Saturday, 27 June 2009

Macabre Photographs feed Public Frenzy for News. Do things ever Change?

In the first twenty years of the last century, public curiousity fed photographers imagination for picture opportunities that would sell. So, what has changed? Little! If there was an accident or disaster somewhere, an enterprising local photographer would haul his camera equipment to the scene and capture images that they would often produce as postcards for sale to the public.

Here is a photograph of a rail crash - I imagine it is in America - which shows the bodies of the Engineer and Fireman lying in the wreckage. Note, it is photograph No. 7 so there are at least six others. Have any of you seen similar photographs or can hazard a guess at where it might be?

Certainly, today, the producers of souvenir postcards show a little more taste - more than can be said of today's tabloid newspapers. That said, if you ever get the chance to look at copies of the Daily Mirror before the First World War, you will find them packed with gory photographs of disasters. Nothing was left to imagination, especially the words and it must have been distressing for the relatives of those killed and maimed in such incidents. What do you think?


  1. The now infamous last photo of Michael Jackson with the breathing mask as his most likely dead body is put into the ambulance comes immediately to mind, as does the video of the woman dying in Iran, or all the countless images from 9/11. But then there are the Matthew Brady Civil War pictures of bodies scattered around battlefields, and who took the pictures of frozen corpses at Wounded Knee?

  2. My first thought, too, was the photograph of Michael Jackson. I was saddened, though not surprised, that news media chose to show it. Your post made me think of the souvenir postcards that often were produced here in the US of lynchings. People who went to lynchings wanted to be able to send pictures of them to their relatives and friends. The postcards were pretty common, and they are horrifying to see.

  3. Yep, some things haven't changed, they've only gotten worse in some ways.

    Though back in time, they often would focus on gory, terrible details, and as you say, they actually had souvenir pictures and postcards made of the gore.

    Now-a-days people are still fascinated with the horrendous--it is just presented in a little different way.


  4. OMG, when I finally was able to interpret the photo, I was horrified! This week someone sent me an email with two photos of the Air France crash inside the cabin: several people were clearly gone. They had been able to salvage the memory sticks from cameras that were found. Yes, there is still a vein of un-civilized behaviors in the world.

  5. There are a few train wreck songs out there too... which I gather were popular in their time. Guess it's human nature, like traffic jams caused by people slowing down to look at car wrecks. Like the number of motorcycle crash videos on YouTube. Photos of victims of white phosphorous shells in Gaza recently. And the news constantly brings us more...

    We live in a sadly violent world, and there is a fine line between the press glorifying the madness or sadness, which helps perpetuate it, versus factual reporting to keep us informed.

  6. Ah bon ? Ce n'est pas la même chose de nos jours ?....<8(

  7. Hi Laurie, saw where you were asking about how to make images bigger on the blog page. Back in April I did a post about that subject under title "Technical Interlude", to answer questions from Jeff (who btw just in the past week or two finally got around to applying the information and made his blog pictures much bigger... gosh this is starting to sound like some of those raunchy spam e-mails that come in). Anyway if you are interested in making your pictures bigger, that post is here :

    And since writing that post, in fact I made my page even wider so it can hold photos up to 600 pixels wide now, but you can adjust the widths to whatever seems right to your eye and your screen. Also, instead of using the "s" number at "s512" now I set it to "s1024" which seems to give better clarity in the posted image. Hope all that can be of use... The blog page width settings you only do once and then its good, but each individual photo uploaded as to be re-worked as described in the post, but it only takes a few seconds, and imho is well worth the effort.

    If you have any questions about the post or whatever, drop me an e-mail... hope all is well with you... and Minnie, did he get over that round head he had for a while ??? And how is that knee of yours doing ? Cheers !

  8. Your post reminds me of a few things I've posted about in the past months. I posted a couple postcards at my ephemera blog dealing a bit with this. One was from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The photo was certainly not horrible but the blurb written beneath it was, to modern sensibilities, tasteless. Some guy from Oakland, California, just across the bay from San Francisco, was clearly trying to make a buck off of other's tragedies.

    Then I posted a card of two men in China in basically stocks. When I bought it I thought it odd and disturbing, but when I did a bit of googling I discovered some really horrific cards making mine look like a walk in the park. I try to understand the mind that thrives on this sort of pain of others. And I still haven't wrapped my brain around the fact that one woman was sending this to a friend with a cheery little note that made no reference to the front of the card. There was a strange disconnect.

    It all reminds me of how people slow up to look at an accident on the freeway. I know I'm probably the exception, but I purposely avoid looking because I refuse to find some sort of justification for my life in the possible death of others. I'm not sure what people hope to find in looking at the dead except for "there but for the grace of God" blah blah blah.

    I still recall walking up to a check-out at a grocery store following John Lennon's murder and seeing the photo of him dead in grainy black and white. I was horrified at being confronted by this while trying to buy groceries. Sometimes you have to put blinders on just to get through the day thanks to those who wish to profit from misery. For one thing, I no longer shop in grocery stores. I'm no longer confronted with the in-your-face schandenfreude that the media thrives on, thus feeding the worst of our souls.

    Okay, I'll admit it, I do get a certain pleasure when I see a politician commit political suicide. I admit I'm drawn to watching that and I'm completely enjoying the governor of South Carolina go completely off the rails.

    Oh, and by the way, I've read that many of Matthew Brady's battlefield shots were staged. The dead were used as props with their uniforms being changed as needed. Not sure if this is true, but gives a person pause.