Iraq and Afghanistan: Can Photography Help Stop thes Wars?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by joseph_krause, Dec 5, 2010.

  1. The power of photography contributed to raising public awareness about the reality of war in Korea and Vietnam. In a culture obsessed with imagery, the realities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are conspicuously absent. Why such political silence in our images?
  2. Ask Donald McCullin.
    In a culture obsessed with imagery, the realities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are conspicuously absent.​
    If you believe that you aren't looking hard enough.
  3. If photography can make everyone in those (and neighboring) countries happy with things just the way they are, happy with how much territory they control, happy with whoever is in control of the government today and happy with the type of government that they live under, then yes, photography can stop these wars.
    But that's not going to happen as long as highly-motivated factions continue to vie for control. Then again, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try. Photographs can be an effective aid to a public relations campaign, and public relations has been able to slow down and/or shorten other conflicts in the past.
  4. I think you overheating quite a bit. Photography is a technique of obtaining images and can be used for many different ends. One of major ones is organized control of public opinion as we know it. I doubt it can stop or for that matter start -- keep going... the war, basically because the wars are not started/stoped by public or by public opinions.
  5. I've got to agree with Ellis. I've seen thousands of photos from these wars showing the good and the bad.
  6. Timely graphic war footage before the Vietnam war was unusual. IMO its novelty/shock (and the draft) was responsible for its impact forty years ago. Today, without mandatory military service, we have generations which have been desensitized by a torrent of these images and violently realistic video war games.
  7. I don't see how photography would be able to help stop the wars, other than in the most tangential way. Also, I will throw in my lot with Ellis and Walt. I see new pictures from the wars every day, and I'm definitely not looking for them.
  8. Gisele Freund's book on Photography and Society and Milan Kundera's notion of imagology I think make convincing arguments about the social power of a few images in modern society. Images, Kundera suggest, have replaced ideologies. I don't know what tangible impact the images of Eugene Smith and David Douglas Duncan had on the outcome of the Korean war, nor those of Philip Jones Griffith and Eddie Adams on the Vietnam conflict. The atrocities of war have been recorded photographically probably since the Crimean war when the first early discussions occurred between public opinion and states based on photographic evidence.
    So I return to my original question. Why is photography not driving debate about the present wars? I strongly hope that Jon Willbrecht's position does not mean that our society is vaccinated against images of misery, violence and misfortune.
  9. Lets be clear here, the 'realities' of such wars ARE absent, regardless of where you look, Ellis and Walt. If you deem the politically sanctioned and filtered images (thousands as they may be) as evidence of such realities then you are both being fooled. Images posted and/or printed are specifically chosen by editors to push an agenda whatever that may be. Those that do represent a true account are few and far between and are the exception not the rule. Photo-journalism is often as tainted as the political rhetoric that start such wars in the first place (very few government selected photographers were allowed in the field of battle unless they had been cleared by command during both Iraq wars, for example). At the time we all sat in our chairs and marvelled at the ability to view wars as they happened, but only inretrospect can we now see the reality of such technological advances, 'if you look closely that is'. Evidence in how the 'coalition of the willing' used journalism to push popular acceptance of these wars can be found throughout historical documentation of these wars (the use of photo-journalism as a tool of war to win over the hearts and minds of the people was first evident by CNN's coverage of the 1st Iraq war). Additionally, many would be aware of government directives that the coffins of dead soldiers not be photographed unless sanctioned for release.
    In answering your question Joseph, I would argue that the 'political silence' you speak of isn't silent at all but rather redirected and filtered. It screams to us everywhere we look all be it in in the form of deliberate deception and selective information
  10. I think Ilia said it pretty much all. Besides that, I think of what Roland Barthes has said about reportage photography: we look at it and it can make us emotional but we never remember it. The only reportage photo I remember is Nick Ut's famous image of the Vietnamese girl escaping from napalm attack. Reportage photography reminds us, once in a while, how bad we are and that awareness lasts until we are called back to reality by our daily duties.
  11. Thank you, Antonio.
    Joseph. Your question regarding debate is based on presupposition it should. Why?
  12. Photo-journalism is often as tainted as the political rhetoric that start such wars in the first place (very few government selected photographers were allowed in the field of battle unless they had been cleared by command during both Iraq wars, for example).​
    That's an extremely broad accusation. I'd suggest seeking out better news sources if you're finding tainted journalism to be a common problem.
