When Budd Dwyer—former Treasurer of Pennsylvania found guilty of receiving kickbacks for influencing legislation and steering a multi-million dollar contract toward a private company—shot himself on camera, I was a senior in high school trying to decipher the insufferable Geoffrey Chaucer. Or maybe Beowulf. Word came down that some politician had offed himself in front of several cameras covering a live “press conference” in Harrisburg, PA and I was interested. It would be several years before I actually got to watch the footage of Dwyer urgently swallowing that piece of lead on the eve of his sentencing, but I remember thinking what wonderful composure that cameraman must have had to not even flinch when Budd did the deed.
Over the last couple of decades I’ve debated people and have read many articles on the ethics of photojournalism. In Dwyer’s case there was nothing anyone could do about his sudden surprise, despite the clearly-audible pleas to reconsider. But time and time again photographers and reporters have been criticised for not getting involved in that which they’re covering–especially when it comes to documenting atrocities. I know where I stand on that argument, and it doesn’t really matter what I believe as I’m not on any type of valiant mission to change minds or personal values, but one thing of which to take note is that the human being on the side of the lens documenting the inhumanity being perpetrated on the other side of the lens probably realizes that he/she is a much more effective conduit for eventual justice in the present position and will more than likely end up processing the situation in a personally detrimental manner, the effects of which may not affect him or her until much later.
The video above is severely edited; there are other sites which show the un-cut footage and the bloody aftermath of Dwyer’s suicide as people scramble to figure out how to deal with what they’ve just witnessed. It’s not a pretty sight, what happens as Budd collapses. The human body holds a lot of blood. But I think it unfair to believe that there was something someone could have done instead of keep shooting. Or, rather, I think it unfair to believe that this strangely public act didn’t severely affect the ones witnessing it or documenting it (never mind family and friends).
Everything around us rolls in degrees. Often it’s minute nuances which can alter events slightly but quickly spin them into major situations. There is always the oppressor, the victim, and the unseen detritus in its numerous incarnations and levels, that results directly from the disintegration or deterioration of the injustice being perpetrated.
They all matter.