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Friday, February 06, 2004

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Harikrishna

Since this subject has raised so many questions, I thought this article in the New York Times "War Photographers on "War Photography" Reflecting on Shooting Through Decades of Battle" deals with some of them. This has some views on war photography from Don McCullin, Davis Leeson and Catherine Leroy. What do you think?

War Photographers on "War Photography" Reflecting on Shooting Through Decades of Battle

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/21/arts/design/21warp.html

----------------------------------------------------
The New York Times
April 21, 2005
Reflecting on Shooting Through Decades of Battle
By CAROL POGASH

BERKELEY, Calif., April 20 - Three of the finest war photographers of the last 40 years shared their views about the futility of war on Tuesday night without always agreeing on the state of combat photography today.

The panelists in a discussion called "Journalists Under Fire: Vietnam and Iraq" at the University of California here were Don McCullin, an acclaimed British war photographer who dropped out of school as a young teenager and went on to cover more wars than he cares to count; Catherine Leroy, a French photographer who bought a one-way ticket to Saigon at 21; and David Leeson, who won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his photographs of Iraq. They were joined by the moderator, Orville Schell, dean of Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism; his brother, Jonathan Schell, the peace and disarmament columnist for The Nation, who covered Vietnam for The New Yorker; and Mike Cerre, a television producer who was a soldier in Vietnam and covered the war in Iraq for ABC News.

Vietnam photography has become the benchmark by which other images are measured, they said. "No war has ever been photographed like Vietnam," said Ken Light, a documentary photographer and professor of photography at the graduate school, who introduced the panel.

Although the technology has improved since Vietnam, Ms. Leroy and Mr. McCullin said the impact of war photographs had diminished. In the mass media, they said, celebrity and lifestyle stories trump gruesome images of war.

"What I did was to give war a face," said Ms. Leroy, whose book "Under Fire: Great Photographers and Writers in Vietnam" has just been published by Random House. "I'm not sure I succeeded. Perhaps I did, once in a while." Ms. Leroy spent three years in Vietnam during the war, jumping from helicopters and sharing trenches with the troops. She was captured by the North Vietnamese, whom she photographed.

"I'm not seeing, not smelling the truth somehow," said Mr. McCullin, a brooding man uncomfortable with the adulation he receives. "I hate the idea of being a war photographer," he said in a photojournalism class earlier in the week. "You might as well call me a hangman."

Mr. Light explained: "Vietnam photos were more intimate because they were closer. Because of the nature of warfare in Iraq, the photos are further back." Photographers use longer lenses, which do not convey the same visual intimacy, he said. Mr. McCullin's and Ms. Leroy's pictures, he said, "were really about the human condition."

Mr. Leeson, who has covered 11 conflicts in 20 years, was an embedded photographer in Iraq. All three photographers agreed that the war in Iraq was far more dangerous for journalists than Vietnam.

"We saw 24-hour-a-day Iraq war," Ms. Leroy said, referring to cable television, "but we didn't really see much of anything."

While Americans recall memorable images of Vietnam taken by war photographers, the most memorable images of Iraq - the prisoners of Abu Ghraib - were snapped by soldiers, she said.

Mr. Leeson, 47, who takes photographs for The Dallas Morning News, said it was too early to know what impact images from Iraq might have had on the public conscience.

After hearing criticism that photos from Iraq evoked less emotion (though none of it directed at his work), he asked rhetorically, "How much more do you want?" There were some scenes of bodies that he would not photograph. "I must live with myself," he said.

In interviews, the three photographers expressed their frustration that their photographs have neither stopped nor slowed war.

"I ask myself, what have I been doing the last 30 years?" said Mr. McCullin, 69. His awards are stuffed in his garden shed in Somerset, England, and he said he preferred to shoot "landscapes with great Wagnerian skies, and I wait for cathedral lighting that punches its way through the clouds."

The three say they do not plan to return to conflict. Ms. Leroy is raising money for an outdoor exhibition of Vietnam photos on the Mall by the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. Mr. Leeson, who over the years has divorced and remarried, said he missed his oldest son's first five birthdays and hoped not to make the same mistake with his second family.

If their views were intended to dissuade newcomers from careers in war photography, they failed miserably. Afterward students encircled them, including Omar Vega, a freshman at San Francisco State University, who had just returned from eight days photographing homeless Iraqis. He was bursting with enthusiasm. "I was inspired," he said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Harikrishna

Since this subject has raised so many questions, I thought this article in the New York Times "War Photographers on "War Photography" Reflecting on Shooting Through Decades of Battle
" deals about some of them. This has some views on war photography from Don McCullin, Davis Leeson and Catherine Leroy. What do you think?

War Photographers on "War Photography" Reflecting on Shooting Through Decades of Battle

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/21/arts/design/21warp.html

----------------------------------------------------
The New York Times
April 21, 2005
Reflecting on Shooting Through Decades of Battle
By CAROL POGASH

BERKELEY, Calif., April 20 - Three of the finest war photographers of the last 40 years shared their views about the futility of war on Tuesday night without always agreeing on the state of combat photography today.

