Images That Hurt Too Much

Image from THTK (Too Hard To Keep). Via

This morning on the photography site PetaPixel, I learned about a online collection called THTK (short for Too Hard to Keep), curated by Jason Lazarus, an adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago.

The story link is here, but a caution: Although most of it is not graphic, the material is definitely disturbing. 

Lazarus collects images that people can’t bear to live with anymore. In some the pain is obvious —  a building falling to the wrecking ball, a family at the bedside of a desperately ill relative. Others disturb by implication — scenes of cluttered, chaotic rooms hinting at some offstage crisis.

Why do we take photos, why do we keep them?

Maybe some images should never be made at all. (Personally I will never think it’s a good idea to photograph an open coffin at a wake. I don’t care if the Victorians did it. I bet some Victorians didn’t like it, either.)

Yet even as I write that, I realize that painful images can be an act of bearing witness, fulfilling important human and historical needs. And even ostensibly happy images hold potential pain as life unfolds.

But what do you think? Have you ever possessed a photo that harmed your peace of mind? And should it be kept, or destroyed, or passed on to someone else?




4 Comments on “Images That Hurt Too Much”

  1. Linda says:

    THTK is a great idea….preserving emotions through pictures. We have the remembrance of heartaches, forgotten longings, pain of those we loved, those we miss, injustices done…… Passing these photos on is a way to relegate our own history for others to see. Seems to me we would have these images stored deep in our hearts but passed along to be physically kept for safekeeping elsewhere at THTK.

  2. Pancho says:

    What a great topic. Yes, I have several such images of my grandmother taken just after she had extensive plastic surgery. Honestly, it looks like someone went over her face with a baseball bat, and it hurts my heart to think that she felt the need to do that kind of violence to herself. She was lovely before (and lovely after she healed, too) but it’s really troubling to consider the mindset that led up to her decision to have the surgery.

    • Very interesting story! I guess at the end of the day, I’ll never be the one saying, “Burn ’em!” because time and events can prove you wrong. After my father died (suddenly, age 59), it was maybe five years before I could look at a photo of him without pain. Now, years later, it’s a different story. Fortunately I never had the impulse to destroy anything, just hide things.

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