Vintage Views

Focused on Pain and Suffering, Hamburg Show Explores Photo Ethics

Max Scheler, slums in Birmingham, Alabama, 1964.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The documentation of human pain and loss is a timeless quest for answers to moral questions.

  • Facts


    • Hamburg exhibition “Das Engagierte Bild” (“The Dedicated Picture”) showcases 40 moving images.
    • Photojournalism experienced a heyday after the Second World War.
    • Images by some of the world’s best photo journalists of the post-War era are on display.
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Pain unites people. When people are powerless and fearful, they look for proximity. If people don’t know how to deal with grief, they hold on to one another.

In an image by Magnum photographer Marc Rimboud, four women, confined to a miniscule space are in that very situation. One holds a child in her arms, another has her head between her hands, one closes her mouth as if wanting to suppress a scream. They all have faces that are painted by pain: these women have just lost their husbands, husbands who were hanged by Pakistani militants in Bangladesh in 1971.

In his image, Mr. Riboud has captured the lowest point in the lives of these women. His perspective on the scene is intimate but maintains a respectful distance. The viewer is given a chance to look into the abyss of human pain and become an observer as well as a witness.

The photograph of the weeping women is the first of many in the Hamburg exhibition entitled “Das Engagierte Bild” (“The Dedicated Picture”).

It is a small exhibition in the Museum for the Arts and Craft with about 40 photographs hung along the walls of a long hallway. Many are black and white and were taken in the 1960s.

It is a moving exhibition and, in a tragic way, timeless because it throws up questions that need to be answered again and again, such as what moral criteria are necessary for documenting pain and loss. What perspectives are legitimate in this process?

It is after the Second World War that photojournalism experienced a heyday and became a unique, recognized form of storytelling.


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