Musings on ‘Sight Unseen’

For nearly thirty minutes I searched key-words, names and and dates in google looking for the photo spread of Jonathan Taylor’s rescue. I needed to see this—to allow the visual to solidify the story in my head. I felt something akin to Jonathan’s youngest sister when she said she wanted to see the photos to find closure in the reality that her brother was indeed gone. There is something about the person, the single story, the beginning to end that kept me googling until I reached the part in the podcast that told me I would never see these images.

Lynsey Addario in the RadioLab podcast, Sight Unseen, mentioned the small pinch of retreat she had at not being able to publish the spread Time magazine had created with her roll of film— how the spread could have put the conversation of war and our country’s stake in it into greater perspective for our nation. We have been largely shielded from the actualities of warfare unlike our parents and grandparents visuals from Vietnam. The issue of permission, not so much copyright, was evident in this piece. Because of the military’s rules on media and its dissemination, Addario was forced to obtain permission from the next of kin before being able to proceed with its publication.

At this point in the story we see that copyright and permissions are not so cut and dry. The subject matter of the media creates an added barrier to the content. It adds the question, “should this be made available?” Roy Rosenzweig in his article, ‘Should Historical Scholarship be Free?’ makes the point of public good and even further, willingness. In the Taylor case it is hard to place such generalities as these photos were a graphic storyline of the rescue and subsequent death of their son, brother, and friend. Even through this, I thought this might be a litmus test for further discussions of contested material such as these photos in how they might be beneficial if access is open. I certainly understand the Taylor’s decision and their reasoning behind keeping the more graphic materials from public eye. Though I searched for the photos I knew that this was such a personal thing looking into someone’s death as I was.

Though the copyright of the photos is given to Addario, the rights of the family and the regulations of the military gave “licensing” to the family. Permission and copyright were split up in this way and the owner of the work was then tasked with gaining permission for its use from another party. Strange as it may be, this military rule was in great taste and consequently allowed a family to understand and be more fully parted because of that understanding. The public good that came from the published photo spread of fifteen photos was still especially poignant and when coupled with RadioLabs ‘Sight Unseen’ brings the emotion and connection, what I imagine Lynsey Addario wanted her photos to inspire in the first place.

-Lynn Robinson

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