Pictures of blasts: harsh, but necessary

On Monday after the bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon the Internet was flooded with videos and pictures of the explosions and aftermath.

Some of these images were considered by some viewers to be too gruesome or distasteful to be shown. As a photographer, I feel showing them was justified.

People always say a picture is worth a thousand words -and I truly believe that. After I found out about the bombing and learned the basic information about it, the first thing I wanted to see were the pictures that had been taken. I went on to the Associated Press website and the first image in the gallery was a black background with white words that read “Viewer Discretion is Advised.”

This took me aback at first because didn’t think some of the videos I saw on the TV were bad enough for a warning but, once I looked through the images, I could see why that note was at the beginning of the gallery. The pictures definitely weren’t things children should see but I wasn’t offended that they were posted for my viewing. I think these pictures spoke louder than any video I saw of the incident.

Victims were pictured with blood all over their bodies and missing their limbs. Such pictures fuel the hatred for the men responsible for killing three people and injuring so many more. If it weren’t for these pictures, people who weren’t there wouldn’t have known the magnitude of the injuries to the victims. Also, without the thousands of camera phones in the area, who knows if the police would have been able to discover what happen or how it happened?

I know it is likely there people who can’t understand how a photographer could just run around taking pictures of these injured people. To answer that question, I’ll quote a famous old photographic saying: “if you saw it happen you didn’t get the shot.” I have found in my own experience that when I’m in the process of shooting an event or a sports game I don’t really absorb what’s going on around me. I’m just thinking about what my camera settings are and what angles will help me make the shot.

The camera acts as a sort of filter for the person using it. I know when I try to remember events I’ve covered, the only images that flash through my head are the ones I recorded with my camera.

In the documentary film “The President’s Photographer,” George W. Bush’s photographer Eric Draper said he didn’t really have time to process what was happen on 9/11 while he was taking pictures of the president. Draper said he thinks he often uses the camera as a sort of distraction – absorbing emotions so he doesn’t have to.

I’m sure that this is what was going on with the photographers on the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings. Still, I’m glad they were there to capture the tragic moment because, without them, I don’t think the world truly could have felt the horror and terror that the residents, runners and spectators felt that day in Boston.

Editor’s note: Recent Northern Michigan University graduate and Mining Journal Ishpeming Bureau reporter Adelle Whitefoot can be reached at 906-228-2500. Her email address is