You Decide: Innocence or Murder?

Over the summer of 2009, at a loss of how to entertain a group of adolescent Ugandan orphans, intuitively, I pulled out my camera. An immediate hit, I shot nearly three-dozen photographs of these children. The cycle was unwavering: each child chose a pose, I snapped a photo, the child raced over to view his/ her image and then posed again.

Until happening upon these stored images on my computer, I admit that my first instinct in reading Sontag was to condemn her linkage of photography to murder as ridiculously outlandish— a theorist’s mere dramatic over exaggeration. In birthing these images, my intent was innocent: amusement. I believed that I was simply satisfying the children’s fervent lust for their own image.

And yet, this naïve outlook seems trodden and foolish when I view my instinctive act through the words of Sontag. It seems only too obvious that there is “something predatory in the act of taking a picture”(14) and that when I “shot” this child as a way to “master the situation” (10) I was, in fact, violating her. Incessantly, I stole a certain part of her, a part of her that she never will be able to possess for her own. While I may have satisfied her immediate desire (to see her image) when I showed the girl her pixelized self on the tiny digital screen, in taking that portable image with me, it seems that I am not the one who should be condemning. Am I the one who has committed the unlawful act—am I the murderer?

What do you think?

~Bailey Billups~

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