Not a Pretty Picture

Photojournalists can have an immense effect on our understanding of the world, particularly our understanding of injustice. Photos from Nazi concentration camps still have immense power decades later. The photo of naked Kim Phuc fleeing a napalm attack is burned into our collective memory. Images are not easy to escape.

This has the effect of being able to take events and practices from around the globe and make them immediate even to those of us who will never be directly effected by them. Stephanie Sinclair previously used this power to bring us the Warren Jeffs family in pictures and to put us in burn wards with Afghan women who set themselves on fire to escape untenable domestic situations (warning: graphic photos).

She has also been documenting child marriages around the world.

Before their wedding ceremony begins in rural Afghanistan, a 40-year-old man sits to be photographed with his 11-year-old bride. The girl tells the photographer that she is sad to be engaged because she had hoped to become a teacher. Her favorite class was Dari, the local language, before she had to leave her studies to get married.

She is one of the 51 million child brides around the world today. And it’s not just Muslims; it happens across many cultures and regions.

Photographer Stephanie Sinclair has traveled the world taking pictures, like the one of the Afghan couple, to document the phenomenon. Christiane Amanpour spoke with Sinclair about a book which features her photographs called, “Questions without Answers: The World in Pictures by the Photographers of VII.”

Amanpour asked Sinclair if the 11-year-old Afghan girl married in 2005, and others like her, consummate their marriages at such an early age. Sinclair says while many Afghans told her the men would wait until puberty, women pulled her aside to tell her that indeed the men do have sex with the prepubescent brides.

Nor does this only happen to girls. Girls are sold off to older men to pay their families debts in areas with large inequalities, but in areas where all are poor, children of both sexes are married off early. What else are they to do?

The “happy couple” in this detail from one of Sinclair’s photos are 16 and 14.

Of course, this raises some difficult questions about what we can do for these children. There are numerous problems adding to a world in which marriage is a business transaction or something you do because life isn’t offering you anything else. War, economic exploitation, economic inequality, religion, lack of infrastructure, extreme cultural relativism–these all play a part. And as Sinclair, who photographed the Jeffs, would probably remind you, we haven’t figured out how to solve the problem in our supposedly modern, enlightened societies.

But it is good that photojournalists like Sinclair are urging us to confront these uncomfortable realities, to see them if they don’t happen near us. After all, that is the very least we can do, isn’t it? Go look at her pictures, both on the article and on her website. Let that reality change your world.

Not a Pretty Picture
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2 thoughts on “Not a Pretty Picture

  1. Pen

    I don’t really have a comment, but I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others which discusses the ins and outs of this subject (e.g. photojournalism of painful and horrific subjects).

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