Artist Jana Leo, in residence at Real Academia de Espana, Rome 2020
Excess of bureaucracy is a symptom of the lack of trust between the individual and the state. In daily life, endless procedures border on the absurd. It is the violence of the procedure. The poorer one is, the greater the presence and effect of bureaucracy.
A person may be identified by LANGUAGE (name), IMAGE (photograph), and NUMBER ( ID, DNI, or SS). In an effort to identify the person as a human beyond quantity (statistics), the New York Times listed the names, ages, and some personal information of Americans who died from COVID-19 on its front page. A name is not a code. It has no meaning other than emotional value for those who know the person. A photograph, even when taken for an objective purpose such as a passport photo or a driver’s license, contains many elements. A photograph gives not only statistical information: gender, race, and age, but also personal information through facial expression, quality of the skin, hair, etc.. You receive a lot of information from an image, not only values but emotions (such as the level of bitterness, pain, discomfort or despair I witnessed over the two-month process of my father dying).
To list names with a defining comment simply moves obituaries to the front page. The news is death displayed as art.
Simone Landon, assistant editor of the Times Graphics desk, described the list of nearly a thousand names from hundreds of newspapers printed on the front page, as a “rich tapestry... A team of editors from across the newsroom, in addition to three graduate student journalists, read them and gleaned phrases that depicted the uniqueness of each life lost:
‘Alan Lund, 81, Washington, conductor with ‘the most amazing ear’ … ‘
‘Theresa Elloie, 63, New Orleans, renowned for her business making detailed pins and corsages … ‘
‘Florencio Almazo Morán, 65, New York City, one-man army … ‘
‘Coby Adolph, 44, Chicago, entrepreneur, and adventurer … ‘“
I am writing this on May 30th, 2020, with the deafening sounds of helicopters overhead and rioting on the streets below. The riots, in reaction to the murder of George Floyd, make sense. But where is the revolt against negligence that allowed a virus to become a pandemic? Why do people have less problem accepting negligence than direct wrongdoing? Negligence is systematic, not something that happens by mistake. Negligence is the civilized version of genocide.
Governmental negligence is invisible both in the way it is acted out and in its effect: 100,000 unphotographed dead Americans. People are rioting because a video of George Floyd being murdered was made public.
A riot needs an image. In her opinion piece in the New York Times, “Where are the photos of people dying of COVID?”  Sarah Elizabeth Lewis states, “In times of crisis, stark images of sacrifice or consequence have often moved masses to act.” The piece is illustrated with images of cardboard box coffins at the Gerard J. Neufeld funeral home in Flushing, Queens. The coffins are marked “HEAD,” at one end.
We need images of those who died to stop government negligence, systematic abuse, and “the excess of capitalism.” But we don’t have them. The excuse for having no images of the dead or the dying is medical privacy. We have not seen how the virus affects the expression of its host or how the body tissue is destroyed. When my father died three years ago, I saw the effects of death by Cancer. My father’s legs were swollen and yellowed like old marble, his face was purple and his arms so atrophied he was unable to hold a cup. We were never particularly close, but his decline had a profound effect on me. The difference between seeing and not seeing is important. Personalized death in a terrifying, visceral way made me fear death. Would unseen images of the mortally ill, make an equally profound impression on those of us grappling with this “invisible” enemy?
Images of dying serve as a warning of death. A man in Florida wore a skeleton costume to the beach to warn people of the consequences of returning to the “old normal” in a time of COVID-19. Death is usually a private matter, but in a pandemic, images of death are a public necessity, and we should see them.
June 2nd, 2020
Edited by Keith McDermott