What happens when a photograph of a disaster is beautiful? That question struck me when I saw this picture on the New York Times' website, introducing an otherwise excellent primer on the BP Gulf gusher. (And why, by the way, does the Times consistently refuse to link BP's name to this catastrophe by referring to it as the Deepwater Horizon spill? What a tepid name.)
It took a few moments for me to realize that this picture reminded me of those gorgeous endpapers that bookmakers in Florence, Italy, used to make, swirling ink and oil on water. But we aren't at the beginning of a beautiful book about the once pristine (a hundred years ago) Gulf of Mexico. This is a picture representing the largest environmental catastrophe this country has ever experienced. Are we lulled by its beauty? Diverted? Entranced? Does it blunt a brutal edge? Is there a hidden message--humankind can always find beauty? or succeed at denial? I'm just asking.
This picture stopped me in my tracks. It is beautiful. It made me think about the incredible power of photography. But it is the editor who chooses what represents what--with, perhaps, unintended consequences.