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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

watch it: “What Image Opened Your Eyes to Human Rights?”

Today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in this video, staff from Witness talk about images that opened their eyes to human rights abuses around the world:


You can answer the video’s call to action — asking you to discuss what images opened your eyes — at Witness. Or feel free to post a comment here, too.

I started the “web video of the day” feature a little over a year ago in reponse to a presentation I attended at the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History last autumn about how the Web is changing how we communicate, how it’s changing documentary filmmaking, and how it’s opening up media to everyone (and getting it out of the grasp of big corporations and their biases and influences). One of the speakers there was from Witness, so it seems fitting to come back to the organization a year later.



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  • Anne-Kari

    The first photo I think of is the 1972 picture of the children running away from their Napalmed village in Vietnam. The naked little girl in the center was around 9 years old, which is probably around the same age I was when I first saw the picture.

    It was a history teacher who showed us that photo as well as others of the Vietnam war, and there was some serious backlash from many of the parents. Looking back, and remembering some of those photos, I can see that many were inappropriate for kids at that age.

    But I will never forget the surge of horror and empathy I felt. Maybe I was too young to really understand it, but it haunts me to this day. Maybe that’s a good thing.

  • Looking back, and remembering some of those photos, I can see that many were inappropriate for kids at that age.

    But I will never forget the surge of horror and empathy I felt. Maybe I was too young to really understand it, but it haunts me to this day. Maybe that’s a good thing.

    if it had an effect on you then you weren’t too young to see it. i don’t understand this obsession lately with children being “too young” for images or ideas. it’s not as if parents spend time preparing their children, or teaching them carefully, or leading up to their understanding that the world is full of cruelty and injustice. it is something that really is usually just thrust upon you — a shock to the system. a shock opens your eyes… turning your head (or your childrens’) away does not. and then nothing gets done.

  • Anne-Kari

    I don’t think I was too young to see that particular picture, but there were other very, very graphic photos that particular teacher showed us that WERE innapropriate for 3rd graders. I won’t go into details but they were incredibly gory.

    I do think there are things that kids shouldn’t be exposed to too early. Not so much ideas, but some images – especially if not put in context (see my most recent diatribe re ‘The Dark Knight Appropriate For Kids’).

    And I don’t think I fully understood that particular picture when I first saw it. That’s why it got me thinking – I couldn’t imagine what could be so horrible that children would run naked down the street to get away from it. It was the first time I thought about war as something real, something that hurt little kids just like me,and something to be questioned.

    And yes, that’s a good thing.

  • but what is the alternative, anne-kari (and others)? when and how do you decide to expose your little darlings to the world? what can you do when they’re outside of your immediate sphere of influence. do you think your parents would have chosen that moment of your life to let you see those images? life happens, and the impact of those images doesn’t necessarily come from the time you see them, but the basis of your character and what your support system at home is. if you want to raise empathic and wide awake children, isn’t it better to give them a foundation of facts and information that the world is not always a kind and just place, but that individuals can behave in a kind and just way, and fight to make the world a better place? how and when can you do that, if no questions — no shock to the system — is ever allowed?

  • Anne-Kari

    For the record, my parents, in that particular instance, objected not to that picture of the little girl, but to the very gory pictures and the way they were presented (which is to say, the teacher involved was a Vietnam vet who was very disturbed and probably suffering from PTSD – not a diagnosis the army acknowledged readily, and I hope he eventually got treatment).

    They did NOT object to me hearing about or even seeing certain images of war, having spoken to me about such subjects already. Again, it’s about context.

    I do think it’s bizarre that massively oversexualized Bratz dolls and incredibly violent video games are considered just fine for 7 year olds, while images of war and discussions of the meaning of violence is somehow too much for, as you put it, the ‘little darlings’.

  • “I do think it’s bizarre that massively oversexualized Bratz dolls and incredibly violent video games are considered just fine for 7 year olds, while images of war and discussions of the meaning of violence is somehow too much for, as you put it, the ‘little darlings’.”

    amen to that, sister. i hate those friggin’ dolls with an undying passion, as i hate Steve Madden ads, and any high fashion magazine…

    i myself think insensate and brutal violence as well as brutal sexualization of women especially is far more objectionable for young children to see without guidance than any instances of actual or simulated sex. ( i never understand how we can have no problems with sexuality in advertising, yet don’t want our children to see “sex”. screwed up society.)

    i don’t say throw children off the deep end into the brutal world of images and exposure to pain and injustice… but it is better to prepare them to deal with the first shocks than to try and cushion them from it until the “right” time. is there such a thing?

  • Anne-Kari

    bronxbee, I hope you can tell that I’m actually pretty much agreeing you? The ‘shock to the system’ concept – if what you are saying is that totally cocooning your kids from the truth of the world is doing them a disservice – I’m right there with you.

    I do think that there are limits as to what a kid can actually process, and no, it’s not always dependent on their chronological age. It’s a fine line to walk, especially as a parent of two small kids. I want them to be aware of the world they are in, of the good and the bad, without exposing them to things that will do more trauma than good.

    Or in the case of my rant about violent video games, I also don’t want to have them be so overexposed to violence (video or otherwise) that they become inured at an early age.

    It’s a VERY fine line, and I don’t think I’ll always get it right. But I hope I’ll always be honest with them about the good and the bad.

  • oh, yes, anne-kari, i did write from the assumption that we basically agreed.

  • Anne-Kari

    Hey bronxbee, in keeping with the original post by MAJ, what are some of images that come to YOUR mind?

  • Alli

    Interesting discussion bronxbee and anne-kari.

    The one image that has been permanently burned into my mind is the James Nachtwey portrait of a survivor of the Hutu death camps in Rwanda. The first time I saw the photo, I cried. I think everyone needs to be familiar with Nachtwey’s work. He’s incredible, and his images will change your life. His latest project was on Drug resistant Tuberculosis which has been recorded in 49 countries. It could easily become a pandemic if we don’t do something.

  • Anne-Kari

    Alli – wow, I just looked James Nachtwey up on Wikipedia and found his website. Take a look, folks:

    http://www.jamesnachtwey.com/

  • Alli

    Nachtwey is pretty incredible. I’m a photojournalist myself, and I knew very early on that I could never be a war photographer. Photographers get a bad rap these days, but what guys like Nachtwey do is pretty amazing. Trust me, photographers do not get any pleasure from photographing horrible tragedies. Some how Nachtwey can disassociate himself from the moment long enough to keep his emotions in check so that he can tell these stories.

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