Just yesterday, I was teaching, albeit somewhat elliptically, about the value of of images that provide a clearer view of others’ suffering than that which Western newsmedia usually affords. In the context of my objectives for the class (like illuminating differential allocations of visibility and attention to certain kinds of suffering), this approach made sense. But even this fuller truth is ultimately partial, perhaps even damaging, if it is all we can see.
As it happens, just a few days before I was teaching about the importance of seeing suffering, Wendy Kozol and I published a new piece in Reading the Pictures about the importance of images that expressly do not show suffering, even (or especially) in places where it is also endemic. Specifically, we wrote about the urgency of looking at Everyday Middle East in the midst of a news cycle otherwise dominated by chemical attacks in Syria, civilian casualties in Yemen, and murderous repression of protest in Gaza. Against the photojournalistic fascination with images of desperation, violence, and catastrophe, the photographs featured in Everyday Middle East, like this one by Tanya Habjouqa , insistently visualize the Middle East as place where life is valued, nurtured, and sustained rather than taken, ended, or degraded.