I’m happy this chapter is over. I also wonder how long it will be until I stop trying to check my incoming comments. Even though I deleted the bookmarks, I still catch myself looking for them several times a day. Why did I keep doing this for so long? There were always glimmers of hope and amazing moments. Every now and then, a photo essay would inspire a genuine meaningful exchange of ideas, where strangers would listen to, and even learn from, each other. One time a NASA astronaut contacted me to see if I could put her in touch with a long-lost friend she’d seen commenting on one of my articles.
But, as most people know, the majority of discourse in online comment sections is not inspirational. The best I could do as moderator some days was to keep the conversation from completely turning into a flaming cesspool. Last month, I was speaking to a friend, describing my long-held hope that things might someday improve, that every time a conversation in comments went really well, maybe it signaled a turning point—that from then on, things would get better. As soon as I said that aloud, I realized that it sounded as if I had been living in a long-term abusive relationship.
Farewell, comments section. There are a handful of voices I will miss, but, on balance, the comments always had more of a negative impact than a positive one. For those who still plumb their depths, I’ve collected some thoughts, observations, and frequently posted comments from a decade of being a comment-section gatekeeper.
One question I’ve thought long and hard about often comes up when I post images of injured or dead people involved in disasters, accidents, or attacks: “How can you show that? What if that was your family member in that photo?” If you read the thought process of Jeff Bauman, the Boston bombing victim famously photographed after being horrifically injured, I think I agree with the conclusions he reached. While the situation was horrific, the photographer was doing his job: “He was showing the world the truth—that bombs tear flesh and smash bones—and making the tragedy real.” No serious photojournalist or photo editor takes their job lightly when it comes to making or publishing sensitive images like that.
Another common question: “Why no photos of [insert commenter’s favorite thing, missing from essay]?” The act of editing is one of abbreviation, of cutting, of being selective. Many photos fall to the cutting-room floor. Many photos just are not available to me through our licensed sources, or any other avenue. (I apologize in advance for the next time I post a photo essay about Animals on the Playing Field, and leave out that one hilarious raccoon.)
And, finally: “Why are these collections so focused on the United States?” I’m limited by the photos available to me either through agencies we have contracts with (Associated Press, Reuters, and Getty/AFP), or that are freely available, such as U.S. government works, NASA photos, and the Library of Congress archives. In all, most of my sources are largely based in the United States, and that may be reflected in my photo essays, especially ones focused on historic images.