War Photography is Personal. Conflict as Shared Experience in Times of Social Media and Smartphones

Chapter
Agents and Perspectives

Against the background of increasing criticism of the functions and effects of professional journalistic reporting and a relationship to images that is changing with the ubiquity of phone cameras and global connectedness via social media, this contribution examines the question of the degree to which current photojournalism must examine the new social conventions of the photographic medium in order to remain relevant and effective into the future. The hypothesis is proposed that the principle of shared experience, the focus on subjectivity and the philosophy of dialogue and networks that characterise social media offer promising stimuli for a broadening of the spectrum of photojournalistic storytelling.

Starting from an analysis of the specific promise of authenticity in private mobile­-phone photos in Geert van Kesteren’s book Baghdad Calling, Dona Abboud’s project Out of Syria, Inside Facebook will lead to a discussion of the advantages and problems of the personalisation inherent in social networks. The evermore apparent need for verification and interpretation of amateur material arises in contemporary practices in which mobile­-phone photos appear in the context of news reporting. This serves to illustrate the relevance of experienced (picture) authors who shed light on complex realities from various perspectives and set the focus on the transmission of individual messages.

Collapse of Realities? On the Status of the Image and the Viewer with Videos of Violence

Chapter
Agents and Perspectives

Violent images of crimes of attention both obliterate and require distance. Particularly in potentially real­time, globally interconnected digital public spheres in which every person who posts and comments is simultaneously sender and receiver, questions concerning the media­-related and aesthetic causes for the dissolution of distance and the transformation of reality take on an urgency that closely links everyday life and science. As soon as photos and videos are used in the hybrid space of social networks and mass­-media reporting, they often appear to be appropriate and are thus accorded a high truth value. However, even representational images of violence of indexical quality can never be “the thing­-in-­itself”. They leave behind gaps in our knowledge and generate a longing for information that stimulates the “eye’s appetite” as well as the “hunger for meaning”. What’s more, the viewer’s reality and the reality of events are now in danger of briefly collapsing into each other. As a consequence, images are subject to questioning which realities are generated within them, through them and with them, and by which means. A disclosure of the impact potential of publicly used images of violence requires a breakdown of the artificial conditions of the image impact in order to transform these into distance-­setting reception systems. The reflection of image impact remains vital for the discussion of media practice and public interest in images of violence.

Actors Instead of Images. A Look Behind the Lens of International Photojournalism in Israel / Palestine

Chapter
Agents and Perspectives

Israel / Palestine is one of the most important spots for international photojournalism. While the images produced in the region are often the subject of critical discussion, we seldom look at the actors and structures of photojournalism in the region. In doing so, the phenomena that can be observed in the region facilitate our understanding of the published imagery. Moreover, they allow us to draw conclusions regarding photojournalism in general and conflict photography in particular. This paper will present a number of central results of a study of international photojournalism that investigates the photojournalistic actions of international, Israeli and Palestinian photojournalists working in Israel / Palestine. The paper primarily focuses on exploring the differences in the practices and routines of various photojournalistic milieus. Furthermore, it identifies factors, both those that are inherent to journalism and those that are conflict­related, which influence photojournalistic action. The paper follows from the hypothesis that only renouncing the preoccupation with the published image and the examination of the conditions and practices of production will enable us to understand the complex structure and actor framework of contemporary photojournalism. In consequence, the paper advocates the development of applied photojournalism research.

Truth, the First Casualty. Conflict Photography Considered as Bellwether for a Dawning Understanding of Digital Imagery as a New Medium

Chapter
Nothing but the Truth

Digital photography looks much the same as photography as we’ve known it for 180 years and we approach it with similar expectations. But the indexical medium of photography has been replaced with computational processes that throw into question all our assumptions about the image as evidence. Using the historical example of Roger Fenton and Alexander Gardner’s representations of 19th-century war during a time of similar technological transition (then from drawing to photography), it is argued that there is a danger in using the vocabulary of the preceding age to describe the new. The resulting misunderstandings risk distortion of the message, sometimes even denying the truths represented while simultaneously obscuring the emergent qualities and advantageous opportunities offered by the new medium.