  13. "That's an extremely broad accusation."
    Andrew, this isn't an accusation, its a fact. Nor is this the forum within which to follow one example after another of magazined, newspapers or web based publications that edit/cut/redirect true accounts of such wars as they happened, much like its not the thread to debate at full length instances of tainted photojournalism. However I will clarify my comment by suggesting that within the confines photojournalists are bound by, lies the ever present editorial 'cut' which negates many good willed and independent intentions with which photographers set out to photo-document (this may help shift the blame of such 'silence' but it's still a fact of the world we live in).
    I put it to you and anyone else here to find true up to the minute photographic accounts of horrors of war that match documented accounts of such horrors (bearing in mind much of what is currently out there has in fact been published well after the fact and not in real time)
    The operative term here is true, up to the minute (or close to) photographic accounts. That what I'm referring to when I make such ' extremely broad accusation' as you put it.
  14. Words stop wars, very rarely photographs. Both can communicate intentions, but often the even more important words are inadequate. But what else have we, other than guns?
  15. Fact and accusation are not mutually exclusive, for the record.
    An accusation is any charge of wrongdoing (tainted journalism is generally considered wrongdoing). "Extremely broad", in this case, referring to the vastness of photojournalism as an occupation, craft, and to varying degrees, art form. I put it that way because, according to our colloquial definition, it's a fact.
    I put it to you and anyone else here to find true up to the minute photographic accounts of horrors of war that match documented accounts of such horrors (bearing in mind much of what is currently out there has in fact been published well after the fact and not in real time)​
    What are you looking for? Shock value? Try this (Warning: graphic, NSFW). Also note that Zoriah was disembedded from the USMC as a direct result of his publishing these images.
    I'm also curious what you mean by "documented accounts". If a military action or other noteworthy event hasn't appeared anywhere in any news publication or media outlet, it's not necessarily some shadowy editor at fault. That there was no one there to cover it and/or the military considers it confidential may also serve as explanation.
    It's not up to me or anyone else to refute the claim that, essentially, photojournalism (or journalism, for that matter) is homogeneous worldwide across different publications in bias and political agenda. When someone makes outlandish claims, the burden of proof lies on their shoulders.
    Also, as far as the "evil editor" archetype goes, most photojournalists operate as freelancers. While an editor may choose what appears in their particular publication, what is released to stock or wire services is generally a matter of the photographer's own discretion.
    To continue that same point, with the increasing number of online-exclusive publications, blogs, and photographer's own websites; the role of dedicated news publications in allowing these photos to reach the public is shrinking. Now, even if traditional news sources are too mired in political bias to publish a particular story, a photographer can just publish it himself as Zoriah did.
  16. Quoting Zoriah's web site "before being told by one of the soldiers that they are under orders to remove me from the scene."
    The govt/military learned their lesson in Vietnam, they must control the media and the media's access to the action.
  17. Andrew, as I have stated in my earlier thread, the topic of discussion you and I are now undertaking isn't pertinent to this forum thread, especially to the degree that would do it justice. However I will clarify yet another point about what I refer to 'documented accounts': I refer to written documented accounts, i.e written accounts/reports that describe events/atrocities etc.. as opposed to photographic accounts of these events.
    The fact is there IS someone there to cover these events and they ARE reported in papers not withstanding the 'shadowy editor' (your term not mine). My point is they are reported in ways other than through the medium of photography. What you deem as outlandish claims is the reality we live in without the naive filters to selectively perceive it with.As someone who can appreciate the relevance of an image I would like to think you too can appreciate the power of an image over a word and so its easier to filter information in written rather than in image form. I never suggested the quintessential newspaper editor was doing anything other than reporting the news I AM suggesting they control the manner with which they choose to do so by the emittance of images to match. Thats the 'silence' I refer to when answering Joseph's initial question
    Finally, you and I may have the ability to look beyond the 'evil editor archetype' (again, your words not mine) and find examples of the voice of photography crying out the injustices of war, but what you fail to understand is that more that 50% of the world still heavily relies on news paper correspondence for their insight of the global village they live in (that said you only need to turn to countries like China and Iran, to name but two examples, where internet censorship is evident): and they do not have access to freelance photographers where they can obtain an informed perception of their world.
