Life And Death On Film

Life is dangerous, difficult and easily lost. Life is more than that, of course, but still. You know what I mean, I’m sure. It’s easy to photograph the good bits, but less so to photograph the bad bits. Ethics, taste, privacy….those sort of issues. I’m still undecided after five years which country’s media has the better approach to the worst that life can offer, Mexico or the UK.

Media companies in the UK, both television and print, do not usually show graphic images of death and destruction. Taste and national sensibilities. In Mexico you see the whole shebang. The UK is censored in this respect, the worst that life has to offer hidden, the story only part told, its citizens protected in a nanny state fashion, mentally at least, from the nastiness that is out there.

In Mexico City, every man woman and child is greeted on their way to school or work with the most graphic images of death imaginable on the front cover of the tabloids. Decapitated, castrated corpses hanging from bridges. Crushed heads after car crashes. You name it, El Grafico has shown it. For Mexicans this sort of hardcore violence has become normal. That can’t be a good  thing. Where is the balance to this conundrum?

Would I take a photo of a dead body? I’ve seen a few. I’ve been tempted. It occured to me to go get a close up photo of a little girl who was run over and killed outside my house. Put it on my blog. Who knows, maybe one person will see it, drive more slowly and not kill someone on their way home. I wouldn’t have been the only person going in for a close up. It’s pretty normal for a group to gather around a fresh corpse and take a few snaps.

I decided against it. There’s enough photos of fatal car crash victims in the world. It isn’t, sadly, newsworthy enough. What about in an earthquake? Would I photograph that. I think I would. I know I would. Every bit of it that I came across. I found some photos today on Facebook via the Opinionated Guide blog.

I’ve included half a dozen of them at lower resolution that you can see if you click Read More at the bottom of this post. They’re strong stuff. Don’t click if you don’t want to see. Don’t click on the Facebook link either. But they represent exactly what happens in a serious earthquake. What an earthquake can do. And what life can sometimes be all about. I’d take photos like these too if I were unfortunate enough to be in the midst of an earthquake of this scale, and fortunate enough to survive.

My thoughts are that events like this should be as well documented as possible, and it’s better there are too many, not too few, photos and videos on record. They can be sorted later for the value they may have. Sure, some people with a morbid fixation will hunt them down for reasons other than intended. But such is life.

The photo below isn’t graphic. You could almost consider it a happy story for the occupant of those apartments. I happened to walk past these buildings on a northern stretch of Reforma a couple of weeks ago. They are ugly as sin, yet I felt compelled to take a few snaps. There are lots of blocks, all named after states in Mexico.

These residents, or those occuppying them in 1985, will be happy because they didn’t live in the block called Neuvo Leon. Which came crashing down in the big quake. It’s now a site used as a central point, along with the Hotel Regis, for memorials.


8 thoughts on “Life And Death On Film

  1. This is such an excellent post! I often get quite upset when photos of dead people are shown in newspapers. I think it is disrespectful. Then again, I have been on the receiving end of that before, so to speak. My friend’s son was kidnapped, stripped naked and murdered and a photo of that embraced the front page of our newspapers. I believe we should treat the dead with more respect.

    I think it has to do with the tone of the article though. You just know when a tabloid newspaper is having a go. If a respected publication prints a sensitive and earnest article about the horrors of drunk driving / natural disasters / murderous political regimes and they print photos to go with those articles (along with, hopefully, the family’s permission) it is a different thing.

    For that reason, I agree with you. It is important to take photos. Lots of them. And write the stories too. But while I might look at those photos, I am unsure that I could take them.


    • It definitely comes down to the motivation and purpose behind printing the image. Sticking dead bodies on the front page simply to shift a few extra copies is not good.

      I will say, having mentioned the lack of gore in UK media, that when a grisly image is printed, it’s usually for a serious issue, to make clear what is happening and to provoke a reaction. I’m thinking of the video footage from the Rwandan genocide when a woman was shown being hacked to death with machetes.

      A message had to be put across urgently, and that footage did it. Like, this famous photo told a story, without a single word really being needed. It’s not a nice photo, but it is an important photo. Weird site I found it on though…


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