Art is not the same as fake, or why the discussion about this picture is irrelevant
Yesterday, I shared this photo, together with a discussion of the ways in which this image should remind us of the ways in which we are called to act to fix the world. (http://goo.gl/dlpMQE
) Since then, I've gotten a huge flood of people upset to find out that this photo is a "fake," and feeling upset that they were taken in by it. +Catherine Maguire
's post on the subject (http://goo.gl/Naj5Az
) is a good example of that: she argues that we have a responsibility to check our sources and not be taken in.
I agree that in reporting news, we have a very strong obligation to check our sources. However, I don't think that's what happened here, and so I think that this argument, while correct for other situations, is actually not relevant.
The important thing is this: Nothing in the discussion of this picture has hinged on the fact that this particular boy was, in fact, actually a boy who was recently orphaned and was sleeping between the graves of his parents.
This image isn't "false" in the sense that it deceives us that such a thing is going on when it isn't, because this is
going on -- in Syria among others.
The response it creates within us, of shock, and horror, and outrage, isn't false either, nor is it misplaced. We aren't wasting our horror on something that wasn't real, because what al-Otaibi (the photographer) did was concentrate a powerful and significant truth about the world into a single picture. It wouldn't have an impact on us if it weren't
If this picture had been paired with suggestions that you should go do something to help this specific boy, right now, then that would have been false -- but that was never the point, was it?
Another argument I've seen a bit of is that it's wrong to use this to illustrate concern over Syria in particular, or over warfare, because that wasn't the artist's intent. In an interview, al-Otaibi said that his own purpose was to "show in pictures how the love of a child for his parents is irreplaceable." That's an excellent artistic intent; it's also not really relevant, because the whole point of art is that it communicates to the viewer (or listener, or reader, etc.) and creates a response in them, even if they have no idea who the artist is.
There's a famous (true) story about Isaac Asimov once attending a class which was discussing his work. After the class, Asimov went to the professor and told him that he had no idea what he (Asimov) had been talking about or trying to convey. The professor responded, "Just because you wrote it, what makes you think you know what it's about?"
This story became famous, in no small part, because it's one of the rare times that Asimov admitted that he was just plain wrong. (Rare by his own admission as well -- he was fond of recounting this story, and in fact wrote a short story inspired by it as well)
Al-Otaibi created an excellent photograph here; it's a work he should be proud of. It conveyed something powerful and deep about humanity, and in fact managed to convey more than one such something. The fact that our attention has been so drawn by the picture, and that we've felt powerful calls to action from seeing it, is a sign that it's good,
not that we've been cheated.
(Incidentally, I've updated my OP to add a credit for al-Otaibi's work, with an explanation of his own intention in it.)