War, photography, and what we actually see.

Photos of Iraqis Being Abused by US Personnel” href=”http://www.thememoryhole.org/war/iraqis_tortured/”>The Memory Hole > Photos of Iraqis Being Abused by US Personnel

This week has once again brought home to me the power of pictures. I’ve been following the role of photography in the current global climate very closely, particularly in Iraq. (For a great read on the subject of shocking imagery and it’s use in the British media, read Body Horror: Photojournalism, Catastrophe and War)

War photography has always been staged, manipulated and re-touched. Capa, though he never fully admitted it while alive, hinted that his famous falling solider image might not be as real is it’s subsequent tag line in Life magazine says. There’s much discussion of such things here. The US flag raising on Iwo Jima also, has a well know history, discussed here, various photo’s here.
While people seem to accept re-staging, or at least acknowledge it. It can back fire. Brian Walski found this out when he ended up being sacked from the LA Times for combining to photo’s taken seconds apart to form a more pleasing composition. The three versions can be seen here. It seems if you’re going to doctor something and pass it of as reportage, at least do a good job and go easy on the clone tool. Walski apparently photoshopped this in the field, on a laptop, after being up for three days straight. He’s since attributed his actions to a ‘momentary lack of judgment’ and stress. It’s a shame because some of his other images are extremely powerful, yet it cost him his career. He’s not the only one to loose there job for taking a picture. Here in the UK the Evening Standard closed ranks when it was accused of photoshoppery wrong doings.

While on the one hand we have professional photographers sending home images, this is perhaps one of the first wars where we’re seeing images taken by the troops themselves. Only in February the World Press Photo awarded Jean-Marc Bouju first prize for this image of an Iraqi father comforting his son in a detention camp. Contest judge Ruth Eichhorn, photography director at GEO Germany, said:
“It shows the suffering of the people in a very complicated war. It’s not important who the man is. It’s not important who made him wear the hood. The image, with the barbed wire, is symbolic,”
adding “It’s very graphic. I don’t think these plastic hoods have been used much before and so the image looks quite scary but it also shows love. Love of the man for his son.”

How different now we’ve seen those hoods used in the Abu Ghraib jail. I thing I think most alarming about these torture pictures, is the way such horrific subject matter is photographed in a casual ‘one for the album’ sort of way. This is a new form of victory war photography, real and uncensored, ugly and triumphant.

I don’t know what went through these guards minds inside that prison, I can only think it was something akin to the Stanford Experiment. Nor can I explain the conduct British service men accused of abusing a prisoner. As to fake or real, it’s debated here. (I’m thinking set up, but similar events may have took place)

Here in this country we have an almost nostalgic Colditz style view of prisoner’s of war, bribing the guards with cigs, digging escape tunnels, putting on shows to boost moral etc. Yet I’m sure torture happened then and there as it does now, that’s why it’s called interrogation. However you don’t imagine the sort of acts being done by a female US Army Reservist who was what, a waffle waitress from Nebraska or what ever…

Take a look at these images, because although scenes like this have no doubt happened throughout history, at least in this war, we’re getting to see them. How we act upon this information is another matter…

2 Responses to “War, photography, and what we actually see.”

  1. 1 ronni sugiharto April 1, 2005 at 5:27 am

    the truth about war!!!..what is a war and couse of a fucking war!!!!

  2. 2 yudi April 1, 2005 at 5:37 am

    “perang itu adalah hal yang terkutuk!!!!!!! tetapi fotografi adalah hal yang sangat INDAH!!!!

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I've left it here for historical purposes. Please visit my new blog at www.foodjournalist.co.uk


These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
May 2004

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