There is no shortage of reflection on the ability of the camera to shape our perception of reality, to "de-contextualize" what is in front of it, to make the mundane seem interesting, to render the ugly and profane strangely beautiful, and above all to distance the viewer morally from the thing depicted. "To suffer is one thing," Susan Sontag once noted, but "another thing is living with the photographed images of suffering, which does not necessarily strengthen the conscience and the ability to be compassionate. It can also corrupt them" (from On Photography, 1977, p.20).
As if to illustrate this, someone recently posted the photograph below at Flickr (I'm probably violating a copyright by reproducing it here) with the title "Sleeping Beauty of Foça". You can see the original HERE, along with several unfortunate reader comments.
As I happen to be living in Foça, this is a sight I see dozens of times every day: a potentially beautiful, but filthy, dirty cat sleeping . . . . in an open garbage dumpster.
Why is it sleeping there? Because it is a comfortable place to rest? Because that is where happy, well-fed cats go to wile away the afternoon?
Isn't it pretty to think so?
The cat is sleeping there because it is waiting -- waiting for someone to come along and throw in the next bag of food scraps, which will inevitably be mixed with coffee grounds, tea leaves, disposable diapers, and god knows what else. Garbage is the sole food source for cats like this one, and so it waits for the next rotten load. The food waste here isn't like that of, say, Notting Hill. Its journey to the dumpster doesn't pass through Whole Foods or some fashionable delicatessen. By the time it reaches these receptacles it seems unfit even for flies, but that is the starting point for cats like the one above -- and those below:
To see some other "Sleeping Beauties of Foça," take a look at the photos HERE (click on "slideshow").
Some of these dumpsters are unbelievably foul smelling. In some places the local people won't even go close enough to throw their trash into them, preferring instead to throw it at them, so it can accumulate on the ground, as seen below:
The dogs and cats, naturally, rip the bags open and scatter the contents in search of edible bits. The locals then blame them for making the mess in the first place, and so on.
Any rational person would see this as a sad state of affairs for which humans bear some responsibility, yet note the extent to which the comments posted in response to the Flickr photo are oblivious to the problem:
"Lovely picture." "Kittens everywhere!! How wonderful."
Yes, it is -- if you like seeing them bone thin, diseased, blind, and abandoned by mothers who cannot feed them. See, for example, the little slideshow at the bottom of this page.
I brought one of them home a few weeks ago. It was already well beyond food and medicine. All I could do is give it a clean, quiet place to die, and then wait. I didn't have to wait long. The experience was repeated two weeks later with another one. It was covered with flies when I found it, though it was still breathing. The smell was horrible, but I brought it home and let it die in peace.
Foça is "well known for its pretty cats," reads the caption under the Flickr photo. Yet there is not a single Veterinarian in the whole town.
What does that suggest about the condition of the "pretty cats" -- and about the prevailing attitudes of its nearly 14,000 human residents?