6.26.2010

An Inappropriately Gorgeous Photograph?


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.

16 comments:

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

It rather reminds me of the laboratory slides of infectious diseases. Seen in the abstract, those can often be eye-catching as well. But, deadly.

Anonymous said...

A woman attacked by a crocodile said she looked into its eyes and was entranced by their beauty, a net of gold over green, even as it dragged her under. I can understand and NOT understand...

lostpastremembered said...

There was an amazing book that had slides of cells that ended up having page space in World of Interiors... they are that beautiful and could be wallpaper or mosaic... it's all about context. Purely visually they are stunning. Cancer is gorgeous on a slide as Pamela said. This is killing the planet, but like looking at anonymous' crocodile, you can still be entranced by the beauty... beautiful, agate-like, deadly oil.

lostpastremembered said...

There was an amazing book that had slides of cells that ended up having page space in World of Interiors... they are that beautiful and could be wallpaper or mosaic... it's all about context. Purely visually they are stunning. Cancer is gorgeous on a slide as Pamela said. This is killing the planet, but like looking at anonymous' crocodile, you can still be entranced by the beauty... beautiful, agate-like, deadly oil.

joan mckniff said...

one of the small sad parts about living on the gulf coast now is not seeing any beauty in that photo when I saw it on Times site. I love the endpapers from Florence and they might well have been my first reaction BEFORE the spew. Only now am I realizing that fighting those who want to more drilling right now in this same space,protesting,and organizing has not just taken spirit, energy, and time buy also my perceptions.

SPLENDEROSA said...

Oh, Dominique, what an amazing post today. NYT doesn't mention BP?
And, shows this photo, which at
1st glance is evocatively beautiful. When one realizes what it really is, it is hideous. And, the tuna? Yes, you are right. Paul Newman once said we live in a disposable society, meaning divorce, plastic bottles, friends, etc. Thank you for this. Marsha

Karena said...

Very interesting question and thoughts,Dominique.

I immediately thought of Picasso's "Guernica". Art does often depict tragedy. This image is beautiful until one realizes the ramifications of what it represents.

Karena
Art by Karena

Marija said...

Context is everything. And then there is that old adage 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. I looked at this and saw chaos. Knowing now what it is, I'm intrigued, and saddened, by the blood-like red.

june said...

Well, one can always find beauty in ugliness and vice-versa. That is the way life is. Besides, even God has a light and a dark side and this earth is simply a reflection of that.

Mlle Paradis said...

hi! just found your blog again! so many pleasant common points of reference, your post on the huntington gardens - you got much better pictures of the bonsai than i've ever imagined....and aren't those bamboo stunning and seductively lit? a treat to see longhouse - i have a friend with many pieces in that collection - and not at all least, your r.l. stevenson post about having to go to bed too early on a summer night! might have be the defining poem of my life. that was the first little book i ever received that was JUST MINE. have thought from time to time about posting bits of it.

anyway just saying thanks for smiles and little bursts of pure pleasure. happy weekend!

Barbara Hammond said...

The entire BP debacle is heartbreaking. The hope is that we can make it enlightening to the naysayers who've fought against more enviromentally friendly means of energy for so long.
As for the photograph, ignorance would be bliss in this case because it is a beautiful photo... if only we'd never seen it!
Love your blog Dominique!
Barbara

Karen said...

What I find astonishing is how the impact of this monumental disaster is mitigated by the government,the press, BP; for one, referring to it as a spill (implying a finite action) when it is really a continuing gush; another by asking all of the oil-using populace to take the blame. I am not surprised by BP's ruthlessness and non-chalance but having it echoed by Washington is disheartening to say the least.

Thank you Dominique for your blog. I missed you when HG ended (and miss the magazine too) but I think you have a much more effective forum now.

Green Key said...

I don't think it's a problem in to see both the beauty of this image and the horror of the oil spill. The world is full of both, all the time.

Cheryl said...

It looks like the ink that you float on the water to create the end papers on good books. It would be interesting to do prints of the oil on paper. Seeing beauty even in the face of tragedy is a very Zen thing. Like the woman who was running from the tigers, went over the cliff hanging by a vine, only to see wolves underneath. See heard a sound above her and saw a mouse chewing through the vine. Then a wild strawberry caught her eye - she plucked it and ate... so sweet!

c said...

I cannot bring myself to read anything but headlines about the Gulf catrastophe - it's not a spill, nor is it a leak. It's a huge catastrophe. I know why I can't stomach to read any of it - I am powerless to do anything about it.

Today's headline, however, prompted me to click on the link, and what I read is even more sickening, but it does answer DB's question (why does the NYT refers to Deepwater Horizon and not BP).

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/04/business/04bptax.html?hp

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