Posts Tagged ‘Géricault’


Ann Marie wonders, in her very excellent post, The City,  whether anything even closely symmetrical or with bright colors appears artful in a photograph? Yesterday I wondered something similar when I saw this image in the New York Times

The image of these five Tanzanian women is attached to the usual kind of story you see filed out of Africa and published in the West: unbearably high number of innocent people suffering in ways most Americans can not imagine. Always in these stories you see some startling number, like:

“Fistulas are a scourge of the poor, affecting two million women and girls, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia — those who cannot get a Caesarean section or other medical help in time.”

But really, what struck me was not the number. What struck me was the beauty of the image. I imagine the photographer Béatrice de Géa and her editors at the Times selected this tableau of misery in order make the cold stats of the article visceral and real and immediate. But because the photograph is so seductive in color and composition, the women themselves, despite their condition and their pain, quite striking and beautiful, I had to wonder:

What if we were to walk into that room right then, at the instant this photograph was taken? I wonder if we would experience a much different reality. I wonder if the Times’ decision to aestheticize the image, to depict these women in an idealized state, obscures the truth. I wonder if, in this case, beauty is the worst kind of lie.

Which is nothing new, of course. When Géricault painted “Le Radeau de la Méduse” in 1819 or so…


depicting the wreckage of a French naval ship in which scores of sailors died, he was consciously calling attention to a recent tragedy, trying to make the story real and immediate. But when you look closely, perhaps after you register the futility of the sailors’ predicament, it’s hard not to notice the beauty of the composition. Even the corpses are beautifully posed. 

Géricault idealized the sailors’ suffering, made it beautiful.

But I wonder sometimes. I wonder at what cost that beauty is rendered.


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