The Power of a Portrait

I recently came across the above photographs of a ten week old embryo on flickr, taken by an OB/GYN med student in India named Dr. Suparna Sinha, and I was struck by how beautiful they were. The mother had cancer of the womb, and her uterus, including her unborn baby inside, had to be removed. I can only imagine the pain that she must have felt losing this baby, having already been the mother of six children.

I made one of them my profile picture on Facebook, and the other day, one of my classmates from high school asked me why. I thought about it, and explained that I think that photographs of developing babies are one of the most powerful ways for people to realize the humanity of the unborn child.

I have been thinking about that though, and I think I missed the mark a little bit. It’s definitely true that they are powerful testimonies of the humanity of preborn children. But why?

I think photographs are powerful because it shows a real person, an individual, in one moment of time. These are remarkable photographs of what an unborn baby looks like at ten weeks, but it’s more than just an example of a fetus at a certain stage of development. They are also the photographs, the portraits, of a beautiful, unique, unrepeatable individual, who, sadly, did not live very long.

Photography is a medium that forges a unique connection, a relationship, between the observer and the one photographed, precisely it does not show an abstract idea, or a generalized model, but a real, and unique person, that if you had encountered in real life, would have been exactly the same. It is the same with photographs of babies in the womb, with photographs of babies killed in abortions, with the babies shown in the video HeresTheBlood

Those are all powerful because you’re looking at a photograph of a real person, and in looking at them, you forge a relationship with them. The babies photographed after being killed in abortions are not simply examples of one collective, nameless, faceless injustice. They are unique individual persons that were each victims of a distinct injustices committed against them personally.

For myself, the power of the photograph is precisely that it is the reminder that I need that defending the unborn is not simply “a cause”, or an “issue”, because people are not causes or issue, they unique, unrepeatable human beings that I have a relationship with simply because we both share our human dignity, and it is simply because of that, that I have an obligation to defend them.