War Photography as Visual Euphemism?
"HOST gallery is pleased to announce the exhibition and book launch of Tim Hetherington’s Infidel. 20 September - 15 October 2010. More information below:
Let's be clear, Tim Hetherington is a very good photographer. He is no doubt a decent, sincere fellow as well. And the men he has photographed for this project are indeed risking their lives in the name of a national policy. I am not calling into question their motivations - and here I mean both the photographer and the soldiers - for doing what they are doing. I am asking about the consequences of the policy in which they (and we) all are caught up.
Infidel is an intimate portrait of a close band of warriors – a small battalion of US soldiers, posted to an outpost in the remote and dangerous Korengal Valley in North Eastern Afghanistan. Shot over the course of a year, Hetherington’s photographs prove surprisingly tender – arguably the strongest among them a series of the men asleep. This is a body of work as much about camaraderie, love and male vulnerability as it is about the horrors of war. The book’s title ‘Infidel’ is taken from a tattoo the men adopted as a mark of their comradeship. Hetherington’s photographs are sharp, moving and full of humour; they stand as a tribute to a group of men risking their lives in the interest of their own nation, and a provocative contribution the documentation of war in our time.
Please see attached press release and for more information please contact Harry on firstname.lastname@example.org 0207 253 2770."
Having said those things, it is a considerable stretch - indeed, a stretch that I think cannot be sustained - to claim that these men are "risking their lives in the interest of their own nation." The war in Afghanistan is an ongoing disaster, in large measure because the Bush administration wasted resources and attention in Iraq. But, having inherited a mess, Obama is now prosecuting what is, despite his vigorous denial, a "war of choice." The current administration is asking these young men to risk their lives in the name of a policy that is demonstrably wrongheaded and, in all likelihood, doomed to failure. Neither the fraternity of the soldiers nor Tim Hetherington's images of it do anything to alter that basic reality.
So here is my question: If we can decry the way politicians and the print media consistently trade in (verbal) euphemisms (as I have done here repeatedly) isn't it possible to see the 'human interest' approach to war photography as a form of visual euphemism?