12 November 2008

Pietà Redux

A boy experiencing severe pain from TB meningitis is comforted by
his mother at Svay Rieng Provincial Hospital, Svay Rieng, Cambodia.
Family members provide much of the personal care at hospitals in
the developing world. Photograph & Caption © James Nachtwey/VII

A couple of weeks ago I lifted this image of James Nachtwey's - which I called "the pietà transported to contemporary southeast Asia" - for a critical post on the conventions of documentary/ photojournalism. I am no historian of photography. But the image resonated in a way that made me think I'd seen it before. It turns out that I had:

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath.
Photograph © W. Eugene Smith, (Minamata, 1972).

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Blogger El chico desenfocado said...

This reminiscence of La Pietá you talk about is actually a constant in war photography and, by extension, in every violent shot. I would dare to say that it is these photographs that recall such an iconic art work the ones that survive in the collective memory. Right now, I remember some more pictures in which this remembrance is obvious and what is more interesting is that they have become icons themselves of the wars they are taken in or of the work of the photographer who shot them.
This is an Augustí Centelles' photograph in the Spanish Civil War: http://www.fotomaf.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/centelles.JPG
Also some pictures of Mark Edwards documenting the strike of the cholera in Calcutta are a good example (sorry, I couldn't find them on the web)
I guess that the main reason is that the "original" Pietá got to reach some sort of quintaessence of pain and human loss and the very similar reproductions remind us these feelings and Michelangelo's sculpture as the first and probably very best attempt to express them.
This little reflection of yours may lead to a very interesting visual and iconic analysis.
I highly recommend you John Taylor's "Body Horror", where he also rises a similar reflection.

06 December, 2008 17:29  

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