For this exercise, I had to find a recent photograph in the public domain, that I consider to be controversial. After spending a bit of time thinking about recent news events, I remembered seeing a photograph that really made me question what was and wasn’t appropriate. The photograph that I am thinking about is this one, which shows two adults, both unconscious in the front seats of a car after overdosing on heroin. In the backseat of the car is a four year old boy, who is looking directly at the camera.
The photograph was released by the city of East Liverpool, USA on their Facebook page, in an attempt to raise awareness of a drug epidemic in the region. The photograph is controversial for a number of reasons however. Firstly, it invades the privacy of both the adults and the child. Secondly, it shames two people with mental health problems, which may negatively affect their chances at recovery. Thirdly, it increases the stigma attached to such mental health problems. And finally, there is also the issue of presumed guilt, with the adults not being given any opportunity to defend themselves or their actions.
The photograph was widely shared on social media, and quickly picked up by international news outlets. Interestingly, many of the news agencies that reported on this story, chose to hide the child’s face, although whether or not this really makes the image any less controversial, is debateable.
Whilst, I understand the decision of the police, mayor and local prosecutor to share the photograph, and I have limited sympathy for the adults involved, I have to question how effective it really is. Yes, it has raised awareness of a difficult issue and yes, it will probably make someone, somewhere, think twice before using drugs with a young child around. But will it do any more than that. Will it get drug addicts into rehab? Will it raise the necessary funding to address the drug epidemic in a practical way? Sadly, I suspect that this image will cause shock and outrage for a short time, but a few months later it will be forgotten, and the drug problem will continue unabated.