War photos

Recently I have tried to analyse the types of photographs I like taking and looking at. I hope I am never in the position to take war photographs but I must say that so many of the iconic photos of our day are war photos and I have been aware and interested in this type of photograph over a long period of time.

On this theme I discovered a fascinating  article on a WordPress Blog entitled “Iconic Photos”:

war photo 1

The photo is fairly gruesome but what was interesting is that the photo had been used  for propaganda by very different factions (communists and fascists) in two wars a decade apart and had also probably been manipulated to enhance the “cause”.

From the blog:

“The photo, which does look like a poor Photoshop attempt, is often attributed to David Seymour, the future co-founder of Magnum who made his name during the Spanish Civil War. It was not clear who actually took it and it was not even clear when it was taken. In 1938, when L’Humanité, an organ of the French Communist Party, saw the photo, it used it to denounce the French colonial empire in North Africa.

In that aspect, L’Humanité was closer to the truth (but perhaps accidentally). The photo was perhaps taken during the Rif War (1921-1927), when Spanish and French Foreign Legions brutally put down a Berber rebellion in Morroco led by Emir Abd-El-Krim.”

There was also an interesting article in the June 15 edition of “Amateur Photographer” by Anne Wilkes Tucker, the curator of photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts in the USA, in which she discusses the crucial and malleable role photography plays in the theatre of war.  See also http://photowings.org/?p=3047

Other war photos I have studied recently is one which appears in Gerry Badger’s “The Genius of Photography”, Walter Hahn’s “Incinerating corpses in the old market, Dresden” – 25 February 1945,  which shows that “photographic images were used to show that German civilians had suffered as much as anyone else during the Second World War”.

In the same book by Gerry Badger there is another photo by Philip Jones Griffiths “Boy with Dead Sister, Saigon 1968”. Badger says “There are, broadly speaking, two approaches to photojournalism. There is the approach that tries to maintain a distance, a cool objectivity, and the approach that is involved, that is pointedly political.” … “Philip Jones Griffiths adopted the latter approach. He believed that the United States’ involvement in Vietnam was wrong and set out to show why”.

Another iconic photo from the same war is Eddie Adams “execution of a Suspected Vietcong, Saigon 1968. Badger says about this picture “This picture raises many questions about news photography and its ethics. Firstly, was the man killed because the news media were gathered around? There can be no categorical answer, but it would not be the first or the last time that the press have provoked events. And how many more atrocities are committed off camera? On balance, independent witnesses to such events are better than no witnesses at all.”

In fact I liked the whole of this section of Badger’s book which he calls “The concerned photographer”. Maybe I will not be in a position to take war photographs but I would like to look at ways in which I can become a “concerned photographer” . There are many social aspects that I am concerned about quite close to home. Maybe this is an avenue I can pursue in greater depth later in my course?

Before I leave this entry in my log I would like to add a relevant quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson, taken from “The Mind’s Eye – Writings on Photography and Photographers”

“The camera enables us to keep a sort of visual chronicle. For me, it is my diary . We photo-reporters are people who supply information to a world in a hurry, a world weighed down with preoccupations, prone to cacophony, and full of beings with a hunger for information and needing the companionship of images. We photographers, in the course of taking pictures, inevitably make a judgement on what we see, and that implies a great responsibility. We are, however, dependent on printing, since it is to the illustrated magazines that we, as artisans, deliver raw material.”

Another source I have looked at briefly is the Honors Thesis by Angie Lovelace “Iconic Photos of the Vietnam War and Their Influence on Collective Memory



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