There is no doubt in my mind that technology—in our “increasingly media-saturated culture"—has affected our society’s ability and desire to understand world events. For the better. With news channel websites and You Tube in particular, up-to-the-minute news and world happenings are right at our fingertips. Though it is true that most if not all websites, photographs and video streams are biased towards the views of the photographer, anchor or behind-the-scenes crew member (Sontag notes: “Photographs had the advantage of uniting two contradictory features. Their credentials of objectivity were inbuilt. Yet they always had, necessarily, a point of view,”) the stories and images themselves tend to spark an interest in the bigger picture (26). Sontag writes that not all imagery and media are considered equal: “Nonstop imagery (television, streaming video, movies) is out surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite” (22). Inevitably, some Americans will get their news from one source and one source only, but that is a problem in and of it self. I contend instead that a large portion will further research world events learned of from that one small story, video or image: they will want to learn more, and therefore seek out other sources to expand what they already know, ultimately leading to close to a full circle, all-encompassing take on the issue or event.
And yes, I do believe that simply knowing such events are occurring in the world is enough. “Photographs of an atrocity may give rise to opposing responses,” Sontag writes. “A call for peace. A cry for revenge. Or simply the bemused awareness, continually restocked by photographic information, that terrible things happen” (13). Even the most politically active individual cannot possibly be involved in all world issues. By being aware that all the events are happening, individuals can at least take minor or indirect steps to managing the problem at hand such as voting for political candidates, protesting or even taking personal initiative such as (in the case of environmental issues) using less electricity or water. Environment and personality are really what matter when going deeper into world issues on an individual level: Which issue(s) do you have personal interest or expertise in? How can you go about taking steps to remedy it at your current location or in your local community?
As for “art’s” place in war or disaster photography, I think (as cliché as it sounds,) that it all depends on your definition of “art.” Art, to some, is simply paints and canvas. To me, music is art: the more depressing and raw or real world oriented the lyrics tend to be, the better. And that’s not simply because I view the world in a negative light; I just enjoy realism as opposed to idealism. It’s entertaining. War photography can be seen in much the same way. It very often reveals human life and violence in blunt and gruesome ways; a photograph offers no shield or fancy language to dance around the horror of war. As Sontag writes on page 47, “Everyone is a literalist when it comes to photographs.” She continues with this thought a little later in the book: “No sophisticated sense of what photography is or can be will ever weaken the satisfactions of a picture of an unexpected event seized in mid-action by an alert photographer” (55). In other words, the simple fact that the photographer can capture the essence of life and the reality and fast-paced nature of it in a standstill picture, makes it art. Like song lyrics, images that simply depict war as an unsatisfactory reality of life itself make them beautiful and artistic.