Week Five.

October 11, 2011

War Photography.

I read the news….less often than I should. I rarely search out photos regarding current wars, because I know that they will deeply disturb me, and there is nothing that I can do for anyone in the pictures. Some of the photos we looked at in class from the past 100 years of war photography were extremely familiar to me, partially because I have taken many photography classes, and some are so striking and recurrent in the media as icon or propaganda that one could hardly not recognize the image.

After reluctantly doing a google image search for Abu Ghraib, my general reaction is that of horror and anger. The images show members of the military posing with dead prisoners, torturing others and generally documenting scenes that dehumanize  the prisoners. The military persons are in positions of power, while the prisoners express helplessness and humiliation.

One of the images I found most striking was this one:

The photograph features a woman wearing recognizably military clothing, standing in a hallway holding a rope that is tied around the neck of a middle eastern man lying on the floor. He appears to be wearing no clothes, and is trying to prop himself up on his hand. It looks as though the photograph was taken after the man had been drug across the floor, and he is attempting to stabilize himself. The open barred doors of the hallway behind, the messiness of papers scattered about, also contribute to the uneasiness of the photograph. I chose this image to repost because it seems to characterize the horrible acts committed at Abu Ghraib but also because it characterizes that aspect of every human that has the capacity to do unspeakable things to other humans. Americans can be excessive in pride but neglect the inherent capabilities of of all humans (even Americans) to do unforgivable things.

Simon Norfolk is a war photographer who makes pictures of terrible things that are beautiful. He photographs destroyed cities and residual elements of warfare in a way that is exceptionally breathtaking. They are simply beautiful photographs. Norfolk is both praised and criticized for his gorgeous pictures, as the beauty of the photograph can mask the devastation while glorifying the act of war. However, I think the aesthetic ease of the images can also draw in viewers who may have simply moved on, and by examining the wonderful tonalities, colors, and compositional elements, one is also forced to look at the emptiness of the destroyed spaces. By forcing viewers to appreciate the lovely picture, Norfolk simultaneously forces a kind of memorization of the scene, embedding conflicting emotions of pleasure and disgust.

I read the article written by Florence Waters, “Death of the Historic War Photograph.” Waters discusses the impact of images on the internet on the impression war photography makes on its viewers. She writes:

Our current obsession with trying to prove that war photographs of the past are fakes too, shows that we have entered an age where we are far too concerned with truth and lies to dwell on the moment of suffering.

The danger with this attitude is, of course, even when the truth is staring us in the face we might all too easily bury it along with the rest of the internet duds, without sparing a thought for the dead.”

People do seem more preoccupied with the veracity of photographs than the meaning they are meant to communicate, especially concerning war photography. It is also important to note the vast quantities of photographs of current events available; if an image is too unsettling, one can simply click “next” and move on, whereas in the past some of the most striking images were published in multiple places and there were generally fewer images to look through.


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