From my NYPH audio interview with Tim Hetherington:
” …the crux of war is people killing each other, that’s what war is. Sure it’s the weapons industry, it’s all these other things, but the centre of war is that [people killing each other]. And I don’t know that many people are exploring the centre [of war], in that way. The terrain is normally mapped out by photojournalists, because it’s difficult terrain to access.”
Hetherington has a “love/hate relationship with photojournalism… because editorial assignments do not allow [their photographers] the opportunity to get engaged,” so photojournalists tend to “manufacture emotions” to procure substance. What does it mean to “manufacture emotions?” Is it a wide angle? A diagonal tilt? A provocative photographer that draws a weeping mourner inches from his/her Canon L-series lens?
Here’s a sample of popular wire photojournalism from a series of 3 bombs that went off in Baghdad last week:
So wire photojournalists are at the “centre of war” telling the story of blood, bombs, and “manufacturing emotions.” for spot news publications. Some days I browse through Getty and Reuters and AP and the selection of photos are muted, prostrate rectangles, or sensationalist tableaux, that scream out “absence” more than “substance”. This tells me that the photographer did not, or could not, access worthy subject matter.
Christoph Bangert, who in 2007 published Iraq: The Space Between by powerHouse books, is in Iraq on assignment for the New York Times right now for two months. His photographs have been appearing as a Visual Diary on the NYTimes Baghdad Bureau: Iraq from the Inside. Here’s some of his posts from the past few weeks:
This photograph is accompanied by a generous written contribution by Bangert:
I often get asked to explain in words what my pictures are about. I find this almost impossible to do. Although I believe that it is crucial for a published image to be accompanied by a caption that accurately describes what can be seen in it, any attempt to explain or analyze the image by the photographer will inevitably result in a failure.
So why do people want me to explain? Never in history have we been surrounded by more imagery and photography than today. But paradoxically we also seem to live in increasingly text-driven societies, where discussions and intellectual battles are fought with words and not with images. Maybe we have a tendency to believe and trust the written or spoken word more than the image because we struggle to trust our own thoughts and ideas that we individually have towards images.
So what is the picture above about?
It’s really up to you, the viewer.
I can’t decide if these photographs are:
Hetherington sites these artists that working with new ways to document the war:
And then there’s this:
Who right now is at the “centre” truly shooting emotionally, conceptually, holistically? Is that even possible in this age of 3-day embeds with the military, heavy restrictions on photographers (ie. no wounded or dead soldiers, no identification badges, bombing sites are off limits for an hour after detonation) and publications appealing to advertisers that would prefer you not drop your newspaper in your Cheerios because of an alarming photograph.
What do you think of the difference between these very different styles of war photography? Is either group more desirable? How can we overcome the challenges of our current restrictions and create images that are effective, evocative and informative?