March 28, 2015

Photojournalism and Public Trauma: Safe Travels

With Tuesday’s tragic plane crash involving Germanwings Flight 9525 providing the backstory, this photograph of a Buddhist monk annointing a Boeing B787-8 Dreamliner demonstrates how photojournalism and visual media circulate images that are designed to respond to the task of dealing with public trauma. Yet again we are asking our collective selves how could this happen. If we can’t even trust our own pilots, is there anyone or anything left that we can depend on to assure our safe travels?

In Thailand they call upon the protective services of those who have a feel for divine intervention, making something of a ceremonial display out of a decision to put public safety in the hands of God. After all, religious ritual has always been one of the surest ways for people to keep themselves feeling grounded. On top of the fact that the dominant imagery of 9/11 solidified the jumbo jet as an international symbol of collective vulnerability, those troubling images of plane debris sliding in bits and pieces down the south side of a mountain trigger deep and nagging anxieties about air travel and danger.

So it makes perfect sense that now we’re seeing this image of commercial airliners engaged in the procedural equivalent of knocking on wood. You want to assure a leery public that you’re confronting the problem head on and that you are standing on the side of caution. But when it comes to smoothing out the wrinkles in that story about flying the friendly skies, it certainly doesn’t hurt to add a shade of enchantment into the mix.

— Philip Perdue

(photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters. caption: A Thai Buddhist monk blesses a Boeing B787-8 Dreamliner, bestowed with the royal name of ‘Pranburi,’ during an aircraft-annointing ceremony at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport Friday.)

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Philip Perdue
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