Photo Captions

The Accident



The photograph shows an unfinished story - it was taken at a moment of chaos and shock. The full gravity of the accident has not registered to anyone on the scene: the injured, the medics, and the bystanders. Taken from a higher position, the photo is a gaze downwards onto an accident removed from the immediate surroundings of the photographer. There is a certain voyeurism attached to this disconnected observation from afar. The subjects are faceless: while we see a man being stretchered off, we do not know the extent of his injuries, and whether he ever recovered enough to walk again.

The open-endedness of the story contrasts with the emphasis on concreteness and irreversibility in the United Nations Photo archive’s other depictions of the ‘crippled.’ This is one of two photographs of New York City car accidents that are included on the archive’s website under the “disability” tag as part of the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons. Perhaps the photograph’s purpose was to show the various healthcare and emergency response infrastructures in different countries, but its inclusion ultimately creates a particular narrative about disability. This is how one becomes disabled - through acts of sudden, unexpected flashes of violence and misfortune. This is how the beginning of a disabled person’s story is often told: through the lens of tragedy that now dictates the rest of that narrative."

The image is part of a larger project that looks at a selection from the United Nations and World Health Organization’s vast archives of photographs, films, posters, and other visual sources disseminated to the general public for consumption, to help contextualize the postwar construction of “the disabled” as a distinct category in need of special global attention.


Wonik Son