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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Language, Photography, Cinema, and Gaze

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to revisit the idea that "photography is a language" which it is not. I thought about it some more.

Cinema is a language. At the very least, the way movies are usually made is to assemble the pieces according to a fairly well defined, teachable, system that is very linguistic in character even if it perhaps falls short of some specific definition of "language." The linguistic part isn't the part with the camera, though, it's the part that comes afterwards where the output of the camera is cut together into a movie.

A clip of an actor speaking a line of dialog enjoys much of the same ambiguity a still photograph does. The clip spans time, giving you a taste of before/after in ways that a still does not, but it is nevertheless free floating. Cut that clip together with another actor speaking a response, and make sure the faces are looking in opposite directions, and that eye-lines match, and so on, and abruptly the meaning of the clip is much more nailed down. The character is in conversation with the other character. Continue in the same way for long enough, and you have a movie in which a story is told, relationships are revealed, and so on. Much of that meaning can be imposed after shooting is completed. In extreme cases all the meaning is imposed in the edit.

When we speak of cinema, we speak of these completed objects. These are finished statements, written in a language, which nail down by the use of that language much of the meaning we might make of the film. This is the point of the language of cinema editing. This is why a language has been devised to do this work: because film makers want to nail down the meaning, they want to say coherent, specific, unambiguous things. He said this to her, she shot him in the forehead, and then left through the glass doors, feeling upset and angry. Not everything is nailed down, of course, nothing ever is. But the point is that there is much that is nailed down.

We tend to think of a photograph at least mostly as if it were outside of any context, as free floating. We treat photographs in roughly the way we would think about a single clip of film, before it is edited into a movie.

This is important: It is tempting to apply theory and ideas from cinema to photographs, because they are in some sense the same medium. This is invariably a very bad idea. Film theory applies almost exclusively to the finished product. It is a theory about objects which are linguistic in character, about objects that say things intended by an author (pace Barthes.) Film theory is, if anything, about the ways authors can say things with film, about the ways they cannot say things, about the ways the things the film says are or are not what the author intended.

Photographs are not like that. They are non-linguistic, and most of the meaning we make of a photograph does not arise from the author's intention but rather from what we imagine the author's intentions to have been. There are signs and symbols in a photograph, but for the most part these are not organized into a sentence-like structure which carries meaning. The signs and symbols in a photograph simply are, radiating their ambiguous meanings. The distinction here is something like the difference between literary criticism and etymology.

You can, of course, edit photographs in a way that is analogous to the way we edit movies. This is referred to in modern parlance as "sequencing" and there is no coherent, teachable, school of how that should be done. Advice on sequencing invariably comes out to "print them all out and stick them up where you can look at them. Then shuffle them around until you want to die." You know you're done when you know you're done, objective criteria, or even shared criteria, for done-ness would be considered gauche and a violation of the artist's true expression. You can, of course, apply cinematic methods and produce a sort of stupid "movie" but mostly this isn't what you do. Sequencing, anyway, is largely an art-school affectation with 1000 different flavors, and is thoroughly divorced from photography as a cultural force, as a cultural phenomenon.

The idea of male gaze comes out of the theory of cinema. It is the notion that women and men are commonly presented differently in movies. The women are victims, passive, sexually available, and so on. The men are active, heroic, and so on. You observe these things at the level of "text" in a movie. You can "close read" by counting lines of dialog, you can measure screen time, and so on. You can look narrative structures, etcetera and so forth. You can probably re-task all the techniques of literary analysis to a movie to demonstrate this point, and you discover something real. "Male gaze" is an actual thing in movies.

You cannot meaningfully apply these methods to a photograph, or really even a grouping of photographs.

Re-tasking "gaze" to still photographs is essentially nonsensical. It's like applying differential calculus to dogs. This is why we've ended up with a theory of photographic gaze that is impossible to explain, you can "just see it" and if you can't you "need to do the reading," except that it invariably is just a proxy for the identity of the photographer and how much the critic likes them.