    My 'outlandish claims' as you put it, are not based on my own perception and ability to perceive the world (through a google search) but from a broader more realistic perspective of the world where access to information IS in fact filtered
  18. Photographs taken during the Viet Nam incursion may have played a role in the ending of the conflict. (Please keep in mind that sending troops to that area was based on an executive order, not a declaration of war by Congress.) However, it is crucial to remember that there was a concerted effort in the USA to end the conflict. Tricky Dicky's program of Vietnamization would not have taken place without the widespread antiwar activities across the entire country.
  19. I forgot to mention that, despite pockets of people opposed to the USA's presence in Iran and/or Afghanistan, there is little organized effort. Perhaps it is considered uncool, anti-pc, or out-of-fashion, to take to the streets.
  20. I think that images (not necessarily "photographs", as "images" are sometimes MORE than just the graphical part) DO help change the fortunes of the world - it just takes way too long to actually be apparent as such. True, images of the horrors that is the Afghanistan and Iraq wars these days may not stop the wars next year, but when the people who have been brought up, sensitised and reared with these images are called upon to support yet another war, they will be more sceptical, more critical, more negative to any such suggestion.
    But to add a short comment on the nefariousness of photo editors, there is a superb article in a UK publication "Professional Photographer" about a photojournalist who went to Iraq NOT to photograph the war, but the people trying to etch a living within and around it. In it he claims that, even after winning some prestigious award with his images, he cannot get them published in the press (and he actually quotes a picture editor in a large newspaper) because they are not "what the public wants"...the thing is, how can the "public" know what they want when ALL they see is horror, bloodshed and death? Has ANYONE given them the option of seeing some other facet? The answer there is, unfortunately, largely "no"... hence, I think, the scepticism...
  21. I have no doubt that photographs can have the effect of raising consciousness. However, IMHO, we must consider the overall climate in which the photographs were taken before we really can take stock of their impact.
  22. I would argue that photography as such and viewing photos in particular has none or very little effect on raising consciousness merely serving a medium for momentarily catatonia in common. Even in rare case of presumed raise, however unlikely, will only produce vague emotional response of agressive fear or illusion of personal safety to fade in deny.
  23. I imagine the photographs coming out of those areas are heavily sensored. From my experience watching the news and such I would say that Viet Nam era was the last of the Freedom of the Press thing. But I would say that if the truth were visable on a day to day basis the war's would be under heavy pressure from the public.
  24. Ilia and Ross: I agree that photographs of scenes in Iraq and Afghanistan are not plastered over newspapers' front pages to the extent foulnd during the Viet Nam era. However, I'm not so sure that it's a matter of censorship. Personally, I think that, with exceptions here or there, people are too self-absorbed to care. And even if the population of the USA as a whole did care and did want to see an end to the involvement in both areas, there simply is no evidence of anything being done about it.
    At the risk of redundancy, I still am convinced that photographs found in websites like the one below can be used as consciousness-raising tools, but only if there is an accompanying, concerted effort to get people involved.
  25. On the point about censorship: this is the era of the internet. Even if a journalist cannot get ANY publication, electronic or otherwise, to publish his/her images, s/he can always put them up on the net and then EVERYONE can see them. So, no, I do not think this is a matter of censorship. It's a sign of the times.
    Back during the Vietnam war, people were more sensitive to the attrocities of a war, especially since it was the FIRST war to be so graphically and completely covered by the media. These days, we have become so inundated with images of horror, disaster and calamity that YET another image of a poor Afghani boy or an injured Iraqi girl simply dont "do" it for us anymore. Couple that with the fact that an average of 15% worldwide (and I'm only talking about the developed countries here) are, at the moment, struggling with unemployment and poverty, and all of a sudden, a war some moronic head of state started for no reason whatsoever 10,000 miles away in a part of the world we have been raised to think of as constantly at war (after all, how long ago was the Iran-Iraq war raging for 13 or so years?) simply does not rank that high in our list of "priorities"...
    Should it? Oh, undoubtedly. Will it? Chances are no. Can images help? I'm sure they can. Maybe not so much as they once could, but they can...
