Does in Grenfell Tower (BBC News, 2017b)

Does
Aftermath Photography help to change the way we look at a serious issue?

(an essay on
Late photography).

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The recent
technological invention of cheap Smartphones with decent cameras, the
availability of cheap and fast internet in the mobile phones and the social
networking platforms allow almost everyone to become a “photojournalist”. We
are able to capture and share images and videos of a newsworthy event even
live. Furthermore, professional photographers are still covering newsworthy
events. It is almost impossible not to find images of a newsworthy event in
2017.

However, the
photographer’s interest for a meaningful story does not stop with the end of
the event. With the end of the event, starts the Aftermath of it. In the Aftermath
or Late Photography, the photographer tries to capture the effects of a
disaster. The photographer does not only want to inform but also raise
discussions and hopefully with the awareness to prevent these events, when
possible to happen again. But is this possible? Can only photographs of
catastrophic events change attitudes and policies? Can the view of socking
images and the sad feelings raised from them, reduce the number of war crimes,
wars, terror attacks? Can socking images like the ones from the fire in Grenfell
Tower (BBC News, 2017b) change the way we build buildings etc?

Late Photography

A genre of
photography (Faulker, 2014), (Campany, 2003)  has emerged the last two decades in which
images of the effects of historic and / or catastrophic events on landscapes,
buildings, items and people has been captured. The photographer arrives late,
walks around in places that something already happened and tries to capture its
effects. These are images of what left behind after the ending of the event. This
type of photography of the aftermath of the events was termed “Late
Photography” by David Campany.

The earliest
photos (Tello, 2014), (Johnstone 2015) of this type were photos of the Crimean
War in the mid- nineteenth century by Roger Fenton and were taken around two
months after the events. His photos still influence practitioners of the genre.
However, Aftermath Photography as a genre did not emerge properly until the 2000s.
Characteristic examples of this era’s Late Photography are the images taken by
Joel Meyerowitz after the 9/11 attack at the World Trade Centre and photos of
the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by Paul Seawright (Seawright), Lyndell Brown
and Charles Green (Brown, L. , Green, C., Cattapan J., 2014). Meyerowitz (Phaidon,
2011) was the only photographer that has been granted access to the scene and
the clean- up operation at the World Trade Centre.

 Joel Meyerowitz, Images from Ref. Phaidon,
2011

 

The Vietnam
War (Bull,2009), (Sontag, 2003) was the last one photographed as it happened.
In most recent wars, only limited number of photographers is allowed and even
those are not free to take photographs (Harrison, 2015) as they wish, but they
are under the army’s control. Under these conditions, what a photographer can only
do is to document what comes after the war.

Images from Ref. BBC News, 2017a

Late photography is not only limited in the aftermath
of war conflicts and terror attacks (Touster, 
2016), (Mansfield, 2016), (Time, 2016), (BBC News, 2017a) but also
includes images of what happened after the dropping of the atomic bombs
(Johnstone, 2015), (Hall, 2015), nuclear accidents (Teicher, 2014), genocides (Torgovnik,
2008), typhoons (Kitwood), hurricanes (Murrmann, 2015), (Reinis 2015),
earthquakes (Ruck, 2016), tsunamis (Pletcher, Rafferty, 2016), toxic waste
spills (Abbe, 2012a), flooding (Abbe, 2012b), avalanches (Sharipo, 2015),
chemical wars (Schouweiler,2009), explosions (Taylor, 2015), fires (Evans,
2016), (BBC News, 2017b) and even more personal issues like the battle with
cancer (Mansfield,2014).

 

 

 

 

 

 

        

   
         

Images from Ref. BBC
News, 2017b

Also, late
photography is not only limited to scenes of the events and landscapes but also
photos of objects and portraits.

