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Health


April 15, 2008

A creak, a snap. A howl, a sob. A rip, a sigh, a bang.

Often, we cannot choose the soundtrack to the deterioration of our bodies as we live and age.

Editing Guernica Magazine’s new five part documentary photography series on the theme Health was an ambiguous joy. When Vittorio Celotto proposed to us his “For a Lay Pain” series, the mixture of beauty and sadness in his images was enchanting and irresistible. It is a document of his grandmother’s final days. Then, her vacant bed.

Celotto’s photographs also strike at that fundamental, ethically murky core of photojournalism so well explored in American critic Susan Sontag’s “Regarding the Pain of Others.” The photos treat a painful topic but are a visual joy.

That same contrast of communicating suffering through a beautiful medium is relevant to Andrew Biraj’s “The Caged Dreams,” photographs of Cambodians who have had limbs taken by landmines. Limbs disappear as testament to a conflict whose side effects will not disappear.

Another remnant of war glistens seductively in Mark Seager’s images of oil pollution in Lebanon following war with Israel in the summer of 2006. The pictures of the Beirut high rises offered glimpses of people’s lives through the doll house effect, created by ripping away the buildings’ concrete facades. We saw pictures of bodies, pictures of blood. We saw pictures of evacuation by air, land and by a sea which would in parts be richly coated in black oil.

The oil, like bacteria and viruses, does not discriminate. It will kill what it can.

Miguel Ribeiro Fernandes’ images show a less well documented side to the indiscriminate killer HIV. His work from Portugal lets us meet atypical patients. It is perhaps worth pondering why a middle-aged white European heterosexual will shelter his face in a portrait, while pictures of the most intimate effects of the disease on sub-Saharan sufferers are taken for granted in our visually sated lives.

The health theme is not all about pain, however. It is also about healing. Through her work, Wendy Marijnissen gives us a glimpse at how theatre can facilitate communication, in this case among handicapped actors. Theatre becomes an equalizer, removing hindrances, underscoring beauty.

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