The panelists in a discussion called "Journalists Under Fire: Vietnam and Iraq" at the University of California here were Don McCullin, an acclaimed British war photographer who dropped out of school as a young teenager and went on to cover more wars than he cares to count; Catherine Leroy, a French photographer who bought a one-way ticket to Saigon at 21; and David Leeson, who won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his photographs of Iraq. They were joined by the moderator, Orville Schell, dean of Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism; his brother, Jonathan Schell, the peace and disarmament columnist for The Nation, who covered Vietnam for The New Yorker; and Mike Cerre, a television producer who was a soldier in Vietnam and covered the war in Iraq for ABC News.

Vietnam photography has become the benchmark by which other images are measured, they said. "No war has ever been photographed like Vietnam," said Ken Light, a documentary photographer and professor of photography at the graduate school, who introduced the panel.

Although the technology has improved since Vietnam, Ms. Leroy and Mr. McCullin said the impact of war photographs had diminished. In the mass media, they said, celebrity and lifestyle stories trump gruesome images of war.

"What I did was to give war a face," said Ms. Leroy, whose book "Under Fire: Great Photographers and Writers in Vietnam" has just been published by Random House. "I'm not sure I succeeded. Perhaps I did, once in a while." Ms. Leroy spent three years in Vietnam during the war, jumping from helicopters and sharing trenches with the troops. She was captured by the North Vietnamese, whom she photographed.

"I'm not seeing, not smelling the truth somehow," said Mr. McCullin, a brooding man uncomfortable with the adulation he receives. "I hate the idea of being a war photographer," he said in a photojournalism class earlier in the week. "You might as well call me a hangman."

Mr. Light explained: "Vietnam photos were more intimate because they were closer. Because of the nature of warfare in Iraq, the photos are further back." Photographers use longer lenses, which do not convey the same visual intimacy, he said. Mr. McCullin's and Ms. Leroy's pictures, he said, "were really about the human condition."

Mr. Leeson, who has covered 11 conflicts in 20 years, was an embedded photographer in Iraq. All three photographers agreed that the war in Iraq was far more dangerous for journalists than Vietnam.

"We saw 24-hour-a-day Iraq war," Ms. Leroy said, referring to cable television, "but we didn't really see much of anything."

While Americans recall memorable images of Vietnam taken by war photographers, the most memorable images of Iraq - the prisoners of Abu Ghraib - were snapped by soldiers, she said.

Mr. Leeson, 47, who takes photographs for The Dallas Morning News, said it was too early to know what impact images from Iraq might have had on the public conscience.

After hearing criticism that photos from Iraq evoked less emotion (though none of it directed at his work), he asked rhetorically, "How much more do you want?" There were some scenes of bodies that he would not photograph. "I must live with myself," he said.

In interviews, the three photographers expressed their frustration that their photographs have neither stopped nor slowed war.

"I ask myself, what have I been doing the last 30 years?" said Mr. McCullin, 69. His awards are stuffed in his garden shed in Somerset, England, and he said he preferred to shoot "landscapes with great Wagnerian skies, and I wait for cathedral lighting that punches its way through the clouds."

The three say they do not plan to return to conflict. Ms. Leroy is raising money for an outdoor exhibition of Vietnam photos on the Mall by the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. Mr. Leeson, who over the years has divorced and remarried, said he missed his oldest son's first five birthdays and hoped not to make the same mistake with his second family.

If their views were intended to dissuade newcomers from careers in war photography, they failed miserably. Afterward students encircled them, including Omar Vega, a freshman at San Francisco State University, who had just returned from eight days photographing homeless Iraqis. He was bursting with enthusiasm. "I was inspired," he said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Harikrishna

Linda, I am not sure what part of my comments you disagree. I too am inspired by Nachtweys courage and I greatly admire his work. What I am not sure is its impact on public. For some weird reason, all his photographs pull me into thinking about the photographer rather than the people in the photographs. I have somewhat similar response to Salgado's work (I greatly admire him too). But the "beauty" in their photographs is so overpowering that it takes away my attention from the real issue. I do believe great works of art come at a great personal sacrifice, and not everyone is cut out for such sacrifices. But what does it do to the person?
Macho war photographers annoy me. I can think of Robert Capa style James Bond photography. Thats more about the creating images. Thats not about moving hearts.

Linda

I have to disagree with your thoughts on James Nachtwey. I, too have been a photographer/filmmaker in a war zone, Afghanistan. James Nachtwey's reasons for going - to wake up the world is generally why journalists start this kind of work. He's very focused, which I think is why he is still alive and now quite successful. He's made an impact to a lot of people who didn't know anything about these places, but he's only one man. There are many journalists that remain committed, but if there were even more journalists who stuck with it, stayed centered and in touch with why they started, I really think the public would know even more. This type of work is for very few because it's not about the person telling the story, it's all about the people in the story or event and sometimes a lot of sacrifices (including a personal life, health risks, emotional trauma) which seem extreme to most, are just part of the job to a war photographer/ journalist. My world is a better place since I have gotten to know his work. Inshallah he will continue to remain safe while working in these difficult conditions and strong enough to endure any hardships he has to encounter to get his terrific work done.

