and we feel better about our own situations. The child became an iconic image of the suffering and starvation in Sudan. Yet, such image and immortalization did not help the child, or anyone for that matter. It encapsulated suffering and isolated it. It was a tragedy on so many levels. And we continue that tragedy.

Vulture Stalking a Child by Kevin Carter

I remember these images as I watch TV and see photos and videos about Sendong on the internet. We, Filipinos, are voracious in our appetites for such tragic and graphic images. Photographs of dead children are shared and propagated in social media and labelled as “share if you care” or something to that effect. Do you really care if you share such images? In the long run, do we not cause more hurt and pain to these people–seeing their families, friends and loved ones dead or broken by the typhoon?

We might get donations due to pity extracted by these images, but for how long? In time, do we not grow numb as we aestheticize tragedies? This is not a tragic play, we do not watch it, we experience it in the present. We should give them dignity in their suffering. Are we really helping them as we represent and immortalize their tragedies?

As I said, I have no answers to the questions and issues that I am posing. But it is worth thinking about. We go on, we rebuild and grow from this tragedy. Yet, are we really growing as a nation? Images are powerful and these are the images that we are creating for ourselves. We need to think about on where do we go from here.

For donations to Sendong Victims:

One for Iligan

On Napalm Attack:
Girl in Iconic Vietnam War Photo Brings Message of Hope
Vietnam War ‘girl in the picture’ reunited with journalist who saved her life
Picture power: Vietnam napalm attack

On Vulture Stalking a Child:
Vulture Stalking a Child
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF KEVIN CARTER Visiting Sudan, a little-known photographer took a picture that made the world weep. What happened afterward is a tragedy of another sort.
Kevin Carter: The Consequences of Photojournalism


Apparently, this is also my 140th post. Do I celebrate when I wrote about tragedies?

<a href=”http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/3298815/portia-olenka?claim=rkzvbhhw4ea”>Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>


2 comments on “Sendong Tragedies, Power of Images and Aestheticizing Suffering

  1. kenhu
    February 27, 2012

    congrats portia very disturbing article. it really make sense on how photos are powerful and abused by many. i ll be one of your followers, God bless and more writings .

    • Portia Placino
      February 27, 2012

      Thanks for reading Kenhu! I’m glad you liked it. Hope to hear from you again soon! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s



Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,572 other followers

Follow Portia Placino on WordPress.com


Little one woke up so early, excited for the day ahead. Too early, as she is now asleep. Sweet dreams, big dreams. #babynarratives
Another day at Vargas Museum with my students. This is truly my favorite part of the semester. #museum #artstud
Tried an early morning shoot with Leia's 6 month cake. Actually, that cake is for her Mommy. Lol. Gluten-frew, vegan, and nut-free dark chocolate cake by @jertieskitchen. Photo did not do the cake justice. Leias's pretty dress and shoes also didn't make it. Lol. We want cake! #cake #babynarratives
Today at baby school, I was finally able to put the little down for a nap. We haven't been able to do that in the past 2 months, she insists on napping on our arms or chest. Whew. Sometimes, its the little moments that matters most. Especially when times get so very difficult. Onwards, little one. May you dream great dreams. #babyschool #babynarratives
Our little potato is now 6 months old. She really loves mashed potatoes! She grabs the spoon and puts it inside her mouth! Lol. The road to 6 months is a tough one, but we made it! She also hit so many milestones. She started baby school, made friends, got held by her teacher, and got left for a few moments at a time in school. She got held by her titos and titas and spent some time with them. She chased bubbles and reached out and popped them! She started her solids and had sips of water. She had a tantrum last night because she got confused with the water in her bottle, so today, we all went shopping for a sippy cup, even though we were supposed to stay in. The shoes that were given to her finally fits without falling so she's gonna try and wear them as much as possible while they still fit. But the little one is more interested in eating her shoes rather than looking pretty. Lol. She also had her fever for the first time, which was scary, but not so bad as it was gone in a few hours. Onwards little one! Hopefully, you'll eat plenty of different yummy food and have eating adventures, just like yout parents. Also, here's to hoping you'll start sleeping better again. Please? #babynarratives
Rainbow Cerine's Baptism. My, my, how fast time flew by... We now have Contagious Baby Edition! Art studies babies! The group just grew in the past year or so... I can only wonder what the future will bring. #artstud #contagious #babynarratives @rainbowcerine @kkvinarao
%d bloggers like this: