Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Objective photography

I'm not sure what the point is here.
One thing that is bothering me lately is the recent practice by the LA Times to accompany news stories from Iraq with photos taken by the American military.

The top image appeared in the October 31st edition of the LAT. Shot by an Army photographer, It depicts a substantial offensive by American troops to gain control of that city. (So, is this supposed to play up or play down our firepower?)

The second shot appeared yesterday, also in the LAT. That image was taken by a Marine. Artful, isn't it? The scene of this shot is the town of Qaim, a staging area for airstrikes on Husaybah, near the Syrian border.
I'm a military public affairs guy myself and I don't understand how using a military photograph is different than using any other. Certainly no military photographer would be allowed to send a photo of a dead or dying service member, but, as BNN points out today, no member of the MSM has chosen to do so until today, either. (For the record, I've defended the use of photos of bodies and/or less-than-flattering military pictures here, here, here and here.)

Every photographer (military or civilian) who goes on a mission will return with upwards of a hundred photographs (in my case, way upwards). When they return, they cull those photgraphs down to those they think are best and release them. Somewhere down the line, an editor will choose one photo and that's the one that goes with the story.

Because those hundreds of photos I started with can't begin to account for every moment of an action, I, as a photographer, have already limited the ability of viewers to know the whole story. Then I limit it more, by choosing photos based on my internal aesthetics. In the end, most photographers will have a day's work sifted down to a single image, which can only be said to represent the barest sliver of the visual imagery available for any given mission.

So, honestly, unless a photo is clearly staged or is an obvious misrepresentation of an event (i.e., the way right-wing sites cropped photos of anti-war rallies then complained of peaceniks inflating the number of attendees), I don't see how any photograph can be seen as inherently more objective because of its photographer.

Can you spot the propaganda in my photos?


Blogger Bryan said...

I think it's your "liberal" use of chemicals to process the film.

The one thing you will get with some military photographers are shots that were taken in an incredibly risky manner, like standing on a helo skid during a low level recce. Most civilians don't have access to that kind of equipment.

The bottom shot reminds me of a National Geographic spread for some reason.

10:30 PM  

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