The pixelated image of Whitney Houston’s lifeless body appeared before me on the cover of the National Enquirer. The end of a celebrated career, a music legend, and international superstar all summed up in one low resolution photo. My eyes fixed on the arresting image placed strategically at eye level near the peppermint gum and hard candy. There was little doubt of its authenticity, but I wondered how the photographer managed to capture the shot when the casket was closed for the services. Due to the technical shortcomings, a small camera phone was likely used. There was no photo credit, and in subsequent research, the Enquirer has not revealed any information as to how they secured the photo.
Immediately after hitting the shelves there was considerable backlash at the Enquirer’s decision to publish it. Many questioned if printing such a private moment was unethical, and the Los Angeles Times asked if it was “finally too far?”
Once the gears of the rumour mill began to turn, it was widely speculated that a funeral home employee sold the photos. Yet, Carolyn Whigham, owner of the funeral home for these services, released a statement denying any involvement in the matter. "I want to clear my name and my funeral home" said Whigham. She also went on record with the New York Daily News stating, "We did not take that photo. We did not sell the photo. We would never do something like that.”
Regardless of where the image came from, one thing is certain. The power of photography goes well beyond the technical quality of a scene. Megapixels and digital noise take a back seat to moments in history that give us pause. Beneath the jewels and designer couture, this photo reveals a woman who died at much too young of an age. Yet, she chose to live her life in the public eye so it’s not hard to believe her death would be any different. Was it insensitive of the Enquirer to run this image, or did they provide the public with a look at a story that people just couldn’t get enough of?