Censorship, society and the role of the socially-responsible photographer
At the outset, this is something of a rambling post, without much structure, but with the intention to throw a few themes out there which have occupied my mind.
To my mind, censorship is one of the most insidious evils a government can inflict upon a people. Censorship is a slap in the face of self-determination, and to practice censorship in a society which has expressly forbidden it – such as Germany – is a slap in the face of the people.
It says, “We, your elected government, have determined that for you to see this is not beneficial, and so you may not see it.”
An anecdotal example is in order.
Nikon has caused great consternation among the pro photographer community through its pricing of the otherwise perfectly admirable D3x DSLR at approximately US$ 8000; the gist of the complaints is that this is about US$ 3000 too much.
Meanwhile, there is a YouTube meme involving a clip from the movie Der Untergang (Downfall in English), in which Adolf Hitler freaks out about the fact that the defense of Berlin is not working out as planned. The meme entails replacing the normal English subtitles with ones from an entirely different context. One particular one is one in which Hitler is portrayed as a pro photographer, freaking out about the pricing of the D3x:
A German friend of mine said to me, “YouTube is telling me, ‘Dieses Video ist ist deinem Land nicht verfügbar'” — “This video is not available in your country.”
Why the hell not? Is it because it pokes fun at Hitler and Nikon at the same time? Who is it that is so wise, that they have determined that it’s OK for Germans outside Germany to see this, but not for Germans in Germany?
Is German democracy threatened by an American-made mash-up in which Hitler is portrayed as a pro photographer?
I responded, “You have become a victim of censorship. Defend yourself.”
Well, aside from referencing a vaguely photography-related YouTube clip (and not even a particularly tasteful one at that), I haven’t said much about photographers and censorship.
Photography, the ability to record an event, either in still or moving pictures, has been a potent weapon in the on-going information cold-war, ever since its value as a journalistic tool was established early last century.
And the practice of photography by ‘amateurs’ (or ‘unqualified elements’ as a certain southern African political party would have it) is often considered to be a threat by those who would – even in a ‘free’ society such as Britain or Germany – control what the public sees.
“No photography’ signs proliferate; photographers both professional and amateur are harassed in shopping centres, train stations, and other places deemed to be potential targets of terrorism, even though no investigations have ever revealed that terrorists use this type of ‘recon’ photography.
Particularly worrisome is the level of harassment that awaits photographers who, either professionally or out of personal interest, document protests and demonstrations in today’s Western Europe.
What are the authorities afraid of?
Because censorship is ultimately a weapon used by an authority that is afraid of its people. Do we really consent to being governed by a room full of cowards?