Syria’s Torture Photos: Witness to Atrocity

Caesar thought, or at least hoped, that the photographs showing Syrian torture victims would lead to the toppling of Assad. But the Caesar photographs—like countless others, including that of little Alan Kurdi lying face-down on a Turkish beach—didn’t do that because they couldn’t. Photographs cannot overthrow dictators; photographs can only bolster a political awareness that already exists, even if only among a minority. “Photographs cannot create a moral position, but they can reinforce one—and can help build a nascent one,” Sontag wrote in On Photography. “What determines the possibility of being affected morally by photographs is the existence of a relevant political consciousness.” 

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