Art turns into Exploitation

A photographer friend of mine recently showed me a shot he took at the recent annual memorial event in Potocari. It turned my stomach upside down. Is this art now?

During the 1992-1995 aggression in Bosnia and Herzegovina one event stood out as an especially horrid testament to the monstrosity of man. The Srebrenica Massacre started on July 11th 1995 and went on for days. More than 8000 civilian lives were extinguished.

To this day, more than 18 years later, an annual event in a nearby place called Potočari is held where the remains of the newly identified victims are put to rest on a commemorative site. Tarik Samarah’s amazing moving photographs and exhibition called 11/07/95 made the world understand just how horrid and tragic the whole affair was.

Capturing emotion

The first Muslim funeral I attended was my great-aunt’s and the oddest thing about it was that I was asked to photograph the event. I was into photography at the time and recently got some good equipment. As in Islam, only men attend funerals while women hold a seperate wake in the home of the deceased. The photography serves to show all absent family members how the funeral procession fared.

It was gut-wrenching, emotional and hard to do.

While reviewing the photos afterwards, I was struck by how powerful each one of them is. Of course they are. People are not noticing you. They are emotional. They are attending a ritual. It’s the best setup for photographing people you could hope for.

Coining a new term

Years following that funeral, I noticed the same emotional construct every time the Srebrenica commemoration came and went. The next “Samarah” would pop up, and they would produce tragic black and white photos of people crying next to the remains of their loved ones. They would show the endless graves, the contrast of officials and civilians, the roses, the children.

Let me stop here and not condemn the fact that these photographs also exist to every year remind the world of what happened. It’s important for everyone to not forget this failure of mankind.

That being said, is it right to be this lazy? Disrespectful to the families of the victims? Do we need to coin the term ‘Memorial Paparazzo’?

Let’s tell different stories

Srebrenica should never happen again. Auschwitz should never happen again. Everyone needs to be reminded of this.

How about we tell different stories with the photographs? Let’s not capitalize on the pain and suffering that should be private. Let’s not only remind people but also broaden their understanding beyond a weeping mother, an old dirty watch, or a solemn prayer between tombstones.

Dignity is as sacred as rememberance.

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