Eye of the Gawker

Cabbagetown GawkA customer at Parkgrounds said that there were signs going up in Cabbagetown. These signs read things like What’re You Looking At? and Thanks for Gawking. None of these signs appeared in any news reports I saw, despite all the coverage of the Cabbagetown damages.

Saturday morning, the Ides of March, the day after the tornado, the streets were dotted with people with cameras. Little amateur cameras, big digital SLRs, cameras with long lenses, cameras aimed out car windows, cameras in cell phones. Some folks drove around, popped open their car doors, snapped a shot, and moved on. Some walked from East Atlanta Village, where trees were laid across a handful of streets and an empty lot had become a graveyard for worn-out trunks, to Cabbagetown, where houses had become timbers and cars had been crumpled. They captured the honesty, the hurt, the shock, the confusion, the startling vulnerability of our homes and lives, the brutal unpredictability of the world’s impact on our illusory invulnerability.

It’s my feeling that un-doctored photography is, on some level, honest. It captures and reproduces; it doesn’t translate or imitate. It doesn’t render. It’s not a shameful thing to take a picture of someone else’s woe. It’s not crass to capture suffering on camera, because suffering is genuine and real and thus fair game for an honest medium. It happens, and so it can be recorded.

Saturday morning, I thought maybe I’ve been wrong. Maybe it’s more than awkward or un-neighborly to photographed a smashed home. Maybe it’s worse than rude. I’m still undecided.

What do you think?

(Photo by Elemess)

3 Comments so far

  1. abby on March 17th, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

    I agree with you, there’s nothing wrong with taking photographs. I’m pleased that there was a spotlight on our neighborhood, as it probably helped bring assistance quickly. But tourists clogging up our few un-blocked streets with traffic, getting in the way of relief workers and not offering a hand is what irritated people. When there are 12 able-bodied people photographing a lady picking up debris out of her neighbor’s yard, something seems wrong.

  2. » The Photographer’s Insult (pingback) on March 17th, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

    […] a question for you. I have posed this in full over at the Atlanta Metblog in a post called “Eye of the Gawker”, but I want your opinion, too. The gist of the question is simple—am I wrong about the following: […]

  3. aquariumdrinker on March 17th, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

    I was one of the people there with a big SLR, and I was feeling conflicted on the drive over from Candler Park until I actually got out of the car. Part of my eventual comfort with the situation came from convincing myself that I was doing something worth doing, even if it was a mild annoyance to some.

    More than anything else, though, it was the people on the street who put me at ease. There was laughing, joking, a lot of people with drinks in their hands. It felt less like a painful private moment and more like those waining hours of a party.

    It was hard to imagine in that atmosphere that anyone would mind my taking a few pictures. It made me think that I should spend more time in Cabbagetown.

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