Late versus Press Photography

In
photojournalism, the photographer tries to tell a story or to provide
information about a social or political situation. The photos are a comment on
a situation; the photographer tries to give answers. In contrast to that, Late
Photography avoids instruction, it tries more to present and record an issue, asks
more questions than answers them. Another (Bull, 2009) difference is that the
Late Photography images are not aimed to be published in newspapers and
magazines but books and galleries/ museums. 

In press
photography, it is important to depict the action, whereas in late photography
the stillness and the silence after the event is captured (Johnstone, 2015). This
“stillness” can be effective even years after the catastrophic events. We could
see the immediate effects of the event the first minutes or days, but lives can
be affected even decades after it (Möller,2016), (Cumming,2014).

Although
capturing the stillness and the silence make us think that the Late
Photographers do not put their life in danger, as frequently as the press
photographers do, that is not always the case. Igor Kostin (World Press Photo),
was one of the few photographers who documented the direct aftermath of
Chernobyl disaster in 1986. His life is affected up to this day, as he was exposed
to enormous radiation levels. Photographer Arkadiusz Podniesinski (Podniesinski,
2015) risked his life to photograph the aftermath of Fukushima Nuclear
disaster, four years after the catastrophic events.

 

Arkadiusz Podniesinski,
Images from Ref: Podniesinski, 2015

An unknown
photographer (Hall, 2015) who documented the aftermath of the Hiroshima attack
believed that has died shortly after the event. The photographer himself and
the people depicted in the photos were exposed to fatal levels of radiation.
There is a really interesting story “behind” the exhibition of this series of
photos. The photographer died before the camera went on sale 70 years ago, the
photographs were discovered 12 years ago, but were displayed for the first time
in a museum 2 years ago.  

Motivations

Late
photography is not visually complex (Johnstone 2015); it straightforwardly
presents the details of the aftermath sites. There is a need thought the viewer
to be provided with more details to understand what they are viewing and which the
catastrophic event was. 

The viewer is
invited to pause, acknowledge the event and reflect on what happened a little
or long time before the photograph taken, and caused suffering at the time that
happened and possibly still causing suffering today.  It might allow the viewer to think about what
they are viewing. Hence, from an otherwise simple representation of an event,
more complicated discussions can be raised. Due to their disturbing nature
these images are aimed to raise political action (Lisle, 2011), (Sontag, 2003).

These images
were not taken to pleasure the viewer. Photographers have different reasons and
motivations to cover the aftermath of events. João Pina (Pina, 2014) took
photos of survivors, families of people who disappear and the places everything
happened in South America during the Operation Condor. He took the photos
around 30 years after the events and aimed to create images of something
happened in the past, hoping that the resulting work would not only create a
visual memory but also aid survivors and bring those responsible to justice.

Dan Kitwood (Kitwood)
visited Philippines to capture the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. They have gone
there to document the destruction and the ability to adapt. What surprised them
was that the people were not desperate but hopeful as they were trying to adapt
and move on.  

Uma Kinoshita
(Love, 2014) documented Fukushima a year after the nuclear disaster which was
initiated by the tsunami. Kinoshita wanted to show the extreme loneliness,
despair and grief, from which people cannot escape after a catastrophic event.

 Uma Kinoshita, Photos from Ref: Love, 2014

 

Palíndromo
Mészáros (Abbe, 2012a) documented the aftermath of a toxic waste spill in
Western Hungary, which killed nine people and forced the evacuation of
thousands. He wanted to photograph the area when the journalists and photographers
left it, when it was not any more as a story in the news. Looking to his
images, the first thought is that they are the result of digital manipulation,
but they are the result of an industrial disaster.

 Palíndromo Mészáros, Images from Ref: Abbe,
2012a

 

Petronella
Ytsma (Schouweiler,2009) spent several weeks in Vietnam in 2007 and 2008 where
she photographed the effects of chemical warfare the families. More than 40
years later we can see the effect of the chemicals in young children. The
photographer hopes that the viewer will be reminded that their actions (as
individuals and as nations) have impact in other people, not only today but also
affect future generations. She hoped that these photos will encourage a larger
public conversation.

