Understanding through photographs

By Jean Park

In one of my classes, my teacher gave us some time to read about the recent events in Japan on school laptops. A student commented on how the only thing in the news these days is the crisis in Japan. He also mentioned that it was somewhat “unethical” to just sit around watching clips and viewing pictures of the tragedy.

At first, I started to feel bad. I actually closed the web page that I had opened and checked my email as a perfunctory response.

But there’s actually nothing unethical about acknowledging what others are going through. It’s informative to display a visual reality that other people should know about.

There are many times when I find myself having seen an incredibly heartbreaking and tragic image and I feel bad that I am unable to do anything other than continue looking and trying to find out more.

Almost everyone has those moments where they stop complaining and take a few seconds to remember that there are many people are in a far worse situation than themselves.

These moments can very well be propelled by the impact of images and in my opinion, I think that makes people a lot more ethical: to think of others when they themselves aren’t in the best situations.

For me, it’s difficult, to say the least, to imagine any tragedy as monumental as the one occurring in Japan. It’s probably hard for most people I know to imagine that kind of unforgiving loss, but I think the least that most people can do is be informed and understand their circumstances.

And I think one important way to understanding is to view images. A photograph does more than tell a thousand words. It leaves an impression that words aren’t able to and for that reason, a single picture has the power to put someone like me into somebody else’s shoes for just a moment.

To some people, another story in the newspaper with the words “Japan” or “disaster” in the headline may only be another replicate of a skeletally structured news story with the same information. But to others, it is a very important reality check.

Although most people aren’t able to donate a great deal of money, everyone is able to be informed and understand the situation that is currently unfolding. While it’s not direct help, being aware of the entire situation, emotional or not, is still very important to our society.

So, I don’t think it’s unethical to expose yourself to what is really happening on the other side of the world, whether it is in the form of words or photographs.

However, I admit that it can sometimes become overly excessive when news sites or blogs feel the need to upload boundless quantities of photographs aimed at evoking sympathy, not giving information.

Understanding, or at least attempting to understand, and getting a glimpse of a reality that is much different than your own is far from unethical.

What’s unethical is dismissing this tragedy as nothing more than a nuisance.