On War Photography

Shaker dreamingcrow sent me the link to this New York Times piece in which the history of American war photography is discussed and its merits debated, following "the impassioned recent debate over a decision by The Associated Press to release a picture taken by Julie Jacobson of a mortally wounded marine in Afghanistan."

It's a very compelling issue for me, as it requires finding a balance between conveying information about an event that remains otherwise intangible to the people funding it, and not exploiting the subjects of the imagery in pursuit of that message.

I have spoken with people about this subject who say, approximately, I know war is hell; do I really need pictures of it? When I ask them how they know war is hell, inevitably it is because of war photography. And I think that unspoken reality is central to every generational debate about war photography: Each new cohort feels squeamish about capturing images of ongoing wars, even though they will provide a necessary education to citizens not yet born.

What's notable to me about the photography coming out of the Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan wars—where, in both cases, we were ostensibly liberating the people from tyrannical regimes, not warring with the people—is that I have seen more battlefield images of wounded Iraqis/Afghans than American soldiers. And the images I have seen of wounded American soldiers are not from the battlefield, but from medical and rehabilitation centers, where injuries are being healed and cutting-edge prosthetic limbs are being attached and scars have already formed.

Both of those send interesting messages indeed.

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