It is notable that Mulvey's original formulation of "male gaze" makes it clear that women can and often do make movies in which "male gaze" is a phenomenon. "Gaze" in Mulvey's formulation, is a well-defined property of a movie, which exists independent of the identity of whoever made the movie. You can basically fill out a spreadsheet for a movie and see how much "male gaze" is in it. You cannot say any of this for the corresponding photographic concept, because the latter is a mess, and it's a mess because "gaze" is an attempt to apply a quasi-literary concept to a medium that isn't even linguistic, let alone literary.

In general, any attempt to apply cinematic theory to still photographs is as doomed as an effort to apply literary criticism to etymological problems, and for exactly the same reasons.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Something To Look At

Let's take a look at this photo.

We see a man, older and running to fat. He's running his hand through his own hair, which appears greasy and unfashionably long. He is ill-shaven, and has bad skin, whether from age or from injury is unclear. His hair is grey, his ears have the characteristic enlargement of an old man's, the backs of his hands are a forest of hair. Indeed, this is a very very hairy dude, his ears are hairy, his hands are hairy, and it seems likely that someone's making him maintain his eyebrows and use a nose-hair trimmer, even if they can't get him to groom anything else.

His eyes are closed, his head leans toward the hand, as if for support. His lips appear pursed, perhaps vaguely suggestive of some inner turmoil, but see below. Behind him, some kind of signage which, despite being legible, seems to have been expertly cropped to prevent us guessing at any of the words.

His clothing, insofar as we can see it, is as they say a study in contrasts. The neckline suggests a T-shirt, and there's something of a profusion of collars going on. Over whatever that is, he is clearly wearing some more dressy jacket sporting 4 decorative buttons at the cuff. The sleeve of a shirt protrudes from the jacket cuff. Is he wearing a long sleeved T-shirt? The jacket itself, while clearly leaning toward dressy (buttons) seems also a trifle frayed. The apparent fraying is probably emphasized, if not entirely created, by the strong, harsh, lighting. On the clothes, see below.

The lighting is harsh, somewhat low, and very directional. This feels like headlights, or a simulation of headlights. I don't see any twinning of shadows, so possibly it's just an unmodified flash held low and to the photographer's left. The effect, though, is very harsh, revealing to the point of a kind of nakedness. This is very much a WeeGee vibe.

I think we can comfortably read this as a tired man, perhaps even a beaten man, pinned down under harsh light, revealed and trapped in a moment of weakness. He seems to be neither embracing the camera nor rejecting it, but oblivious to it. The camera feels quite close, though, so the sense we get is not that the subject hasn't noticed, but rather that he doesn't care. Possibly, he is acting as-if he doesn't care, an interpretation which suggests that the act might extend further.

The subject is Steve Bannon, photographed after having been found guilty of lying to Congress. He was photographed by Mark Peterson, who also shot a photo of some cops that I talked about.

Bannon's lips are in fact simply very thin (or possibly he keeps them always pursed) so any impression from the set of his lips is probably a chimera. The chaos of collars and jacket is standard Bannon fare, he is known for wearing at least three shirts at all time. Further, the ill-shaven face is another Bannon tic, something like Boris Johnson's perma-rumpled hair — most likely some dumb but successful attempt to appeal to Regular Guys (Bannon, like all these assholes, is a multi-millionaire.)

What does not appear, at least to my eye, is any judgement on the man.

I am in judgement of Steve Bannon, who I consider to be a worm, and a very bad person. I am glad he was convicted of something, although I think that lying to Congress ought to be mandatory rather than illegal. I mean, seriously, what a bunch of doltish scoundrels. Why would anyone sully the truth by uttering it in those chambers? But anyways, Bannon guilty yay I guess.

If you're a Bannon fan, though, I think you might find much to sympathize with here. This is an intimate photo of a man who's taken a pretty severe blow. There's something of a boxing photo in here, I think, and this is, somehow, the fighter who got the worst of the bout. However, to acknowledge and to reveal the loss is not to judge. There is a strong flavor of pathos here.

If we imagine he might be acting, as noted above, it becomes reasonable to speculate that he's playing to his fans, milking them for sympathy with a routine of discouragement. The pose is, indeed, reminiscent of a drama queen with the back of her hand to her forehead, gasping about her vapors for sympathy. It's not at all clear that this is what's going on, and in fact I am fairly convinced of the genuineness of Bannon's emotions here.

