The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence
Chicago University Press 2010

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Candace Scharsu in Cruel Radiance

"And look at Candace Scharsu’s photographs from the Murray Town Amputee Camp in Freetown, Sierra Leone: a little village of old and young, male and female. We see a crying baby whose arm has been hacked off and an obese woman, hand on head, whose two legs have been severed at the knees. There is a handsome barber named Mohammed Bah, whose good arm—his working arm—was flayed and amputated just below the shoulder. But Bah, Scharsu tells us, is an entrepreneurial man: he has set up a new shop in the camp, and is intent on relearning his trade (he uses his stump to hold a towel). There is a ten-year-old Ibrahim, who rests his head on his mangled arms as he looks out at us; rebels poured gasoline on his hands and set them afire, then raped and killed his mother and slit his father’s throat. There is Issa Sessay, a seven-year-old who was abducted by the RUF when he was four. He is photographed in profile, and he is quite handsome, except for the pustule-like scars on his face and mouth: held down to a fire when he refused to fight, his cheek and lips melted together. Issa’s hand was also destroyed—now it is a useless claw—and he doesn’t want it photographed."


"And here, through Scharsu’s lens, is Memuna once more. She wears a pretty flowered dress with a lace border; her smile, this time, is truly impish, and she firmly rests her good hand on the sturdy thigh of her father, who sits just behind her. He is a strong-looking man with high cheekbones and a slight mustache; he faces the camera straight on, albeit with a rueful look. His right ear has been chopped off, and his right arm, like hers, is a stump." 1

"At the same time child soldiers are the victims of these same crimes, with young girls in particular used as sex slaves who are subjected to rape, gang rape, sexual mutilation, and coerced childbirth. Candace Scharsu photographed one such girl in Sierra Leone: she refuses to show her face and does not want to give her name, but “RUF” has been branded on her chest, probably with acid from cashew nuts." 2

"In the absence of such idealistic bonds, Western intellectuals in the post-1989 era have often proved indifferent to mass suffering and mass murder; indeed, our era’s guiding principle might be, “Only disconnect.” The Mideast, which is to say the Palestinians, still inspires fervor; so do humanitarian crises like tsunamis and hurricanes. But who really cares about massacres in Burundi, the disintegration of Somalia, atrocities in Algeria, perpetual crises in Haiti, or the enslaved children of Chad? Levy’s book and Scharsu’s photographs are indictments of the retreats and evasions that characterize our age of dystopia. Both the philosopher and the photographer seek to awaken the West from its night of slumber, but with no false promises of what daylight will bring. “No one wants to see; no one wants to hear,” (Bernard-Henri ) Levy writes of the world’s immense swaths of violence and misery. “We have to force them to see it, then. There has to be a terrorism of the gaze.” 3

1 - pages 135-136 , 2 - page 139, 3 - page 138
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