Publishing Photos of Dead People

When I write a “blog” here, it is about Arts and Culture, and the case of the late David Carradine fits both categories. I have seen him in a few of his B-movies before I watched his performance in Kill Bill One and Two, although I’ve never seen the Kung Fu series. He also produced and starred in Richard III (2008), so the aficionados of Shakespeare adaptations should certainly check out the film.

This is about Art. Culture comes in when we consider his death. It is widely accepted today that when someone dies we are in for a long reading of multiple stories of their lives and exits. The amount of stories depends on various factors, from their age (e.g. Rhys Jones) through their status (David Carradine, e.g.) to the circumstances of their deaths. The more details surface, the more stories published. Add to this blogs, and now Twitter, to get the idea of how much information is spitted out in no time.

And now something very different happens: a Thai tabloid publishes what is alleged to be a photo of Carradine as he was found in his hotel room. I read the following three posts –

Carradine Death Photo Published in Thai Tabloid

Sick But True: Thai Newspaper Publishes David Carradine Death Scene Forensic Photo, Family Beyond Outraged

David Carradine’s Death Photo

and I am now wondering about the question posited in the post’s title:
Publishing photos of dead people – is it OK or not?

The first thing we must do, which will serve justice to the argument and all parties involved, is to determine why the photo needs to be published at all. As you know, I originally came from the country that was invaded during the World War Two. The Nazi atrocities across the invaded territories of the Soviet Union were commemorated in both photographs and documentaries. While Soviet photographers were taking photos of the killed citizens, Lee Miller, Vogue‘s correspondent during the war, was snapping the killed Nazis and taking a bath in Hitler’s tub.

My tone above is not very serious but reflects well my attitude to those images until 2003. I sympathised with the victims, but as I said elsewhere, this past was already quite distant. Then the Iraqi war had started. Suddenly I felt very deeply about the citizens who were inevitably going to perish. And then I saw the photographs of casualties on the Al-Jazeera website, and for the first time, looking at the picture of a dead young boy, realised that, physically, we are nothing but tissue that can be violently torn into pieces.

I wholeheartedly believe that photos of war atrocities must be published. The photos of victims of terror attacks must be published. There may be certain considerations and some sort of guidance – but the pictures of humans killed by other humans for whatever lofty goal must not be hidden behind some cowardly assumptions of appropriateness. There is nothing appropriate about mass murder.

And, of course, there may be political victims, like John Lennon, and publishing or distributing their photos at death will depend on the impact the parties involved want to achieve.

But then, sadly for today, people can simply be killed – as was the case of Rhys Jones. Or, as with Carradine, they can be found dead, chained in their closet in a hotel in a foreign land. Speculations abound, but now that the Thai tabloid has released the forensic photo, the question rises: why? Even if Carradine’s death wasn’t accidental, what does publishing the photo serve to illustrate?

I will never tire of citing the concerns BBC Manchester Blog raised amidst the Virginia Tech tragedy in 2007: how appropriate is it to encroach on one’s private life? And in case with Carradine we, after all, are talking about a private individual, however famous, who evidently had his secrets. But, by the look of things, secrets they are no more: if the published photo is authentic, then the dead actor is likely to be denied every bit of posthumous privacy. This makes sense in our gossip-driven, link-baiting world. But does it really make any sense?

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4 thoughts on “Publishing Photos of Dead People”

  1. Your question.. does it need an answer?.. sometimes the press is kind.. and sometimes it is unkind.. it feeds the human thirst for things best left unseen at times.. not the atrocities that happen in foolish wars, (although I think I've seen enough of them as well).. the world needs to see them to shock them into action, to stop such things.. but this only feeds the sick mind, and causes terrible grief and pain to a persons family.. .. it is shameful cause that to happen .. to make a sale of a paper? How can we sink to such a level?…..

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  2. I agree! I think questions like this should be posed because in today's world, with citizen journalism as well, notions of “information” and “privacy” are potentially redefined. And here it does look like the whole thing was akin to “breaking news” type of thing. Let's face it, if the Thai paper published the picture the same day as his death was reported, this would be the case of reporting. The views would still be mixed, but at least it would be “in the context”. It's been over a week since Carradine died, and we've heard and read so much about the (possible) circumstances, why how demonstrate it visually?

    But on another note, don't you think it is also sick that we still need to be shown the atrocities to begin to detest wars?

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