I am glad he lost, and I take genuine pleasure in the loss revealed by this picture. That pleasure, and the source of that pleasure, is in me. I dare say many of my readers will also take the same pleasure, for the same reasons, but I defy you to find the judgement you feel anywhere in the blobs of tone which make up this picture.

You are judging, not the picture.

Saturday, July 23, 2022


I'm on holiday for a little bit and my well has temporarily (I assume) run a bit dry. I'll at least take a close look at a recent photo by Mark Peterson (he of the Triumph of the Will/NYPD at Rockefeller Plaza a few months ago) which should be fun. When I stop holidaying.

I also have had an idea for a new set of photos, with which I will be torturing you shortly, I think. Be well, try not to die.

Friday, July 8, 2022

View Camera Howler, James Curtis

Ooops, I forgot a diagram earlier. The remarks on house layout below should make more sense now.

I am, for reasons, re-reading James Curtis' book Mind's Eye, Mind's Truth in which Curtis says a remarkable amount of unsupported stuff about Walker Evans, and ran across this gem regarding a photo which appears in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men of an interior shot of the Gudger (Burroughs) house:

He [Evans] began by taking some 35mm. shots from the from the kitchen doorway, looking into the room, but soon discovered that from this point of view he would have a difficult time controlling the light with his view camera. He solved the problem by using the special technical features of his equipment. He set up his tripod in the doorway directly opposite the kitchen door. From that vantage point, he could record the washstand on the outside kitchen wall, and the interior of the kitchen itself. By sliding the front of his camera sideways, he could look directly into the kitchen without having the kitchen window in his picture. In short, he moved the entire scene off center to avoid inclusion of an unwanted light source in his photograph.

At this point we're a little bit "huh?" so let's look at the picture now:

I have to admit I am not seeing any obvious front-standard movements here, it's just a camera placed in a doorway (you can see the doorframe of the near doorway as a white vertical plank on the left edge) looking across a hall through another doorway. You can see that there is a window in the other room, probably about on the right edge of the frame, concealed behind a clapboard wall.

A front-standard slide could have provided this view with the clapboard and so on all squared up, by pointing the camera directly across the breezeway for squareness, and then sliding, but Evans has not done that here, none of the boards are square to the frame.

This is just a guy standing in the right spot with a camera.

Curtis goes on. At this point it should be noted that James Agee, who described this house, does in fact place the doorway Evans is standing in directly opposite the kitchen doorway.

... Evans's manipulations distort the architectural design of the Burroughs house. On several occasions, Agee commented on the placement of doorways, noting that those opening onto the breezeway were located opposite one another.

But Curtis is just wrong here, and Agee is too. A view camera movement cannot make two doorways directly aligned appear misaligned in this way, it's simply not a thing. The doorways are not aligned.

A closer reading of the text Agee wrote would have in fact thrown this claim of alignment into question anyways, Agee's description of the layout of the house is inconsistent, and if you're attentive to his placement of the doors as he describes each room you see quickly that they cannot in fact be opposite one another. Each is more or less centered in its wall, but one wall is 12 feet or so long and the other more like 7 feet.

The actual layout of the house is something like this, with two 12x12 foot bedrooms on the left side of the hallway/breezeway (it is open to the world at both ends), a 12x12 storeroom on the right with a 12x7 (or thereabouts, Agee says it's "about half the size") attached behind the storeroom. Evans is standing more or less at the red dot, and he had his camera pointed this. The offending window is at the blue dot.

This layout and the misalignment of the doors is confirmed by various other photos which I think Curtis had access to. He refers often to a catalog that allegedly contains all the FSA photos by Evans. The modern online catalog might, however, be more complete, I have not examined the book Curtis cites. See this rear view of the house, though:

We can see the breezeway, and a doorway under the shed-roof over the end of the breezeway. This is the doorway Evans set his camera in, and you can see that it's pretty close to lined up with the rear wall of the kitchen (the smaller room). You can see a pail on the washstand which is against the kitchen wall in the breezeway. Wherever the kitchen door is, it cannot directly face the bedroom door, because that latter directly faces the washstand.