Haarikrishna

I have been seriously thinking and debating about the effect of war on photographers particularly after I saw the film War Photographer on James Nachtwey. My conclusions about him as a person came after I spoke to people who have interacted with him. All of them deeply admire his courage, but they are equally saddened by how the war adrenaline addiction has sapped the life out of him. He hopes to change the world with his photographs, but sadly things have only gone worse in the world since he has been making pictures. There seems to be no hope in almost all his pictures. What we see is just hopelessness and emptiness. Can they inspire us for a better world? I am yet to meet someone who would not be utterly dejected after seeing his book Inferno. There seems to be no hope in the world of James Nachtwey. Only desolation and destruction. Can such a tunnel vision change our hearts to make peace with each other? I dont know. This has lead to a lot of soul searching in my own personal life. Can we separate our work and our life? Would Nachtwey's vision of the world be same if he had a personal life where he enjoy simple pleasures? I dont mean to pass any judgements about his personal life, but the issue I am interested in is the Cause and Effect.

Somehow Larry Towell's war photographs comes to my mind. I read his pictures differently. They touch me more than some graphic war pictures made under herioc circumstances. There is no heroism or adreneline rush in Larry Towells. His pictures are quiet. They make me reflect on the situation. Nachtwey's pictures make me think about the photographer. I am caught in the photographic composition. The light and everything else. Everything except the meaning.

Seshu

The word "intelligence" in CIA appears to be an oxymoron. Noam Chomsky had it right - we are succumbing to a manufactured life. Things are delivered (remember "push" technology?) to us. We aren't seeking things out for ourselves. The lives of newspaper editors hinge on the whims and fancies of those who are in control of creating these fantasies in the first place. While they are culpable, the navel gazing has to begin with the finger pointed inward. What are we doing to prevent this? While I find abhorrent the use and the claim of a staged event as "news" I am befuddled to find a solution for this madness. As you say, "That's the reality, too."

"War photography is very important. But its impact on public is even more important. Thats why war photographers should have greater sense of responsibilty."

Do tell us how you would approach this. That would make interesting reading for sure. Instead of posting it here in the comments section, I would be happy to post it in the main section.

Thanks for creating this important dialogue.

Harikrishna

Thanks for the response, Seshu. Media coverage of the war, before and during, has really been disappointing to me. The US admin got away petty easily with all the wrong facts. Imagine they actually defied UN and everyone else based on faulty intelligence(was good anytime at all?). Now they are bickering over who got it wrong. The Austin American Statesman has a cheek to give a headline" CIA defends pre-war intelligence," when they are proven wrong. This excessive velvet glove approach is hurting the very credibility of the press in my opinion.
I can also think of the "fall of the Saddam statue" picture which was totally set-up , a good photo-op rather than a news event. The newspapers uncritically used it on their front pages. Many of the editors I spoke to told me they would run the picture again even if they knew it was set up. Thats pathetic. Thats the reality too.

I agree with you about Nachtwey. After watching the film"war photographer" he definitely comes out as an extreme case of someone totally disconnected with "normal" life. He seems be alive only in a conflict zone, when people are getting shot. Thats a very sad thing to happen to anyone. War destroys that basic joy of life. My only point would be, people who shoot war, have to really question their motivation real hard. War photography is very important. But its impact on public is even more important. Thats why war photographers should have greater sense of responsibilty.

Seshu

Harikrishna

Thanks for your comment. Don't you think that sometimes people construct very hard emotional shells to achieve the kind of success they have in capturing vivid images? I think of James Nachtwey. I am not sure he has much of a personal life, but the man can make darn good images wherever he is dropped, or even embedded. Does he not feel genuine empathy for his subjects? I think he does. But it's not all that easy to discern right away.

It's also hard to disagree with Peter Turnley. Embedding, in my mind, is really a form of censorship, a way for the establishment and the army to keep tabs on what is seen and how it is recorded. The army will counter this by saying that there would be more injuries, or worse deaths, if journalists were allowed free reign of anything and everything. In the end, I guess, it's how you want to approach journalism and what kind of a personal imprint you want to make in the field of your choice.

Harikrishna

I had a chance to meet David and Peter Turnley last November at a conference on war coverage at the University of Texas at Austin. Along with them were Ron Haviv, Peter Howe and Dallas morning new photographers David Leeson and Cheryl Diaz. No doubt they all had great stories to tell, and their work is awesome, and they produced it at a great personal risk. But one thing I missed was a sense of empathy for the real human tragedy going on in Iraq. Their stories had a ring of personal glory and I had to search hard for their motivation beyond "just a job." I must say both Peter Turnley and Peter Howe had a dissenting voice. It seemed they did "beg to differ" from the mainstream media and the administration rhetoric. In fact Peter Turnley was so outspoken about his views that he seemed to have pissed off lot of people about the way the embedding thing was set up for everybody's convenience. Too often, I believe we lose the sight of why we want to photograph. War is pornographic-you can't use to for personal glory.

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