The iconic image of a vulture ‘stalking’ a dying girl child in famine-ridden South Sudan was published in The New York Times on March 26, 1993. The Pulitzer-prize winning photograph clicked by Kevin Carter became the subject of controversy and sparked a debate about whether it is ethical to shoot and publish such photographs.
Carter faced massive criticism from the public for spending 20 minutes onsite to click the photograph instead of trying to help the young child. An article in St Petersburg Times in Florida said: “The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene.”
How the times have changed since then. The photojournalists in Syria, capturing the horrors of war, are focusing their camera’s lenses at the ‘innocent’ children stuck in the bloody mess.
A photograph of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, whose house was hit in an airstrike, circulated on social media on Thursday. The image showed a young boy, expressionless, stunned, with eyes wide open, covered in dust and blood, his legs hanging limp. The horrific image was described as “a big message to the world” by award-winning photographer Bulent Kilic, who works as a photo manager for AFP, in an article published on The Independent.
The image and video of Omran Daqneesh went viral on social media websites with thousands of people tweeting and posting the image, expressing their anger, sorrow, shock and disgust at what is happening in the Middle-Eastern region. Around 23 years ago, the public was against clicking and publishing of such images. Now everyone is actively involved in spreading them.
Omran Daqneesh is not the only child victim of Syrian war whose image has been circulated on the web. In the month of July, Revolutionary Forces of Syria (RFS) posted images of children from Syria holding Pokemon drawings in their hands, asking the world to save them. The images went viral on Twitter and Facebook. According to the Independent, the images were circulated 21,500 times.
With the Pokemon Go game becoming a sensation all around the world, the images act as a reminder that enough attention is not being paid to the Syria crisis, where hundreds of thousands have lost their lives and millions have disappeared in the five-year civil war. A post on twitter by a UK-based organisation, The Syria Solidarity Campaign (SSC), said, “Syrians have more pressing concerns than catching Pokemon. If only augmented reality could save lives, here is Syria_Pokemon.”
Another image of a 3-year old Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey went viral last year. The images of Syrian tragedy are constantly focusing on the children of war because it seems to be the only way the photojournalists feel they can get the world’s attention towards the on-going war in the country.
The truth is that the sight of children, affected physically and mentally by the events in Syria, who are perhaps even younger than the 5-year war itself, have an immediate impact on the audience viewing these images. The innocence on the faces of the young ones, placed in contrast with the horrific settings of the background, present a direct insight into the tragedies that are associated with violence.
Award-winning American-born photographer Nicole Tung said in an interview to the Independent, “It is the innocence, or more precisely the loss of it. Someone who should be playing games has instead been involved in the most violent act that humanity can commit. It is truly shocking.”
The war in Syria is not the first time where images of young children are used to showcase the tragedy. The ‘iconic’ Pulitzer Prize winning image of nine year old girl Kim Phuc, running around naked, severely burnt after a napalm attack by South Vietnamese forces, clicked by AP photographer Nick Ut, became the symbolic image for representing the horrors of Vietnam War. The image drew strong reactions from everyone after a cropped version was published in New York Times in June, 1972.
In 1984, one of the most renowned Indian photojournalists Raghu Rai went to cover the aftermath of Bhopal gas Tragedy. The incident described as the ‘world’s worst industrial disaster’ led to the deaths of over 3000 people. An image clicked by Raghu Rai of a buried dead child, titled ‘The Burial of an Unknown Child’ became symbolic of the tragedy itself. In an interview to ibnlive, Rai recounts: “‘The Burial of an Unknown Child’ was one of the many burials that I photographed that day. But what was so moving about the child was the fact that he had an innocent tender face and his eyes were open as if about to talk to you.”
The photographers in Syria are trying hard to divert world’s attention towards themselves, and they are using the war-affected children for this purpose. It is a harsh reality to accept, almost bordering on cruelty. But when the world keeps on sharing and re-tweeting and re-posting such images, maybe someday, somewhere, something might change.
According to BBC, Russia has agreed to stop military operations in Aleppo, for a 48-hour period, by the coming week, after UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura pleaded for a “gesture of humanity”. The fighting between rebels and the government forces have escalated over the last few weeks in the city, and food and medical provisions could not be delivered by the UN to the two million people stuck in the city.
The world needs to step up and realize that more needs to be done regarding Syria. The photographers in Syria should no longer need to use war-affected children to shift everyone’s attention towards themselves.
An article in Al-Jazeera by Hamid Dabashi hits the nail on the head, when talking about the image of Omran Daqneesh, “We should not be watching this. But we are told that we should because this is an “iconic image” from Syria? Iconic of what?”
Karan is a trainee sub-editor at the Express. He can be found tweeting at @PSKaran92