In any case, the idea that somehow Evans distorted the house layout with camera movements is simply bonkers.

(I think? I mean, can you think of some way the two doorways actually could be squarely facing one another, and yet that picture be produced with creative camera movement?)

Curtis seems to me, for this and other reasons, to have been thoroughly unqualified to perform the kinds of detailed analysis his book is based on. Which is kind of sad.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Off Topic: On Politics

I don't think I'm going to be able to work in a connection to photography here, this is just a mass of material I've been thinking about for a long time, all brought to a head by a recent Supreme Court decision here in the USA, and the reaction to it. But this essay isn't really about that either, it's about politics considered more broadly. I'm going to write in a tone that suggests everything I say is factual, but you should treat it all cum grano salis and keep in mind that, really, it's all just opinions and speculations.

The USA has two political parties, essentially. My observations and experiences with them, as well as a fair bit of reading, over the years have brought me around to a pretty specific conclusion about political parties in general. They are complex bureaucratic apparatuses which are almost entirely concerned with their own operation.

What I mean is that Democrats spend essentially 100% of their time on Being Party Members, and almost nothing on anything else. I'm sure they make sandwiches and play with their children and so on, but their professional lives are concerned exclusively with serving and operating the machine of the Democratic Party. Ditto, I think, Republicans and Conservatives, Liberals, Labour, and so on. In hindsight, I think this is inevitable. If the effort of "getting on" in the party is ever less than 100% of what a normal human can do, the party will evolve new procedures, subcommittees, forms, and caucuses, to consume the excess energy.

The result of this is that essentially all the "statecraft" (by which I mean, roughly, the cunning shenanigans part of "getting on" in any sort of bureaucratic apparatus) is consumed internally. The main difference between Democrats and Republicans is that the latter seem to save a little for actual governing, which is why they come out ahead disproportionately often in matters of actually operating a nation, despite their slight disadvantage at the polls.

It isn't that the Democrats are lazy, or polite, or stupid. It's that they're busy. They'd love to get up to some procedural shenanigans to accrue power in the government apparatus, but they're too busy running procedural shenanigans to accrue power in the Democratic Party to really get around to it.

Set this theory of bureaucratic apparatus aside for now. I can recommend Systemantics if you're interested in where these things come from, but to my eye this is kind of what Flusser was talking about as well, and certainly Orwell, Huxley, and Conrad spend a lot of effort on this sort of thinking.

The other branch of my thinking is this: we don't, functionally, have much in the way of free will. Even if we stipulate that the universe is not a great clockwork, with all outcomes predetermined, even if we stipulate that which we feel: that we have the capacity for free will, we don't functionally have much free will.

Almost everything that we say, think, believe, or do, is predetermined by our social situation, out context, our lives up to this moment. We believe, mainly, pretty much whatever our friends believe. This is in part because we become friends with like-minded people, and in part because we steal our ideas from our friends. It's a symbiotic, feedback, kinda deal. But that doesn't make it less true.

The AIs that write text are not so very different from us. They're just predicting the next most-likely word based on whatever the situation is. That's pretty much what we do, most of the time. Original thinking, original ideas, original acts, are insanely rare and very difficult. In the light of the recent Supreme Court decision, the social media out-roar, the street protests, the whole routine, is 100% predictable. Almost literally nobody is doing anything beyond acting out their predetermined role in response to an event which we've known in broad strokes was coming for years, and have known in detail was coming for weeks.

We are all of us, almost all the time, just dopey robots enacting our predetermined role as set by the social structures that surround and encapsulate us.

If we ruthlessly mash these two ideas together, what do we get?

Politicians and other party apparatchiks are people too. They are also more or less mindless drones acting out appointed roles, within a bureaucratic apparatus that is almost exclusively concerned with its own internal operations. Unlike, say, a corporation, a political party has essentially no constraints on bureaucratic excess, it is essentially a pure bureaucracy that does nothing except operate and expand itself.

