Welcome to Chatting the Pictures. Every two weeks, we present a short, lively video discussion between Michael Shaw, publisher of Reading the Pictures, and writer, professor, and historian, Cara Finnegan, examining a significant picture in the news. Chatting the Pictures is produced by Liliana Michelena.
Esam Omran Al-Fetori took this photo for Reuters. It’s a view of people looking at the damage in the aftermath of the massive floods in Derna, Libya, on September 14, 2023. The rains, exacerbated by the lack of infrastructure in Libya and compounded by years of war and unrest, affected approximately 10% of the country’s total area. The death toll is estimated to be over 11,000 people, with more than 10,000 people still missing. The catastrophe, widely recognized as supercharged by climate change, compares to last year’s massive floods in Pakistan and those in Germany the year before, decimating significant portions of the country.
In the video, we spotlight the image’s impressive scale, using distant human figures and the depth between foreground and background to underscore the magnitude of destruction. We discuss how the photo positions viewers as direct witnesses, emphasizing human accountability for the environmental disaster and a tone of judgment beyond simple empathy. Comparing the scene to a war zone, we also advocate for addressing climate change with similar urgency.