  26. Marios, your thoughtful post is right on the money.
  27. My answer to the topic question: No. They can not.
    The reason is that the horror of wars is very well known. More images of the same thing, but set in some mountainous region of Afghanistan rather than the tropics of Vietnam will not make people sit up and take notice. It had an effect, in the 60s and 70s because of how shocking it was. We hadn't had images like that shown before. It was new and unique. Images of nasty, bloody things are now easy to find on the internet. It take a lot more to make people disgusted now.
    Now, before we get into the realms of censure ship and what should or should not be shown, you have to know that photographers and journalists have biases too. Just because they made the shot and said what happened doesn't always tell the whole story.
    The biggest example I know comes out of Vietnam. Do you recall the video of the South Vietnamese officer putting a gun to the head of a helpless guy with his hands tied behind him and pulling the trigger ? It was posted to tell how bad the SOUTH was and why were we siding with them. Do any of you know what the reason was that that person was shot ? I doubt it. Well, I do, assuming the person I worked with told me the truth , and he had no reason to lie. He was there, in that town, where this happened. The person pulling the trigger was a police officer in the town and the guy taking the bullet had just had the other guys family brutally killed to scare off anyone joining the police. So when the military caught him, he did the first thing that came to mind. He ran over and shot him. That was better than he had done to his wife and kids, by the account I was told. Yet the video was used to show the brutality of the South Vietnamese, when the reality was that this North Vietnamese guy was the criminal. The journalist filming the event didn't take the time to find out the story. He just wanted a shot to make the point he was trying to make.
  28. "The journalist filming the event didn't take the time to find out the story. He just wanted a shot to make the point he was trying to make."
    you have even admitted that ("assuming") you have no substantiating proof to validate your story beyond what you were told. with that we are lead to pass judgement on the photographer (AP photographer Eddie Adams).
    for the record Eddie Adams has repeatedly informed people of a similar story as yours. he has also admitted to having no hard evidence. It was the South Vietnamese vice president who created the story of the victim (Nguyen Van Lem) being a communist police officer that has now become synonymous with the image.
  29. So what is the truth about that photo and others like it? Depends on the caption and the political position of the people presenting the picture. That's the problem with photos. You'd think it was so simple to present an argument only to learn that it could just be a big lie too. In that respect a photo can be as dangerous as a false rumor.
  30. i agree Alan. with that said i don't think the photographs should be burdened with the responsibility of stopping wars and such. they can inform us as to the conditions and cost and then it is up to us.
  31. "It was the South Vietnamese vice president who created the story of the victim (Nguyen Van Lem) being a communist police officer that has now become synonymous with the image."
    I got the story from a US soldier who was there, in that town, on that day, not from the vice president. I find it unlikely that a GI would be telling a made up story some 40 years later. What would be the point ?
  32. the point was you said that Adams (the photographer) didn't do any work to find the story. this is incorrect. he knew the story and has often relayed it.
    it would be prudent, when accusing someone of not caring enough to get the facts to... well, get the facts.
  33. There is "truth" and there are "facts". While they have some relationship to each other, they aren't always in lock-step with each other. Sometimes people confuse the two, and that compounds the tragedy of war and politics.
    By their nature, "facts" are indisputable they can either be verified or not. "Truth" is the interpretation of those facts, and as a result, there can be many "Truths", all equally valid. Politics and War are how humans reconcile differing 'Truths".
    Photography in support of facts can't stop war, because war isn't usually about facts unless of course people are confusing 'Truth' with 'Facts'. Also, in my experience, photography in support of facts, tends to be boring. It is only when we get into the realm of 'truth' that things get interesting.
    Photography in support of "Truth" is far more interesting, because there is an artist's background and interpretation of facts to contend with. Unfortunately, "Truth" can't stop war, since it is likely the reason the war was started in the first place.
    Short answer to the original question? - No.
  34. Sory for the double posting.
  35. What an interesting question. I suspect that you would have to ask the oil companies if they would be happy with a picture of a barrel of oil rather than the real thing. Then there is the matter of the automobile, would drivers in western countries, who either have limited native oil supplies or have over consumed their native oil supplies, be happy with a picture of a car rather than owning the real thing.
    You see, in todays ecnomic situation, oil is wealth. It is also finite. And the western world has based their entire financial systems on oil. If you are halfway honest you would admit that the reason for war in the middle east is to keep oil flowing in the west.
    I don't remember who said this, but it is the truth of the matter:
    "War is economics by other means."

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