May 21, 2013

The Visual Power (and Inundation) of Tragedy: Oklahoma City and Newtown, Boston, Long Island, New Jersey, West, Bangladesh

Briarwood Elementary Moore

Briarwood Elementary, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Monday, May 20, 2013.

Sandy Hook Elementary children

Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT. December 14, 2012

First of all, let me apologize for being so analytical about images fresh after a horrible event like the lethal tornadoes in Oklahoma and the Midwest. I am sorry for the loss and the pain they have caused.

One would almost swear, however, there are more tragedies coming more frequently these days. But I doubt that’s the case. Instead, I think tragedy or horror has become a much more immediate, powerful and collective experience by way of the ready imagery on all of our networks and screens. Having a more visceral front row seat to tragedy, we can’t help but be converted from consumers of information into witnesses — shared witnesses. Unless OKC was just strangely synchronistic with recent traumas though, perhaps a concerning side-effect of this sensational steady diet of disaster is that all the imagery starts to run together.

Along those lines….

Moore OK tornado Oxford Oklahoma or Long Island after Sandy?

Vehicle upside down Moore OK

Oklahoma or Japan after the tsunami?

 Briarwood Elementary school aftermatch.png

Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma or dazed and bloody in Boston?


Sandy damage NJ aerial

Oklahoma or the Jersey Shore?

Moore Medical Center tornado

Moore tornado damage

Oklahoma or West after the fertilizer explosion?


Reshma Begum rescue Bangladesh 2

Oklahoma meets Bangladesh?

Besides raising questions about the effect this deluge is having on specificity, empathy and attention span, I’m wondering how much meaning we draw and retain from this continuous string of disaster episodes.

(photo 1: Paul Hellstern/The Oklahoman/AP caption: Children wait for their parents to arrive at Briarwood Elementary school after a tornado destroyed the school in south Oklahoma City, Okla, Monday, May 20, 2013. Near SW 149th and 2: MICHELLE MCLOUGHLIN/REUTERScaption: A boy and girl react outside Sandy Hook Elementary School after a gunman opened fire on Friday, killing 27 inside, including children.Sandy Hook Elementary, Newtown, CT. photo 3: Nick Oxford | The New York Timescaption: Dustin Weher, left, his sister-in-law Kelcy Trowbridge and her three children are amid the remains of Trowbridge’s house near Moore, Okla. They survived by piling into a neighbor’s cellar. When they emerged, the body of a young child was found in the ruins of their home. photo 4: Brett Deering – Getty Images caption: Getty Images MOORE, OK – MAY 20: A vehicle lies upside down in the road after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 20, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado, reported to be at least EF4 strength and two miles wide, touched down in the Oklahoma City area on Monday killing at least 51 people. photo 5: Paul Hellstern/The Oklahoman/AP caption: A teachers leads away a child fromt he wreckage of Briarwood Elementary school. photo 6: Steve Gooch/AP caption: This aerial photo shows the remains of homes, after being flattened by a massive tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 20, 7: Andrew Mills/The Star-Ledger caption: Widespread devastation along Brook (top) and Prospect Avenues in Union Beach after Hurricane Sandy destroyed areas of the Jersey Shore. 11/1/12. photo 8: Alonzo Adams/AP caption: The Moore Medical Center and vehicles lay damaged after a tornado moves through Moore, Okla. on Monday, May 20, 2013. photo 9: LM Otero/AP caption: Firefighter conduct search and rescue of an apartment destroyed by an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, Thursday, April 18, 2013. A massive explosion at the plant killed as many as 15 people and injured more than 160, officials said overnight. photo 10: Sue Ogrocki/AP caption: A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore and passed along to rescuers. photo 11: A.M. Ahad/AP caption: Reshma Begum, centre, the 19-year-old seamstress who spent 17 days trapped in the rubble of a collapsed factory building, sitting in a wheelchair, meets the media at a hospital in Savar, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, May 13, 2013.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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