“You gave me mud and I turned it into gold.”
- Charles Baudelaire
This year, photographs on Syria have swept the Pulitzer prize. Five Associated Press (AP) photographers, Rodrigo Abd, Manu Brabo, Narciso Contreras, Khalil Hamra and Muhammed Muheisen have been awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography for their stunning work on the Syrian crisis, a news that was received by many Syrians with a mix of pride and gloom.
Pulitzer prizes have traditionally been given to journalists for their groundbreaking work on documenting issues that are out of sight and mind in the general public. By casting a light on their work, the Pulitzer prize had the ambition to fulfill the cardinal journalistic rule of informing. Yet, in Syria, the situation differs in that there is nothing but a lack of coverage on the Syrian crisis. The daily outpouring of images of crude violence had the adverse effect of alienating people, as they are made uncomfortable by the exercise of voyeurism they are forced into. By sheer exposition to these images, they become de facto spectators of a macabre spectacle they do not necessarily want to watch.
Of course, pictures of the Syrian crisis have invoked a wide range of other reactions in individuals: they instill anger in many of us and are the spur that drive many activists on. But it is undeniable that the overload of pictures has saturated minds. Pictures have turned into clichés and lost their initial powerful impact. Indeed, for two years of a long and bloody conflict, we have been gorged with extremely graphic pictures to the point that no sight can really shock us anymore. Mangled bodies, crushed bones, and convulsed faces: the anatomy of violence was exposed to us bare and naked on a daily basis. These pictures have had two opposite effects. They have either trivialized the sight of barbarity or, conversely, they have forced people to dodge it altogether. For it has become impossible to be continuously exposed to such degree of violence without loosing sanity.
What all of that footage has in common, though, is amateurism: collecting visual proofs of the exactions was prioritized over aesthetics. Quantity over quality was the motto of citizen-journalists who could not be bothered to think about the clarity of their footage in the middle of this protracted battle. And yet, this is exactly where the merit of the Pulitzer-awarded pictures lies: they reintroduced the importance of technicality, the fundamentality of light and lens adjustment to capture with mastery the cruel beauty of the Syrian crisis. It is the stunning technique of these pictures that have rendered the luster to the suffering of Syrians. But the true genius is not the simple showcase of photography techniques. Rather, it is the use of these techniques as an instrument to bring the focus back on emotions. Violence is still here, but it is blurred in the background, enabling the eye to see rather than simply watch the toll that this conflict is taking on the Syrian people. Through these snapshots, the AP pictures tell the gut-wrenching story of Syria. It is a story of pain and sorrow that is no longer possible to ignore. By turning mud into gold, these professional photographers have forced us to look straight into the eyes of Syrians again, and just for that reason, they fully deserve the Pulitzer Prize.
[To view the pictures, click here.]