In my last blog post (how was this already more than a month ago?) I sketched my ideas on the invisible body in the context of COVID-19. With the background of researching on images of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa where images of grief, sickness and death were the norm, the visual absence of the body in the case of COVID-19 caught my attention. In my last post, I held the body to be present through different kinds of invisibility.
As the summer vacation season is finally coming to an end in Germany, I would like to add another category of how bodies matter visually. Whereas the sick or dead body remains largely invisible, another type of body entered the visual landscape as what I tentatively term ‘irresponsible body’. Here, I do not refer to images of protesters in Berlin and other cities that made it into international news in the last weeks. This is a topic for a separate blog post or rather a series of post.
What I refer to with the term ‘irresponsible bodies’ are the images of bodies on vacation. Over the last weeks, I noticed plenty of images of crowded beaches accompanying texts on ‘reckless’ behavior of tourists and of superspreading events occurring in the context of vacations. It is interesting to wonder what role this peculiar type of image plays in the pandemic. After all, who would have thought that pandemic photography in the COVID-19 era would include bodies at beaches?
I find these images to do several things. Since July, images of crowded beaches oftentimes appear alongside articles on rising infection numbers. The message of this text-image combination is clear: people irresponsibly frequent beaches and thus actively contribute to the rising infection numbers. The beach became the visual symbol of reckless behavior. This somewhat misses the point that outdoor activities come with a relatively low risk of transmission. The trip to the beach in a crowded bus might be the bigger problem – but we hardly see images of situations like this. Just like we do not see images of private parties, churches, clubs and other indoor spaces where the risk of infection appears to be significantly higher. I do not know if seeing images of crowded beaches supports the assumption that infection happens abroad and that social distancing at home is no longer important. But the visual dominance of the beach at least paints a somewhat incomplete picture of how ‘reckless’ (whatever this means) behavior during the pandemic looks like and makes it easy for the spectator to complain about the irresponsibility of others without questioning their activities ‘at home’.
I have to admit that I fell into this trap. I got irrationally mad when seeing images of crowded beaches for the first time and it made me realize how thin-skinned I got. I really miss the sea and with no break in sight I found myself to envy the persons who were able to go on summer vacation this year. The thought that these people might contribute to a further spread of the virus by something that ‘unnecessary’ made me angry. My toddler finally started daycare (months later than originally planned) and finally some sort of normal working days seem possible. I do not want to lose that to a second lockdown. So, even though I know beaches are most likely not the key driver of infection and I am really happy for anyone who has the chance to take a break of this crazy year, I found myself angrily wishing for closed beaches and some sort of authority to send all the tourists back home (and to ask them if they got insane). Then, I remembered one of Simon Rushton’s early blog post in this diary project where he observed the appeal of authoritarian emergency measures and the tendency of policing the behavior of others whilst ignoring the own privileges and I felt very seen. Maybe, I have to find a way to visit an empty beach in the reminder of this year.