I was driving to a friendâ??s house the other day when I entered the motorway and everything ground to a halt. We crawled along for a few miles and before long the source of the trouble became apparent.
A sporty looking saloon â?? it was impossible to tell what it was before the crash â?? had spun out, swiped a lorry and ended up half way through the barrier. The police, fire and ambulance service were all in attendance and there was a blur of fluorescent jackets swarming around the vehicles.
Without warning the carâ??s fuel tank exploded. I donâ??t mean that it caught fire and popped a bit; it actually exploded â?? fire ball and all. I had no idea that this could actually happen in real life. I thought exploding fuel tanks only happened in Hollywood. In my excitement I reached into the back seat, grabbed my camera, switched it on, raised it to my face and zoomed in. Then something odd happened. I started to squeeze the shutter release and as I did so, a flood of guilt washed through me and I froze. As if someone else was controlling me, I put the camera down on the passenger seat, leant back in my chair and let out a long sigh. I felt appalled with myself. Some poor fellow might have just been really badly hurt and my first thought was to get a good snap of the fray. Moments later the traffic moved on and we left the horrible mess behind us.
Iâ??ve thought about the crash a lot since then. It was one of those situations and one of those opportunities that (at least I hope) will never present its self again. Iâ??m certain that I missed out on taking an amazing photograph. I probably could have sold it, at least to the local papers, and I would have received lashings of praise from my photographer friends. Regardless though, Iâ??m sure I made the right decision. Sure, it could have been a great photo, but at what cost? All I could think while putting the camera down was what if it was me? How would I feel if someone else profited from my misfortune? I could never be proud of the photo; I would always feel a little ashamed.
Itâ??s not quite the same thing, but I have a friend who is a freelance celebrity photographer. Heâ??s one of those guys you see hanging over the railing at glitzy, red carpet events. In his view, the absolute best part of his job is when something goes wrong and he gets a good snap of the big name when it happens. Itâ??s these photos that heâ??s most proud of and itâ??s these photos that earn him the most money. In life away from work heâ??s one of the nicest people youâ??ll ever meet. Heâ??s kind, generous and a great guy to be around, which is why I canâ??t understand why he gets such a buzz from doing what he does. After all, isnâ??t it profiting from someone elseâ??s misfortune in its purest form?
There are times when it is prudent and even important for us to photograph â??bad thingsâ?. For instance, without the photographs and news reels of the two world wars, how would we know of the atrocities that occurred? Itâ??s also important that we keep seeing them. Not every day, but at least every now and then. Itâ??s imperative that we are reminded of these â??horrors of warâ??. Can you imagine what would happen if we forgot? Without the photos of starving children in third world countries we would be unaware of the constant struggle of hundreds of millions of fellow human beings. They would have no voice and there would be no way for us to know that they need our help. Itâ??s these photographs that remind us of how fortunate we really are and in doing so give us perspective on our own lives.
I donâ??t think the lessons we learn from seeing photos of car accidents are really on the same par. Sure, we are reminded of what happens if we donâ??t drive carefully, but then how many traffic accidents do you see in a year from simply driving about? That seems enough of a reminder to me. As for what we learn from seeing A-list celebrities tripping over at a movie premier â?? well Iâ??m stumped.
Perhaps Iâ??m making too big of a deal about all this? Maybe Iâ??m just going soft, but this type of thing really doesnâ??t sit well with me.
What do you think about this? If you had been in that traffic jam what would you have done? Would you have taken the photo or would it not have even crossed your mind? Perhaps you would react as I did, fully intending to take the shot but then finding that you couldnâ??t follow through? Is there a line that should be drawn or is everything fair game?