It feels impossible to blog on without acknowledging the terrible effects of hurricane Sandy. It would be like Nero fiddling while Rome burned. There are people living in the cold and dark without food, or water, or means of getting to work.
At first, it all seems impersonal and abstract. And then the images start to come in. Today these are as often little video clips as they are still pictures. At first they seem unreal and impossible to process. Then, as reality sets in, they evoke empathy. Finally our minds sort through the barrage of images and our collective consciousness coalesces around as set of iconic images. This is where we are now. The iconic is emerging.
If you think about it, all of the major historical events of our lives are crystalized in our minds around iconic images. Consider Alfred Eisenstaedt’s VJ Day photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse (see also Chris Wilkins’ blog) or John John Kennedy’s famous salute at his father’s funeral or all the nightmare images from 9/11.
Today, of course, the immediacy of images and the speed with which they barrage us is intense. What remains most important is that we do not allow them to be abstracting. They involve real people, often suffering people, that could be us. The positive role of photography is its ability to rally collective conscience and empathy. The fact that we can still look at WPA pictures from the depression, or even pictures from the American Civil War and still feel the pain of those people is a testimony to the power of the image.