 Donna De Cesare (Chandler, 2008) documented
the El Salvador ‘s civil war and its aftermath. She wanted with her images
people to have a better understanding of why people get involved in gangs. It
is more due to their emotional and psychological scars, than a will for
criminal actions.

Ziyah Gafic
(World Press Photo) experienced the Bosnia war as a teenager. For him
photography became a tool to cope with the aftermath of the war.

Joshua
Touster (Touster,  2016) documented the
aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings. It was a personal for him as he
lives close to the locations that the bombing happened. With this project we
wanted not only to document what happened in the local community but also to
inform and educate so that tragedies like this will not happen again.

The
“Aftermath Project” (Newhouse, 2017), (The Aftermath Project) is a non- profit
organisation which has as mission to tell the story after the conflict. The
story about the ways the individuals learn to live again, how they rebuilt
their destroyed homes and lives and how they restore societies.

Gerd Ludwig
(Teicher, 2014) over the last twenty years has returned many times to the
Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He wanted to show that the story of the disaster is
far from over and still affecting the people and the places inside the
exclusion zone. Many elderly people decided to ignore the radiation levels and
return to the exclusion zone without permission. They preferred to die in their
own land, instead of live sad in the “safe” suburbs. 

 

Gerd Ludwig, Images from Ref: Teicher, 2014

 

Jonathan
Torgovnik (Torgovnik, 2008) as a personal project photographed women with their
children in Rwanda. Those women have been raped during the genocide, had a
child as a result and also many of them contracted HIV. Jonathan wanted with
his project the stories of these women not to be forgotten. He also believed what
those women in Rwanda faced more than 10 years ago, mirrors what victims of
rape face today and hopes that his project will raise the awareness of the
consequences of rape.

  Jonathan Torgovnik, Images from Ref:
Torgovnik, 2008

 

Photographer
Kerry Mansfield (Mansfield, 2014) diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of
31. In her series “Aftermath” she took self portraits in the different stages
of her battle with cancer: diagnosis, treatment and reconstructive surgery. Her
intention was not only to help herself through this battle with the aid of her
photographic practise, but also to create a visual reference so other people
could better understand what it means to battle breast cancer.

   Kerry Mansfield Left: Self- Portrait, Pre-
Mastectomy I, 11.2005, Middle: Self- Portrait, Chemo 1st Cycle I, 01.2006,
Right: Self- Portrait, Chemo 7th Cycle V, 04.2006. Images from Ref: Mansfield,
2014

 

Conclusion

Aftermath or
Late Photography is the genre of photography in which the effects of
catastrophic events have been documented. The photographers want to inform
about these effects and raise discussions for issues that should not be
ignored. Furthermore, in some cases the photographers hope that the awareness
of these effects would prevent these catastrophic events to happen again.

But is this
effective? Does Aftermath Photography help to change the way we look at a
serious issue?

Personally, I
believe it does. I was still in Spain when the Refugees Crisis in Greece was in
the top headlines of the international news agencies. However, while watching
that I was thinking of it more as a “problem” and not as humanitarian crisis.
My attitude changed when I visited an exhibition in the Thessaloniki Museum of
Photography few days ago (Georgiadis, 2017). These images have been considered
press photos when they have been published individually in the websites,
newspapers etc. However, collectively in this exhibition, I think they are late
photographs of the Aftermath of an Aftermath. The first event was the war in
their countries. The aftermath of which was their journey. Seeing photographs
of their dead bodies or them collected by rescue teams is the Aftermath of
their deadly journey. Usually, when I visit this museum I am leaving feeling
happy and impressed. Seeing, the images of the refugees made me feel sad and
depressed. It helped me to further understand what these people have been
through and looked more at them as humans and individuals.

Although, the
late photographs covering humanitarian crisis or natural disasters can change
the way of thinking of people like me, do they also affect those who have the
power? Those who usually take important decisions but lack of morals?