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ICONIC PHOTOGRAPHS, PUBLIC CULTURE, AND LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

October 15th, 2010

Chilean Miners and the Good Life

Posted by Hariman in economic optics

Sometimes a feel-good story does more than merely make you feel good.  Take, for example, the celebrations in Chile at the rescue of the miners who had been trapped underground for two months.  There is much to like in this story: dedicated, skilled rescuers, a government that capably managed help brought in from around the world, families and friends who maintained long vigils of support for those trapped below, and a perfect ending.  Just consider how much could have gone wrong, and you can begin the understand the elation of those who had been waiting for their loved ones’ safe return.

Chilean miner's relatives

Of the many photographs from the rescue, I thought this one captured the powerful emotional current running through the story.  The caption read, “Relatives of miner Dario Segovia react as watching Segovia on a TV screen during his rescue operation at the camp outside the San Jose mine near Copiapo, Chile, Wednesday Oct. 13, 2010.”  I’ll bet I know which one is the mother, but that doesn’t really matter.  They all are experiencing the incredible release that comes from seeing their beloved returned to life among them.  Biological functioning had never ceased, but life had been suspended–the life that comes from living together, having shared histories, habits, meals, journeys, arguments, laughs, successes, and failures–everything that makes up the richness of a common world bound by affection.

I like the photo because it captures not only the love that usually lies beneath the surface of ordinary life,  but also the messiness that is always there.  The photo itself is messy, with no sure center but for that odd black hat with the TV logo, and the scene itself is more so: people jumbled together amidst ID cards, jewelry, flags, cameras, both laughing and crying, being in the moment and photographing it–everything is happening at once.

The scene also can remind us what photography is about.  The people in the picture are caught between visual technologies: being photographed while watching TV that is being photographed.  Despite all the media apparatus, however, their emotions and their lives are media’s reason for being.  They deserve the help that was provided by the government, which came in part because they always had the leverage of the public media, and their being presented to us both continues and extends those webs of support.  We, in turn, in resonating to their joy, have the opportunity to live in a richer world, one we share with them and in which people can care, not only for loved ones but for strangers.

And speaking of a better world, the love evident in this photograph gives special emphasis to another dimension of the rescue.  It’s kind of a funny story, you might say.  As the New York Times reported, “Defying grim predictions about how they would fare after two months trapped underground, many of the Chilean miners came bounding out of their rescue capsule on Wednesday as pictures of energy and health.”  And how did that happen?  “The miners’ apparent robustness was testimony to the rescue diet threaded down to them through the tiny borehole that reached them on Aug. 22, but also to the way they organized themselves to keep their environment clean, find water and get exercise.  Another factor was the excellent medical care they received from Chilean doctors.”

In short, they had good food, a clean environment, a well-organized routine of work and other activity, and excellent medical care.  With that, you can live in a hole deep in the earth and come out looking fine.  And now look around you, right here on the surface.  How many people have those “advantages”?  For all the technical wizardry employed to lift the men to the surface, the key to their survival while entombed was to live exactly as one ought to live anywhere.  And so the story provides much more than a warm glow: it’s a story not of heroism, but of good sense, and it’s not a miracle, but what happens much of the time when people are organized so that they can have the basics needed for a good life.

I feel good for the miners, but I grieve for all those who still need to be rescued.

Photograph by Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press.

3 Responses to ' Chilean Miners and the Good Life '

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  1. ipo_ubuntu said,

    on October 16th, 2010 at 12:40 am

    “I feel good for the miners, but I grieve for all those who still need to be rescued.”

    Such as the 1,261 chinese miners who have died just in the first half of 2010

    http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2010/10/07/china-mine-bosses-safety.html

  2. Michael said,

    on October 18th, 2010 at 1:38 am

    Good commentary. What struck me, too, was the extent to which the Chilean flag, the chanting of ‘Chile, Chile’, and the Chilean national anthem appeared in scenes from the mine head. True, the government’s hand was there, but I suspect that these national icons appeared rather because they were the handiest way of expressing the sense of collective emotion at the mine head, emotion that in fact overflowed any nationalist, or religious, significance.

  3. Melissa said,

    on November 17th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    I really love this particular photo of this ecstatic family getting to see their loved family member rescued on Television. Each of their faces are so filled with love, happiness, joy, and a variety of emotions of just knowing that their loved one is still alive and well. It captures each family member’s raw reactions, their smiles, tears, hand gestures, etc. It really is remarkable that they are able to view minor Dario Segovia come up to surface safely on television, and just shows how much technology has improved our quality of life in many ways. Most of these guys wouldn’t have even been able to be rescued if it wasn’t for incredible technological devices such as the capsule that brought them up and delivered them food and supplies.
    I couldn’t even imagine the feelings that are running through each of these individuals after such a tragic event. I love the candidness and messiness of this photo and how if you were to ask the mother what she was feeling at that exact moment she saw her son rescued, she would probably say this photo sums up her emotions. The photo is colorful and vibrant and focuses on the faces of these Chilean people. They are wearing colorful clothing, with glowing facial expressions. The overall aesthetic is a feel good, happy moment and it really is an incredible story with a happy ending.

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