“So far as we feel sympathy, we feel we are not accomplices to what caused the suffering. Our sympathy proclaims our innocence as well as our impotence. To that extent, it can be (for all our good intentions) an impertinent- if not inappropriate- response. To set aside the sympathy we extend to others beset by war and murderous politics for a reflection on how our privileges are located on the same map as their suffering, and may- in ways we might prefer not to imagine- be linked to their suffering, as the wealth as some may imply the destitution of others, is a task for which the painful, stirring images supply only an initial spark.
Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question of what to do with the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing ‘we’ can do — but who is that ‘we’? — and nothing ‘they’ can do either — and who are ‘they’ — then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic.” - Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others
“Regarding the Pain of Others” was Susan Sontag’s last published book. It was a frustrating read on photography and war, because every page contains so much truth and helplessness. Today I was reminded of the book after a friend introduced me a song by Alt-J, Taro.
The song is about the first female war photojournalist, Gerda Taro. Taro was the partner of Robert Capa, who later co-founded Magnum. Taro died in 1937 when in battle. She was only 26.
We are a few days from 2013, and there are still people dying in Libya, Syria, Gaza etc etc. I am so afraid of spotting Nicole Tung’s name in the news. She chose to be out there in the firefights covering and exposing the brutality of war, over a comfortable desk job in Hong Kong or New York.
This Christmas as you pick out a new phone, a new camera for yourself, or gifts for people you love; please consider paying attention to what is happening elsewhere, too. Not very merry. But Merry Christmas.