ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 27: Mary McHugh mourns her dead fiance Sgt. James Regan at "Section 60" of the Arlington National Cemetery May 27, 2007. Regan, an American Special Forces soldier, was killed by an IED explosion in Iraq in February of this year, and this was the first time McHugh had visited the grave since the funeral. Section 60, the newest portion of the vast national cemetery on the outskirts of Washington D.C, contains hundreds of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Family members of slain American soldiers have flown in from across the country for Memorial Day. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)"
As The Times presents it, the photograph offers the impression of an isolated moment of sorrow, of a young woman bereft and alone among vast numbers of the dead, among whom is her fiancé. And, for Ms. McHugh this may well have been the case; she may well have been oblivious to any and everything that might have been transpiring around her. She very likely was subsumed in grief. How did John Moore and editors at The Times elicit that situation?
Consider the two photographs of Mary McHugh that John Moore has uploaded onto the Getty Images site (from which I've lifted them). Both carry the same running title:
Judging by the consecutive image numbers, Moore apparently took the top picture first, then walked past, behind Ms. McHugh, shifting perspective for the lower one. This move not only highlighted her position perpendicular to the row of grave stones, but allowed Moore to focus solely on Ms. McHugh, excluding nearly all the other grieving individuals and groups who populate the first image. Even so, Ms. McHugh is still not quite alone. Someone, presumably the Photo Editors at The Times, has cropped the photograph, removing what I estimate to be the top 20% of its original height and, in the process, eliminating still other visitors to the cemetery and reducing the distracting vastness of the scene.
Viewing the final image in The Times creates the sensation of witnessing, perhaps of intruding on or interrupting an intensely intimate moment. No doubt the moment captured in the photograph was intensely intimate for Ms. McHugh. No doubt too, the photograph conveys something of that. But it does so only through the judgements and choices of the photographer and his editors. The poignancy here was not "found." It was elicited, evoked, drawn out, and offered to us.
P.S.: It turns out that James Regan left three sisters behind, so my comparison to the Nachtwey image in my earlier post was not far off base. It turns out also that he was a star lacrosse player and, by all accounts, a terrific young man. This is among the many corners I've walked around lately only to collide with my own son Jeff. It surely makes me want to hug August and Doug all the more.