I think it's useful to consider that what appears to be ideology, what appears to be a political posture vis-a-vis actual governing, is in fact at best a secondary set of stuff. A political party needs, as part of its bureaucratic operations, some sort of "policy ideas" but what those ideas are is largely irrelevant. So the party that is notionally more conservative tends to be tough on crime, anti-immigration, and so on these days, but those policy ideas are pretty much just drawn out of a hat and are subject to change. When they change, of course, nobody will remember that it was ever any other way, see Orwell. This is part and parcel of the bureaucratic machine.

It is a mistake to think that Priti Patel hates immigrants. Priti Patel is fully occupied with her role as a party apparatchik, Priti Patel doesn't think about immigrants at all. She has no opinion, and isn't interested. She enacts the bureaucracy's notional goals with respect to immigrants which are (checks notes) "we're against them" because she is a party apparatchik, and a very successful one at that.

While it's certainly possible that Priti Patel hates immigrants, is greedy and mean, and craves power, that is not what drives her policy moves. She is enacting her predetermined role within the bureaucracy, and at the moment that role is to oppose immigration.

A party's platform is essentially the same as the set of beliefs you and your friends share, and for pretty much the same reason. It's an incoherent set of ideas that have emerged from the collective mindset of the social group. It isn't based on anything, there is no rational argument for any of it, and it's remarkably fluid. A party needs a set of things to "be about" because the bureaucracy demands that there be sound bites and white papers come election time, but the party isn't actually about anything except itself.

This is why the Democrats are not going to abolish the filibuster and pack the Supreme Court and pass a law codifying abortion rights. It's because they don't care. Not because they're evil, or stupid, or notably incompetent, but because they're much too busy being Democrats. You can't get into the House of Representatives (the easiest win in US national politics) unless you've already committed yourself fully to being a party apparatchik. The bureaucracy of the party will, generally, prevent any mavericks from winning, so it's all apparatchiks all the way down. They will hew to the party line when speaking in public, but their actual job is being a Democrat (or a Republican) and in the USA that means their actual job is in fact fundraising for their next election.

These bureaucracies, in the USA, run on fundraising. They are, to first order and I think second and third as well, fundraising machines. As an elected official your job is to raise money to pay the consultants and staff which will labor ceaselessly to ensure your already-assured election (but if you don't pay them, the party won't endorse you, and the endorsed candidate will win the safe seat — for the British readers, the US system is essentially all pocket boroughs in a uniquely US style.) The goal of every bureaucracy is, when you peel away the bullshit, to expand itself, and in general that translates seamlessly to enlarging its own budget.

I am all but certain that the mechanics of fundraising are accompanied by myriad similar bureaucratic devices that must be successfully operated in order to maintain position in the system. I don't know what they are, but I do know how bureaucracies work.

For whatever reasons, it does appear that the conservative parties in Western Liberal Democracies seem to be saving up a little bit of their juice to actually effect change in the nations the aspire to rule. Perhaps it's as simple as being in a Western Liberal Democracy. Perhaps being perceived as the underdog constrains their bureaucratic excess slightly, in the same way the profit motive constrains a corporation. They feel it necessary, somehow, to save some energy to actually push forward on whatever random collection of items they're currently using as their "policy objectives." I don't really understand it.

The impotence of what appears to be the ideologically dominant parties, though, is obvious. They're entirely focused on their internal affairs, and simply can't be bothered to govern. That's what we have the government bureaucracy for, after all. (see: "Yes, Minister")

Be all this as it may, or may not, be, media certainly shows up in here somewhere. One of the operations of the party bureaucracies is the production of media, ostensibly to inform and/or shape the unwashed. For the most part, in the USA, the aim is less to inform and more to fundraise.

Photography probably shows up in here somewhere, but I told you from the outset that I was extremely unlikely to draw that line, and I'm not going to even attempt it here.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Art and AI

Everyone's excited about DALL-E and its variants, and now we have some boob at google claiming some chatbot is sentient, possibly because he likes to see his name in the press.

I was asked what I thought about art and AI in this context.