1 “Truth, the First Casualty”: Versions of this expression have been used for many years to describe how information is distorted during periods of conflict: what we believe we are seeing may not actually be what happened. Samuel Johnson seems to have the earliest attribution with the sentence, “Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages” (Samuel Johnson: The Idler, 1758). Hiram Johnson (1866–1945), a Republican senator in California, might have been the first 20th-century commentator to reference the expression, his actual words being, “The first casualty, when war comes, is truth”, spoken during World War I.

 

No, it wasn’t the Americans. The Whole Truth about a Photo Everyone Knows

Chapter
Nothing but the Truth

In June 1972, a photo went around the world that changed our image of the Vietnam War, indeed of all wars: Napalm Girl by Nick Ut. Since then, the press photo has stood for the horrors suffered in modern wars, particularly by the civilian population. In the more than 40 years since its creation, the photo has been the topic of countless publications. However, as so often happens with iconic images, much historical inaccuracy and misinformation about Napalm Girl are in circulation; these are repeated with stoic ignorance and have had a long-term influence on the photo’s impact history and reception.

This essay attempts to reconstruct the events of 8 June 1972 and the role of those involved as comprehensively and accurately as possible in order to refute many of the later ways of reading the photo. It becomes clear that Napalm Girl moves in the field of tension of the claims to truth that lie among impact, authenticity, objectivity and propaganda.

War Primer 2

Chapter
Nothing but the Truth

In his War Primer (first published in 1955 by Eulenspiegel Verlag), German playwright and lyricist Bertolt Brecht combined press photographs from Danish and American daily newspapers and magazines with four-line commentaries which he called photo-epigrams. This work, which Brecht began in the 1930s as an exile in Denmark, is both a critical chronicle of the events of the Second World War and a didactic questioning of the supposed veracity and lack of ambiguity inherent in photography.

With their art book War Primer 2 (released in 2011 as a limited edition of 100 copies by MACK; rereleased in 2018), Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin adopt Brecht’s War Primer and transplant it to the era of the ‘war on terror’, which is characterised by the mass media. They found the picture material for their intervention and reinterpretation online and mounted it onto the 85 panels of the original British edition (War Primer, released by Libris in 1998). Their adoption not only multiplies Brecht’s ‘alienation effect’, it also thematises the complexity of the contemporary use and dissemination of images of conflict.

Triangulating Truths: Photojournalism in the Connected Age

Chapter
Nothing but the Truth

This paper argues that photojournalists can be regarded as a network of trusted witnesses who collectively provide testimony and evidence from a wide and varied set of situations. The practice of photojournalists and documentary photographers therefore arguably serves to enhance the moral memory of society by providing it with imaginative, emotional and evidentiary triggers to spur debate, discussion, retrospection, understanding and empathy. Photojournalists detect global patterns of abuse, and by bearing witness to social injustices, they individually and collectively form vital links in the chain of information about the world. The value of photography should not be seen in isolation, as if its effects, positive or negative, occurred in a contextual vacuum, divorced from the impacts and effects of other related media and communication forms. It must be seen as part of an ecology of evidence, where a variety of sources can be triangulated to provide a more nuanced interpretation of a situation.

more: http://image-matters-discourse.de/book/beitrag/

How Violence ‘Speaks’: On Visual Codes of Violence in Art

When the representation of violence in pictures is questioned, we are mostly dealing with censorship, with the limits of what can be represented, with the media, and with politics. These debates are driven by a belief in the power of images. Often this ends in ontologisation: Violence and the image appear as precultural, ineluctable entities. Conversely, my contribution explores the question of where and how violence in images ‘speaks’, and of its codes of representation. The contribution investigates this ‘art of leaving traces’ for the spectator, in the economy of the visual-artistic codification of violence, with examples from the visual art (painting and photography) of the 19th and 20th centuries. In questioning image politics which are driven by the desire to suspend the distinction between representation and the presence of what is represented, this investigation also implies the deconstruction of the belief in the power of the image.

