Sometime a good photograph is one that makes you reconsider reality, other times it is the capturing of a time and space. But on night like this – when the gates are smashed through, and there is broken glass everywhere, and men are on their knees weeping at god, asking for his forgiveness, when women are wailing, and there are two cadavers – two men having just given up the ghost, sitting there in the passenger seat and the drivers seat with their blood leaking all over the door panel, this is when good photography requires a callousness.
There are the two men dead tonight. On the corner in front of the Airport View Hotel their cauliflower brains are on the dashboard. A car so mangled it is perverse and erotic — how it could have happened? A gate smashed through. So much smashed glass that no four cars could have made it all. There are men on their knees, weeping and wailing, begging for forgiveness, it might have been that last beer, or thinking that the light had not yet changed, or anything else, but Lord can you hear them? They need forgiveness. There are two or three men dead on the street tonight.
The bodies are as they were moments after the smash. The passenger has his head cantilevered over the seat, and the driver arms are way over the steering wheel, his head in too many pieces, the guts of it all are everywhere. The security guard says take picture, take picture — until we are close, until the weeping and grievances are so loud and the car so gruesome that any photograph is clearly not right. Fall back. Watch the men as they shake the car and scream, pleading that so and so ain’t dead, as they swear it cannot be, as they can’t open the door but yank and tear until maybe they can, maybe they can try some amount of resucitation – but that won’t matter. Not tonight. These men, coming home on a Friday night are dead, given up the ghost in one hundred million splatterings of blood across the windshield and the sidewalk and the gate and the driver of the car.
Without understanding any of this, maybe we would have been able to get up in it. To let loose with the flash and see what a trachea looks like after it has been split across by a door panel. Maybe we should have let that flash shown on the men on their knees, because of all the reasons of what make an image worth while. Sure, we could have wondered on all the senses: how did that death smell? (latent, hanging in the humidity with the concrete who cannot let the heat of the day go), how did it sound? (crunching, viscious and mean, without control, like a hungry animal wanting more), how did it feel (to the dead men: instaneous) how did it taste (with a tang to the thick air, metallic and somehow common place, these are dead men not gods – the security guard says ‘our lifes continue, their do not’ and he means not as funny but as truth but we laugh a deep belly laugh anyway), maybe the flash could have shown all of that.
Here in Ghana we celebrate death as the conclusion of life. So there is praying for forgiveness and everything else, but there could have been images captured. But tonight we could not bring ourselves to bring that camera out of our pocket. It did not seem right. There were dead men and ghosts circling nearby. Maybe a better photographer would have been able to capture them, the ghosts, the blood splatters, the prayers, but tonight we could not.