Saturday, August 15, 2009
PORTRAITS OF WAR
Unseen Pictures, Untold Stories
U.S. newspapers and magazines print few photos of American dead and wounded, a Times review finds. The reasons are many -- access, logistics, ethics -- but the result is an obscured view of the cost of war.[Slide Show - Click on numbers to view slides][ To listen to narrative, click on "audio on" at lower left side of photo #1]
Photographers and editors said pictures of Iraqi losses had been much more prevalent in large part because Iraqis had suffered many more casualties.
But there are other reasons. American editors have less fear that grieving friends and relatives half a world away will have see the traumatic photos. And Iraqi casualty photos can be transmitted without the "hold" restrictions — for notification of family members — that govern photos of American casualties.
When they do show images of casualties on the American side, newspaper executives can count on a backlash. Newark's Star-Ledger received about two dozen complaints when it ran the picture of Babbitt on its front page.
Complaints to the News Tribune of Tacoma about the "insensitivity" of the photo prompted Executive Editor Dave Zeeck to write an explanatory essay on Page 2 of the main news section. Zeeck told readers that he believed the picture, taken by John Moore of the Associated Press, epitomized the sacrifice of the American soldier.
"We not only have the right, but the responsibility to run such photos," Zeeck said.
Nearly 20 photographers who have worked in Iraq said in interviews that no factor limited pictures of the bloodshed more than the difficulty in getting to the news.
News organizations have invested millions of dollars in covering the war, but journalists form a thin, broken line when stretched across the vast deserts and mountains of Iraq.
At any given time in recent months, from three to 13 photographers have been on assignment with the military, a U.S. Army official said. And those who remain "in country" find their movements increasingly limited by the violence.
"Compared to the pope's funeral or Martha Stewart or the Michael Jackson trial, there is nobody here," said Jim MacMillan, part of the Associated Press' Pulitzer Prize-winning team of photographers in Iraq. Americans, he said, "are missing the war. The embedded perspective is going vastly undercovered, with some exceptions, and that is the only place you can cover the risk and the price being paid by Americans."
The conflict in Iraq has produced uncommon displays of bravery and skill from dozens of photographers; that's the consensus of correspondents who have been there and of those who have covered earlier conflicts.
But like journalists through history, today's war photographers endure long hours of boredom, punctuated by "crazy adrenaline for perhaps 20 minutes at a time," said Thomas Dworzak of Magnum Photos, another agency whose photos are distributed widely to the media.
In one six-week period, Dworzak said, the unit he was embedded with engaged in two firefights and suffered two bomb attacks, while violent encounters went unrecorded minutes away.
Digital cameras and satellite communications make it possible to ship pictures from a foxhole at the front. No technological advance, however, can eliminate perhaps the photojournalist's most difficult terrain — building camaraderie with soldiers while continuing to hold them objectively as subjects.
Many soldiers and officers in Iraq said they came to respect the cameramen and camerawomen who stood beside them through firefights and mortar barrages. But those relationships can fray quickly when things go wrong.
Tyler Hicks of the New York Times and Carolyn Cole of the Los Angeles Times accompanied the Army in August during the dangerous assault on the insurgent stronghold of Najaf. They weathered several life-threatening episodes with the troops. But much of the respect they gained disappeared when the two tried to take pictures of wounded and dead soldiers being rushed to a field hospital.
Cole, a Pulitzer winner for photographs she took of the war in Liberia, said later she understood the soldiers' high emotions. But she resented the row of soldiers blocking her camera, who in her view prevented her from doing her job.
"They were happy to have us along when we could show them fighting the battle, show the courageous side of them," Cole said. "Then suddenly the tables turned. They didn't want anything shown of their grief and what was happening on the negative side, which is equally important."
Although they had not broken any written agreement, both photographers said their Army handlers made it clear they were no longer welcome. They transferred to a Marine unit. (The Army public affairs officer who oversaw the two did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
Hondros, the Getty Images photographer, took pictures early this year that provoked a particularly strong reaction. They showed children in the terrifying moments after an Army patrol accidentally shot their parents to death.
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times
Labels: portraits of war
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