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04/05/2013

Human rights and (real) human wrongs

Black star ryerson blog
A wounded English aviator is taken prisoner by German soldiers during World War I in this picture taken by an unknown photographer. Photo reproduction from the Black Star Collection.

Are you off to the movies this weekend, or taking in a film at home?  Is it a zombie flick filled with mock-mouldy human flesh, or a blow-‘em-away epic with bloody shoot-outs and special FX car crashes?

The aptly described top-grossing movies of the past year, unsurprisingly, include the latest vampire Twilight Saga installment (“domestic violence in disguise"), and superhero slugfest The Avengers. It’s all rated as entertainment, and shocks no one over the age of five. Vicious videogames fill in the blanks when the last movie frame fades.

Many, however, shrink from the unglamorous violence of the real world. Exhibitions of photos and videos of deadly actual events – bloody repression, slaughter and genocide – make few dents in the box offices of North America.

But these are happening every day, in every country. On the ground. Now. And in the not-so-distant past.

For those who are ready to come to grips with political struggle, racism, human suffering and the ethics of photographing and depicting those images, Ryerson University has an exhibition for you.

Human Rights Human Wrongs is on all weekend at the Ryerson Image Centre from noon to 5 p.m., and until April 14 (except Monday). It features 300 original prints from the famed Black Star Collection. They encourage viewers to meditate on the humanity and inhumanity of living through, and covering, events most can only imagine.

And, yes, there’s a warning: “contains photographs that may be disturbing to viewers due to the graphic or violent nature of the subject matter.”

Just like life.

Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights from the former Soviet Union to Europe, the Middle East and South Asia. She has collaborated on two Emmy-winning films based on her work, as well as Devil’s Bargain, on the international arms trade, with filmmaker Shelley Saywell.      

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