Start from here: our ignorance of what sentience or consciousness actually is, is complete. We have literally no idea, not the smallest fragment of an idea, not a sketch of an idea, of how these things work. Everything I've seen, and I do pay attention to the area, is either a) deeply stupid b) deeply trivial or c) observations made from the point of view of a possessor of a consciousness. The third one can be mildly interesting (starting from cogito ergo sum and proceeding, well, essentially to moderate elaborations of cogito ergo sum.)

Given that we don't actually know anything about consciousness, it's theoretically possible that a can of paint is conscious. How would we know it's not? Well, we can make some guesses.

The important elaboration on cogito ergo sum is the idea that a consciousness introspects. We contain within our mind a model of our own mind, which itself contains, etc, with (one assumes) simplifications are every level of re-modeling. My mind is complex, and contains a simplified model of itself, which in turn contains an even more simplified model, and so on until after 2 or 3 steps we have a blob labelled "mind" and that's about it. This implies certain things we can guess about what a sentient AI might look like.

In particular, it has to be able to "think about" AIs, specifically, itself.

DALL-E doesn't "think" about AIs, it "thinks" about visual 2D representations of things. GPT-3 doesn't "think" about neural networks which, like itself, model language. Insofar as GPT-3 cogitates about anything it cogitates about language. I cannot see anywhere in a can of paint where it might reasonably contain a model, simplified or not, of a can of paint. I conclude, therefore, that none of these things are likely to be sentient in any sensible definition of the word.

What AI research has taught us over the years is that you can get really really far without a shred of introspection.

The way you and I understand language is pretty specific. We map the symbols (whether sounds or letters or whatever) into some sort of conceptual thingies, which apply to a model of the world we contain in our minds. That world, importantly, contains a model of ourself, as well as models of other people who resemble us both physically and mentally. We make sense of language like "Susan is happy" by imagining a Susan and imagining her mental state and we imagine reacting to that mental state, and so on.

See also photography.

Given this complexity and nuance, you'd think that maybe you cannot meaningfully understand language without sentience, and therefore you cannot translate English to German without sentience.

This turns out to be, to a degree, false. You can indeed produce a fair translation (not a good one, but ok) without anything that remotely looks like sentience. Indeed, modern methods make no attempt to map the input language to some sort of internal world-model, although in times past that was very much the approach. Modern approaches just mimic known-correct translations as word-masses mapped to other word-masses, with fanatical depth.

DALL-E demonstrates that you can actually get a really long way toward making Art without a shred of sentience, without that introspective modeling part.

So are GPT-3 and DALL-E and all the result just second-rate simulations of some things humans do in a completely different way? Well, that's debatable. It's possible that most of our life is carried out with similar kinds of dunderheaded "computation" that's just fancy pattern matching paired with insect-like responses. The AIs might be completely different, but maybe they're actually working pretty much like the internal autopilots that operate so much of our day-to-day living.

What they're not doing is introspecting. They do not have a "self" to bring to the table.

So the burning question for Art is, does this even matter?

Of course we'd like to pretend that it is our very soul that infuses our work. Our own self, our essence, shines through, our creativity is rooted in that introspection. No Self, No Art!!

I dunno, I kind of think that's right. What's definitely true is that we're on the cusp of finding out.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Photos of The Dead

In the wake of Uvalde, we're seeing journalist after journalist grinding out some think piece about whether or not We The Public should see photos of shot-up dead kids. They all cover the same ground "ethically so complex" and they all make the same remarks "sometimes a photo or photos seems to produce some kind of action, and yet, other times not so much. What a mystery!"

Notably, at least to me, none of them seem to cite Sontag's Regarding the Pain Of Others which you'd think would be required reading here, even though it doesn't actually make any more sense of the issue than the current think pieces.

It is clear that this is something journalists have latched on to this week as an easy way to produce some clickable content. Even the content mills have gotten into the game, and boy, does it produce engagement. It's all gun-control engagement, indistinguishable from BBS fights from 1985, but it probably sells ads the same. Anyway, let's dig into it a bit.

In broad strokes much of the underlying discussion is "does repeated exposure to photos induce numbness, or action?" and the answer is not actually "what a mystery!" but "yes to both, and it depends on the circumstances."

