Susie Linfield
[Writer and critic, New York, lives in New York.]

 The ability of photographs to conjure deep emotion is one of their great strengths. But this power—precisely because it is divorced from narrative, political context, and analysis—is equally a danger. Ironically, the more searing an image… the more misleading it can be. 
 …images have become more extreme as political clarity has dissipated; this is, I think, no coincidence…. What happens to documentary photography—to the photography of witness—when it no longer has a politics it can support? 
 Every image of barbarism—of immiseration, humiliation, terror, extermination—embraces its opposite, though sometimes unknowingly. Every image of suffering says not only, “This is so,” but also, by implication: “This must stop.” 
 Photographs excel, more than any other form of either art or journalism, in offering an immediate, viscerally emotional connection to the world…. [We] turn to photographs… for a glimpse of what cruelty, or strangeness, or beauty, or agony, or love, or disease, or natural wonder, or artistic creation, or depraved violence, looks like. 
 Photography is a proxy for modern life and its discontents, which may explain some of the high expectations, bitter disappointments, and pure vitriol it has engendered. 
 On the Internet all photographs are equal: including doctored, manipulated, or constructed photographs, and those without any meaningful—or with entirely false—contexts. 
 The Abu Ghraib images—digital images, taken by amateurs—have strengthened, not undermined, the status of photographs as documents of the real. No written account of the tortures could have made such an impact. 
 Why are photographs so good at making us see cruelty? Partly, I think, because photographs bring home to us the reality of physical suffering with a literalness and an irrefutability that neither literature nor painting can claim. 
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