October 1, 2014

Sensational Ebola Pictures: Those Aren't Astronauts

Its been too easy in the West to either ignore the Ebola pictures, or pull up a chair for the horror show. And why has there been so little discussion of the scourge and its visual framing, as compared to so much conversation about ISIS, war photography and what is or isn’t acceptable to see? Why do I like this pair of photos so much, taken by Pete Muller in Sierra Leone? Mostly because of how they dialogue. The first shot, for example, embodies all kinds of associations, inadvertent or not, you can get from many of the response photos. When you see the second photo, though, it shatters them.

Those aren’t astronauts (and, Africa isn’t the moon.) This isn’t a sci-fi, freak science or a “call out the cavalry” movie. Just because the aid workers descend in white or silver, and just because they’re Red Cross and radiate technology doesn’t mean that, inside the suits, they’re either white or Western. And, the villagers aren’t always so peripheral, pitiable or otherwise one-dimensional. Quite complex and emotionally formidable here, these young women clearly have plenty on their minds.

(photos: Pete Muller/Prime for the Washington Post. caption 1: Members of a Red Cross burial team don personal protective equipment and spray chlorine as they prepare to enter the home of a woman suspected of dying of Ebola in the village of Dia on Monday, August 18, 2014. The government of Sierra Leone mandates that all deaths in which the cause is unclear be treated as potential Ebola cases. Contact with the bodies of Ebola victims is a leading cause of virus transmission. caption 2: Members of a Red Cross burial team put on personal protective equipment before entering the home of a woman suspected of dying of Ebola in the village of Dia on Monday, August 18, 2014. So-called “safe burials,” conducted by the International Federation of the Red Cross, are conducted in accordance with rigorous safety procedures. The dead bodies of Ebola victims are extremely infectious.)

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Michael Shaw
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