An Unseen Picture Worth More Than A Thousand Words

Of all the horrific images coming out of Israel, the most powerful one for me is one I have not actually seen. And hope I never do.

It's the image of men riding in the back of a pick-up truck with one of them sitting atop the lifeless, mostly naked body of a young woman, as if she was a Big Game trophy kill.

I've only read descriptions of it as part of the coverage of the atrocities Hamas committed during its attacks on a music festival and Israeli kibbutzim.

The reason I don't want to see it is because I don't need to.

The power of the second-hand descriptions has been more than enough for me to envision and process it. I don't need the photographic proof.

That may sound strange for someone who began his career as a photojournalist, albeit not an especially good one, but I think there are times some images are best left unseen.



Needless to say, that's virtually impossible today when anyone with a browser is a mere click away from anything that has already been posted. Or at most, two clicks away from a subreddit or a dark social post.

Don't get me wrong, I think photographic or video images of horrific human tragedies sometimes are very important for the public to witness.

One of my photojournalism heroes, AP photographer Eddie Adams, helped change U.S. sentiment about the Vietnam War by publishing some especially grueling images, including one of a South Vietnamese military officer summarily executing a prisoner by firing a bullet into his head.

Another powerful image from that war was taken by another AP photographer -- Nick Ut -- of a naked nine-year-old Vietnamese girl fleeing a napalm attack.

Both images haunt me to this day, but they served an important role in an era of pre-digital, everything, everywhere, all at once media, by conveying an important reality to people who otherwise might have no idea what was actually going on.

There are other more modern examples from the post-digital, citizen journalist era of ubiquitous access, including the chronicling of many, many angles of jets crashing into the Twin Towers, their collapse and the carnage that followed.

More recently, Turkish photojournalist Nilüfer Demir's photo of the lifeless body of two-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi, who drowned trying to reach safety on a European shore, brought the plight of the refugees home to everyone else in the world.

Then there was Minnesota teen Darnella Frazier's video of a police officer murdering George Floyd, which helped galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement, accelerating the push for police reform, as well as DEI initiatives.

These were necessary images for the masses to experience, otherwise they would not have resonated and moved society to change, or at least try to.

I don't feel that way about the image of the German tattoo artist Shani Louk that I've read described in various posts. For several reasons:

  1. I don't believe the media should help amplify the media attention of terrorists, because that is a big part of why they're committing terrorist acts in the first place -- to give them attention and the power that comes from that.
  2. I want to do what little I can to respect the dignity of a victim being used as a prop that way.
  3. I don't actually need to see the image to understand -- and feel -- what happened to her.

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