The Invisibility of the Frame or the Readability of World

Chapter
Visibly Invisible

This essay concerns itself with photographic image productions and their interwoven nature in processes of ethics and politics. To this end, current journalistic image productions are questioned in order to show that even the seemingly most authentic photographs are bound up in image politics and operating modes of power. For these mechanisms, the question of drawing boundaries between the visible and invisible in the field of representation is just as essential as the structuring function of the ‘frame’. The essay asks the question to what extent current image productions can work on the ‘frame’ and a shift of the boundary between the included and excluded, the visible and invisible in order to initiate a critical examination of the limitation that has been imposed on the interpretation of reality. Examples from the works of Bertolt Brecht, Adam Broomberg, Oliver Chanarin and Edmund Clark elucidate that a look at the limits of photography opens new perspectives in order to let the socially critical potential of visual forms of presentation come to bear and to develop future modes of ‘disobedient seeing’ in the area of journalistic and documentary narrative forms.

War Porn

Chapter
Visibly Invisible

“Do I exploit the people in my pictures? Can working as a war-zone photographer be morally justified? Why are we attracted to pictures of other people’s misery? Am I producing war pornography?” These are the questions that photographer Christoph Bangert, who spent more than ten years working for international magazines in areas of crisis such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Indonesia, Lebanon and Gaza, has asked himself. In his book War Porn, he has collected pictures that are subject to the usual processes of censorship such as the inner censorship of the photographer himself, who cannot remember taking some of the photos in the book. Then there are the journalistic selection processes of editorial offices and publishing media as well as the censorship that takes place within viewers, who must decide and overcome themselves if they want to look at these pictures.

hello camel

Chapter
Visibly Invisible

Laughter and good spirits seem inappropriate and irreverent in the face of conflict, violence and disorder. But it is in the state of exception that is war that the extremes of human experience, the horror and the absurdities of life, collide.

Christoph Bangert, who spent ten years working as a photographer accompanying American, British and German military units on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, looks at the banality of everyday life in war, the bizarre scenarios that arise on military bases and the makeshift constructions and improvisations aimed at preserving a sense of normality. His intention is not to mock or trivialise war, but to illustrate that in situations of conflict, reality can present itself as more contradictory and multifaceted than is generally assumed. In the midst of war, humour becomes an important protective mechanism in dealing with the surrounding madness.

Ziyah Gafić: „… if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all“

Chapter
Visibly Invisible

Ziyah Gafić: „… if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all“1

In their clear formal structure and their aesthetic condensation, the photographs in the series Quest for Identity by Ziyah Gafić do not arouse the viewer’s empathy by means of a shock effect. On the contrary, they evoke the atrocities in the unillustrated, in the in-between, in the imagination of the observers. A fundamental question of war photography is touched on here: How much suffering must be shown in order for people to act? The photographer, born in Sarajevo in 1980, also shows these photographs in exhibitions, moving between utilitarian photography and the context of art. However, their aesthetic content does not diminish their affective power. In their condensed and restrained depiction, the appeal of these photographs, which use not least the principles of the serial, can unfold even more forcefully on many different levels. Gafić has also photographed in other areas of conflict and war such as Palestine, Kurdistan, Rwanda and Afghanistan. He constantly focuses on the consequences of these conflicts. His insight is that it’s always about ownership; all wars are alike. If you have seen one war, you have seen them all.

1          See Ziyah Gafić: ‚Ziyah Gafić‘, in: The Calvert Journal, https://www.calvertjournal.com/features/show/7103/ziyah-gafic (Accessed 10 March 2018).

The Maze

Chapter
Visibly Invisible

In 2002 and 2003, Northern Irish photographer Donovan Wylie captured images of the high-security prison known as ‘Her Majesty’s Prison Maze’. The prison, which was closed in 2000, was named for the nearby town of Maze, located by Lisburn in Northern Ireland. In a conceptual search for traces, Wylie investigates the structure of this place, whose history of violent protests, hunger strikes, escapes and casualties played a significant role during the conflict in Northern Ireland from 1969 until 1998. He systematically approaches the complex from outside to inside, meticulously documenting the surrounding walls, fences and safety strips, the interior spaces of the characteristic H-Block, the corridors and cells. The serial repetition of his photos reveals the historical debris, the psychological function of geometric constructions that lead to disorientation, and the controlling architecture of power.

Subjugating Spaces in the Photographic Series of Donovan Wylie

Chapter
Visibly Invisible

Donovan Wylie’s photographic series address violent conflicts through their architectural traces. He does not stage them as romantic ruins, but rather as rational structures of control. Prisons, watchtowers or surveillance stations underlie, however, rules of utmost secrecy, and remain mostly out of view to a media public. Thus, on the one hand, Wylie fulfils one of the vital tasks of documentary photography in confronting the audience with a difficult and foreign reality. On the other hand, he exploits the aesthetic possibilities of landscape photography, where the buildings appear as powerful agents, while individual actors are missing.

