The view out of my office door here in good old Farley Hall on the Ole Miss campus has changed drastically in the past few weeks. In the past the view consisted of a bare, gray wall broken only an occasional sleep-deprived student shuffling down the hallway to class while they chatter away on their cellphone.
But since spring break, as I sit at my desk and look through my office door which is always open when I’m here, I see four soldiers dragging two dead bodies by the feet through the mud in El Salvador. It’s only a photograph but not one you can ignore, not just because of what it depicts but because it’s approximately 3 feet wide and 4 feet tall. And I have to look at it for the next three months.
A colleague down the hall isn’t faring much better. She just recently had her first child and now the view out of her office door is a similar-sized photograph of a starving Ethiopian child and its mother. The caption says the child died shortly after the picture was taken.
For those of us trapped in this exhibit, we’re just going to have to get used to it. And that’s fine because, despite the many disturbing images and despite those of us who work here being unable to escape from them, it’s a wonderful opportunity for all of north Mississippi to get to see the works of some outstanding photojournalists.
It’s Pulitzer Prize stuff
And by outstanding I mean Pulitzer material. Farley was chosen to host the traveling exhibit of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs from the Newseum in Washington. The exhibit is being sponsored by the Freedom Forum, which is headed by Ole Miss journalism alum Charles Overby.
What has amazed me about the 120 poster-sized photos on display is how the students have reacted to them. Students who normally can’t be bothered to open a textbook or pick up a newspaper to learn something about the world around them stop and stare at these things for minutes at a time. I would swear some of them are actually reading the captions that accompany each picture.
I have literally sat at my desk and watched their jaws drop as they view the pictures and reflect among themselves on the photographers’ skills and courage as well as the brutality many of the photos depict, like the inescapable picture that hangs on the landing of the main staircase. It shows a Thai student who was hanged from a tree by other students. In the photo the hanged student and tree are surrounded by a crowd and one man is beating the hanged dead body with a folding chair.
I guess they don’t give Pulitzers for pictures of bunnies and puppies.
The exhibit is open to the public and a day of events is scheduled for next Wednesday to officially open it so stop by and have a look and, while you’re here, drop by and say hello. It’s definitely worth seeing. Just be glad you don’t have to do it on a daily basis.
<b>Marty Russell</b> writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.