Friday, December 14 2012
I saw the top half of this picture in the Economist — in an obituary for Maria Santos Gorrostieta, who was killed in November. Ms. Gorrostieta was the mayor of Tiquicheo, a small town in Mexico, where she was targeted by the drug-traffic gangs that have taken over some parts of Mexico. In 2010, she was attacked — not for the first time — by men with assault rifles. Apparently, some people did not believe she was attacked, so in 2011 she wrote an open letter to her town, published in the local newspaper, including this and other photos. She also posted the photo to her own webpage.
The Economist crops the photo so that you only see the wound in her armpit — the editors instead simply describe the picture: “Clamped to her right abdomen was a colostomy bag as lurid as an open wound.” They are, of course, wrong: that is not a colostomy bag, but her appliance without a bag, so that her colostomy (part of her colon) is visible. The picture is lurid as an open wound because it does, more or less, show an open wound.
But wrong also to crop the photo. Whose tender sensibilities are they protecting? Ms. Santos, a doctor by training, wanted her photos and her injuries to be visible and public. The Economist denied her that dignity by refusing the publish the full photo. Most papers similarly cropped the photo: The Australian, The Times (UK), New York Post, El Universal shows only the top of her appliance. The Daily Mail shows Rihanna and Lady Gaga all but naked, but wouldn’t run the full picture of Ms. Gorrostieta. You can’t find any photos of Gorrostieta on most U.S. newspaper sites. (I found the photo on Huffington Post first, although some other blogs have also published it.)
This woman was incredibly brave — first for the risks she ran trying to run a clean town as mayor, second for using her pain and humiliation as a weapon against those who would intimidate her. The photo above is not sexual, not scandalous, not obscene or profane. It is simply honest and brutal and a powerful statement of one woman’s dignity and courage. Not running it — or running it cropped — is a disservice to her, and an abetting of the people she fought against.