Mike Hale’s New York Times article, “Photographers Amid Chaos,” is a laudatory review of a series called “Witness,” a set of four documentaries about violent conflicts, by HBO, titled “Juarez,” “Rio,” “Libya,” and “South Sudan,” which were filmed in the heart of the conflict. Though Hale shows appreciation of the bravery of the reporters who went deep into these war-ravaged and crime-riddled areas, most of the article is showcasing the mentality of the reporters, who try to remove emotion from their work and focus instead on documenting the terrors of these parts of the world. However, I find that Hale overlooks something much more important than the “how” of these documentaries: he misses the “why”.
He does mention that in “Witness: Libya,” Brown, the reporter, revisits his own experience of being wounded by a mortar round in Libya, but the “why” that I mean is more aimed towards the reason for the “Witness” series. The people of America have become overly complacent, comfortable in their homes and apartments, experiencing some crimes that appall them, but nothing on the scale of places such as Sudan and Libya. However, we feel like we know enough to be opinionated on these subjects, giving criticism of the government’s involvement in Libya or the war on drugs with cartels such as those in Juarez from our couches and armchairs. Sure, some of the more educated of these experts might google some numbers to back up their claims or maybe watch Fox news and get Bill O’reilly’s take on these issues. However, we know nothing until we see it for ourselves. It’s easy to say that Libya is not our problem or blame our crime problems on Mexico, until we see the chaos in the streets and the impact of this violence on innocent people. We live, in many cases, in a cocoon, believing that we know enough from statistics and pundits. These documentaries are the first step of tearing open that cocoon and showing us who these issues affect and how severely they do so. Of course, seeing the chaos and violence for ourselves may not change many viewpoints, but we should not hold these viewpoints based on our limited knowledge. These conflicts ruin and end so many lives that it’s cruel to make opinions on them without actually seeing their effects. There is a very large difference to human empathy between seeing some numbers on a computer and seeing the destroyed buildings and crime scenes caused by these conflicts.
Although it may be Hale’s job to focus on discussing the aesthetic qualities of these documentaries, but the potential social impact of these documentaries should overshadow any discussion of strategies that the reporters employ. Regardless of how the reporters try to present the effect of violence in these areas, if people watch this series, confronting people with images of this destruction will have a very powerful effect on them. People need to see these places for the way they are and that is the goal that these documentaries set out to achieve.