Changing Conventions in War Photography & the Disaster in Afghanistan
the 101st Airborne Division, look towards insurgent positions
during a firefight at COP Nolen, in the volatile Arghandab Valley,
Kandahar, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 24, 2010.
(Photograph © AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Over the course of the afternoon I had an interesting and helpful exchange of comments on this earlier post. My interlocutor, photographer Tim Hetherington, has taken exception to the post, interpreting my comments as questioning his integrity. I certainly did not intend the post in any such way and indeed stated as much at the outset. I apologize to Tim if I created that impression.
Having said all that, I thought it might help to depersonalize the disagreement. Let's not talk about Tim's work. My concerns are two. The first is directly political in the pedestrian sense; it centers on whether whether our troops in Afghanistan are serving our national interest. I stand by my judgment that they are not. They are there enacting a misguided policy. We can argue the question, but I am pretty confident about where the preponderance of evidence will fall.
My second concern has more to do with the politics of photography. Here is the nub of the issue: why is it acceptable to depict our military adventures in Afghanistan with images like the one I discuss here, whereas images like the one I discuss here generate an uproar? My concern is that we are witnessing not just the sort of censorship (and accompanying official rationalizations)* of images of war that prevents the media from showing even flag draped coffins being unloaded at military bases, but also the emergence of a parallel convention wherein we will get sanitized views of war dressed up in tee-shirts and boxers as though the soldiers just happened to be camped out there and came under attack totally by surprise. That is what I meant by visual euphemism.
As if on cue, I just found the image above festooned across the top of the home page at Huffington Post accompanying a story on the publication of classified records of the Afghanistan debacle (here and here too). Given the information that was released today, the confidence I noted above is growing.
* For examples of censorship see, e.g.    ...