The essay analyses first via description, historic contextualisation and comparison with modern and postmodern photographic practices and theories the formal configurations in Wylie’s series. Furthermore, the discourses on the scopic regimes of visuality as tools for command and sovereignty are briefly outlined. This helps towards a better understanding of how his images can evolve such an intense impression without showing neither offenders nor victims, and a form of the sublime that is not transfiguring military action.

The Day Nobody Died

Chapter
Visibly Invisible

After being active as photojournalists in many regions of conflict, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin used their embed with the British army in Afghanistan in June 2008 for critical commentary about the ‘theatre of war’: With help from the soldiers, they transported a 50-metre roll of photo paper sealed in a lightproof box from London to the front line and back again. In each situation that would correspond to the classic repertoire of depiction of event-based reportage photography, they exposed 6 metres of the light-sensitive paper to the sun for 20 seconds. The resulting photograms are abstract and attempt to undermine representation and narration. More as traces than symbols, they provide room for an examination of the framework conditions and limitations of embedded journalism, the dubious role of professional eyewitnesses and the often inadequate depiction of situations of war and conflict.

Cognitive Mapping. On the Atlas der Angst by Dirk Gieselmann and Armin Smailovic

Chapter
How to Make Images Matter?

The journalistic project Atlas der Angst by Dirk Gieselmann and Armin Smailovic is to be understood and interpreted as an example of a ‘new’ kind of war journalism. It stresses the necessity for a new type of war reporting that will ultimately become necessary by changes in the matter of war itself. It does not concern the (subjective or documenting) portrayal of conflict nearly as much as the reconstruc­ tion of images of memory, historic locations and the mapping of diffuse systems of expression. A particular type of recording (as a superimposition) characterises the Atlas der Angst. The Atlas attempts to read war as the consequence of preceding ‘fear’ (or paranoia), and registers war, violence and conflict as the consequence of this fear. Moreover, it examines the reasons for this fear. It questions memory; it questions space and places; it examines patterns of orientation.

In-between People, Pictures and People. Ambivalent Relationships and Alternative Praxis in the Photographic Field of Tension

Chapter
How to Make Images Matter?

The contribution focuses on the question of an alternative photographic praxis. It reaches from ambivalent experiences throughout the act of picture­taking in regions of conflict to theoretical sketches on the photographic field of tension generated by the unequal positions and relationships among the people involved. From this vantage point Brandner addresses the necessity of exploring collective fields of praxis and experiment – to become capable of identifying these ambivalent relationships, and further overcome a perception which views them as mere obstacles in everyday photographic praxis, resulting, finally, in a more dignified approach towards them. In this respect, an alternative photographic praxis should render conceivable the relationships between people and pictures, but also the interrelations of people with each other. Finally, the publication suggests the method of Generative Picturing as a means to collectively access and utilise the transformative potential of photographic praxis. By exploring photography as a tool for perception, interaction, dialogue and reflection it can be applied both in dialogic educational work and within the realms of participative research. This enhances a mutual learning process throughout which those involved repeatedly relate with each other via their actions, pictures and stories, thus exploring the lines between ‘the own’ and ‘the other’.

Parsing the Paradigm

Chapter
How to Make Images Matter?

In a globalised world riven by societal fractures, what kinds of visual communication strategies will help to bridge the gaps and move society forward? Given the changes in societal dynamics and the transformations in the ways that images are produced and received, particularly in a digital environment, an unremitting reliance on 20th­-century forms is insufficient and misleading. How do we shift the paradigm in ways that are coherent and useful, while cognizant of the enormous potentials of digital media to be both helpful and destructive? What is the role of the professional or serious amateur in all of this? How can both the subject and the reader become more collaborative with the photographer in this process? How can photography be thought of as more of a proactive medium working to prevent or minimise disaster rather than a reactive one waiting for disasters to occur? How does the increasing technical ability to both composite and synthesise the recording media of photography, video and sound potentially disrupt communications and threaten democracies, and are there any useful responses? Finally, where are we at this moment in our uses of visual media and where do we want to go?