Fresh Paint: Photographers Amid Chaos

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.

11 thoughts on “Fresh Paint: Photographers Amid Chaos

  1. It’s true that we feel disconnected and don’t know what is actually happening in other areas. Reporters’ experiences may still be limited, but it is better than nothing. The documentaries sound very informative and useful. Not everyone cares to go in the area and document what is happening. I think showing the mentality of the reporters IS important, as long there isn’t too much emphasis on it. It’s hard not to want to help out or be biased when you’re there, and it’s a tough decision. I do think people should look at multiple documentaries of somewhere instead of just one to see if views are similar.

  2. You make a very valid point. A lot of the time I hear people say “oh the situation in country A is worse than the situation in country B” or something along those lines. The truth is ALL the situations are terrible and they’re all bad. Like you said in your fresh paint, people tend to make judgements and build opinions based on statistics, but they don’t have any first hand experience with the problems. First hand experience and visual images can have a huge impact on people’s opinions. It’s ok to have an opinion on something, but don’t go around calling yourself an expert if you’ve never seen something in person or have had first-hand experience.

  3. This has always been a problem throughout history, and people tend to constantly make judgments based on what is revealed to them. However, instead of only focusing on what is being exposed to us, it is also our responsibility to figure out what is happening and not make superficial judgments。

  4. I agree that as Americans we have become very complacent to other countries problems and we become desensitized to horrible information. If we read the newspaper and see that violence and riots have broken out in some third world country, we don’t think twice about it because they are just words. Sometimes we need real images to wake us from our stupor and I think these documentaries can do just that. By seeing, not reading, about the atrocities that are occurring around the world maybe we can be motivated to do something. The real challenge of the documentaries is to have the message driven home into the hearts of viewers.

  5. Statistics are just numbers with no real supporting evidence to make these problems seem real. We make too many unrealistic and superficial judgments based on these numbers due to what the biased media spoon feeds us. We can only get a real measure of these problems by seeing images live from the scene or having eyewitness accounts in order to get a human perspective on these issues that are guided by emotion. These documentaries can have real weight with the audience given these qualities.

  6. I don’t think these documentaries will change people’s views at all. For starters, most people will probably never see or even hear of these documentaries. Also, people really are desensitized to violence and can easily ignore or forget about the problems faced by other people.

    • I agree that this probably wouldn’t be effective in practice, as even I would have never heard of these documentaries, were it not for this assignment, I feel that its something that is necessary to be tried. People need to be able to have these movies available to them so that they can see what’s going on if they want. Although all people can’t be forced to watch this, there should at least be the possibility of some people watching this before making their opinions.

  7. People are all different and so they have their own perspectives on ideas. Another important point to note is that people don’t know how they will feel towards something until they actually go through the experience firsthand. Often times, people use surrogates to find out how they might feel; this is secondhand and not as effective as firsthand. These are not as accurate because the way you imagine things are never actually what happens- you get caught up in the actual moment. Everyone should experience these documentaries firsthand.

  8. You hopes for what this show can and might achieve are very high. Maybe I’m just a little bit of a pessimist, but I’m not sure how much of an effect it can have. Most people who watch this HBO series will probably be sitting on their cushy living room couch, feeling proud that they are becoming “cultured” and “informed” via the TV. There may be some individuals who actually take what they are seeing and hearing to heart and try to do something about it, but most people will just watch and forget as they go on with their own lives. Documentaries that tell the story of strife in other countries are usually heavily-edited and often serve to dehumanize the population they represent by portraying them as totally unique and different from us. I hope, like you, that this show will bring more awareness, but I am a little apprehensive to believe it will.

  9. I think you make a valid point that Americans are somewhat disconnected from the truth about what is going on in the world. However, I don’t think that a documentary, nevertheless on HBO, can change the perception of Americans. For the most part, I think the majority of people who watch documentaries will not suddenly be inspired to do something and make a change. I think people view these documentaries as a form of entertainment, rather than a source of information. Also, I think people might view this information with a bit of skepticism since it is presented in a form of a documentary. The director might purposely leave out information or views to skew the audience in a certain perspective.

  10. I agree that we have become desensitized by all the news we see and hear. Unless it’s something close to home, Americans lack the feeling of empathy. Documentaries that showcase the horrors and violence around the world are very important in our understanding of the world around us. It brings back the sense of realism and sense of urgency.

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