Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Vulture and a Child: A Surreal Fable and Saddest Picture - is it? A critique-analysis

UST-AB Photography
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio 
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday

I wish to share the result of a discussion with my students in photography and friends in the academe and public service regarding this celebrated photograph. It will no doubt arouse the same pathetic feeling and revulsion, but photographs if grossly browsed like a passing glance may not give the true picture. How I wish we are right in your own judgment. 

Upper photo, enlarged for clarity and study; lower photo is original from the Internet. 
Even the saddest condition this photo portrays has some light of hope that the real situation is not really that worst.

First, the setting of the photo is a community. The grass huts, version of our bahay kuho, typical in farming communities, are huddled into a compound or neighborhood, likely the dwellings of a large family or related members of a tribe.

Second, the photo was taken towards the end of harvest. The harvest is now stored in the shacks after it has been threshed or shelled. Grains are visible over the threshing ground. And it seems gleaning can wait - if ever to be done at all. Which means the harvest is not really bad. Note the normal size of the stovers of sorghum or corn lying on the field and those piled in stack or mandala among the huts apparently stored as buffer stock.

Third, the trees form cozy woodland in spite of the dry condition that characterizes harvestime. Trees usually grow where there is a good source of water, probably a stream or basin which serves as sump for irrigation. (Note the irrigation levee of the field, like the pilapil of our rice paddy. It is likely that the levee is for retaining water from rain, but could serve for flash irrigation as well.) The closer the trees grow, and the wider the area they occupy, means water is readily available throughout the year. In all indications the woodland is a permanent feature of the landscape. It shows the features of an ecosystem – permanence and diversity.

Fourth, in a drought stricken area where people are occasionally driven to famine, the signs of destruction of the place are visible. Trees would be stripped of their foliage, whole trees cut for firewood, people abandoning destroyed homes, and nothing is green. Soil cracks, bushfire remains are evident. But here in the photo the fields bear new growth, some patches of grass, which means that rain is not totally absent or that the ground is bone dry.

Fifth, the vulture is a popular part of the savannah landscape. They have learned to frequent farms, pastures, and villages, and mingle with living things while scavenging in the process. Our concept of wild animals may be exaggerated such as a lion devouring an antelope, or a shark suddenly attacking a swimmer on the beach. Through adaptation, and ingrained in a particular culture, such fear is uncommon to the natives of the place. The relationship of the vulture and the boy in the photo shows no strain on neither part. The vulture keeps a comfortable distance without any sign of aggression or ritual behavior of a predator. Often, vultures are gregarious, and very seldom does one venture alone, especially if there is potential food at hand.

Sixth, the boy is very much alive. He may be thin, but this is common among inhabitants of arid regions. Also, parents don't pamper their children like we do. But they are equally if not more caring and loving. Note the necklace of the child. It could be a tribal insignia or indicator of social standing. Independence and curiosity often go together. Could he be playing? Or just curious at a thing? The apparent absence of fear in the boy is as instinctive as fear itself in the verge of dying. In the latter, too, instinct draws out the ultimate defense of self preservation, whether one young or old – which does not show in the child.

Seventh, community life in rural villages is an extension of family life. Abandonment is very rare. In general the poorer people are, the closer they are bonded biologically and as a community. And it is difficult to rationalize ones way out from collective responsibility. It is unthinkable to leave a young kid alone treading towards a distant feeding camp, when in the first place he has no idea what it is about, more so on how to get there. Could the photo have been scripted?

Eighth, if the photographer did nothing to save the boy as alleged, could it be for the aforementioned reasons? That there was no imminent danger of a vulture about to attack the kid soon after he would breath his last? (Vulture do not prey on living things, they are scavengers). The photographer must have gauged well the situation before he left the place. The ethics of journalism is to uphold human dignity. It is sensitive to human rights and freedom. It is compassionate and humane. These set media on a plane of high respect and caliber. It is unthinkable to attribute the author’s sad fate to his own inaction.

Ninth, The UN could not have missed a basic responsibility as it is known for its thoroughness and comprehensive manner of handling such a sensitive operation, networking with institutions, communities, and known leaders. The presence of a photographer in the area is proof enough that the area is not isolated or abandoned. Also, it is unthinkable for one to put another into a bad light amidst crisis.

Tenth, the impact of the photo broke silence and indifference of the world on victims of circumstances. There must have been some vestiges of projecting compassion, or even draw ire and anger, but as a whole the photo is a reminder of the oneness of humanity, that when someone dies, a little bit is each member also dies; and for the victory of one however modest it may be, makes everyone feel triumphant. The ability of mankind to succeed in all its trials has been the result of such beautiful unity and harmony. Which the child and the vulture brought new light and fresh reminder. ~ 

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