All photos produce an attenuated sense of presence. Pornography produces an attenuated sense that you're in the presence of hot people fucking, photos of a shot-up child's body produce an attenuated sense of being there, of looking at the body. That's how photos work, that's what photos do (I claim.) Consequently, we can ask not what exposure to photos do, but rather what exposure to the real thing does.

We pretty much know what the experience of being around a lot of shot-up corpses is like. We have lots of soldiers and ex-soldiers around. The answer is that it's shocking at first, and becomes while not normal, at any rate in some sense not surprising. It never becomes fun, or positive. I do not think normal soldiers ever entirely suppress their reaction. The body adapts, though, the shock wears off, and it becomes merely exhausting, it becomes long-term trauma of some kind.

It's not fair to describe it as normalized, it's not fair to say one becomes uncaring. It remains abnormal, it remains something to care about.

The emotional reaction remains, I think. The reaction becomes less violent, more internal, more quiet. That might be "numb" I suppose, but "numb" seems too-simple a word for the effect.

In the same way, pornography ceases to be surprising, ceases to be shocking. As a rule, though, it does not stop being arousing. The surprise, the "holy shit am I actually seeing this?" vanishes, and it becomes (again) not exactly normal, but also not surprising. We don't expect pornography to be present during majority of our lives, while we're eating lunch, brushing our teeth, etc. It's not "normal" in that sense. And yet, in those times when pornography might reasonably be expected to heave into view, we're in no way taken aback. We are, if things are working right, aroused.

Photos of violence, and of the results of violence, are shocking when we see them at first. We're appalled, we rend our clothing, we weep.

If we were exposed to them routinely, we would likely cease to react as vigorously. We would feel less intensely. Presumably, though, we would continue to feel sorrow, regret, worry, fear, anguish.

Our sense of the world would likely shift, we would likely internalize more viscerally a sense of the world as a profoundly violent place. We know this already, but here in the West, we often know it more or less intellectually rather than viscerally. We would collectively, I suspect, develop a more somatic sense of the violence of the world.

A regular diet of shooting victim photos would leave us routinely, viscerally, sorrowful and anguished about this victim or that, in a world we understand more deeply, viscerally, as a violent place. We would be, I suppose, sadder and more afraid.

Will our newly visceral sympathy and fear change our attitudes? Will the pro-gun people see this as proof that everyone needs a gun for defense in this dangerous world? Will anti-gun people see this as proof that we need to ban guns, especially the black ones? Fear makes people hunker down and hold harder to their ideas, while empathy has a chance to shift them to a new idea.

If we want changed attitudes, I submit that we should aim for sympathy, for empathy, for love; we should shy away from fear. I don't know how to do that. I don't know what photos would produce more empathy and less fear.

Would any of this translate into action? And if so, which actions?

As noted in my previous remarks, nothing happens until the circumstances of the real world open a path to action. Until there is something concrete that we can collectively do which will actually affect the real world, all the gruesome photos in the world won't change a thing except our emotional state. We cannot really predict what the actions that actually occur will be, or what results those actions will produce.

Will we vote for more cops, leading to a hiring frenzy, resulting in hiring of terrible barrel-bottom losers as cops, producing more violence?

Will we protest for and then pass gun-control legislation? If so, will that legislation have any effect?

I have argued in the past that the American gun-violence problem is rooted in American tradition. This doesn't mean that banning AR-15s or whatever wouldn't have an effect, I simply have no idea. I do think I know where the root cause is, and it's inside us. To truly repair the gun violence problem, I believe we have to change the psyche of the nation, to shift it away from the idea that guns are a great solution to a broad class of problems.

I don't know how to do that. I am not convinced that publishing photos dead kids is going to do it, though, and I am having trouble imagining a path where is even might.

I see how a steady diet of such photographs would shape the national psyche, but I can only trace the path as far as "viscerally: more anguish and sorrow, together with more fear" which does not strike me as pointing to "guns are a bad tool for most problems."

I don't have the answers, I'm just trying to get a little further down the road of understanding, perhaps a few steps closer to the country of answers. Wiser heads than mine, perhaps...