What’s the Point of Conflict Photography?

“I don’t see why I should care about that person.”

At the time, I was teaching a course that concentrated on conflict photography and ethics. At one point during the semester, we were studying the coverage of a famine in Sudan in the early 1990s. My students had to read about the history of that famine and about the political forces that shaped it. They studied the photojournalistic and documentary coverage of this crisis and they read critiques of that work. On the day we were to discuss the coverage of that famine, I put up an image in class; it came from the homework that was assigned to the students. It’s a black-and-white photo taken at a feeding center in Sudan and it portrays a man who is severely emaciated, as thin as you can imagine a person to be. In fact, he is so weak that he cannot stand; he’s crawling on the ground. In this sense, it’s a painful photograph that confronts you with how dire situations of suffering can be.