Photographing the War
Daniela Basso | 25-11-2007 | ENG
(Translated by Vincent G. Racana)
The paradox of every war, viewed within its own daily reality. Absurdity more prevalent than truth. Thoughts on the World Press Photo 2007.
A red Mini convertible passes through the debris, filled with a group of young Lebanese who look at themselves and their surroundings with disbelief. Everything about them is perfect, except for their sense of discomfort. We know nothing about exactly what just occurred. We know the moment, they seem like models from the pages of numerous fashion and lifestyle magazines, which promote stylish living and physical well being. They look through the debris of a war that is a world so far from their life, but which also possesses the obtuse and despair, similar to the debris surrounding them.
It is a scene, more or less, of daily life. If it were not for the background: August 15, 2006, Haret Hreik, a neighborhood on the periphery of Beirut, Lebanon. Or, that which remained of it after almost five weeks of bombing by the Israelis. The area was suspicious enough, or a little more, that determined its fate, which offered the evisceration of homes that sheltered the Hezbollah militants. The young man watches from the driver's seat undismayed by what is in front of him, debris from the attack is reflected on the dark glasses of the passenger next to him. A young woman holds her nose with a handkerchief, annoyed from the odor of the dead. Another woman, like any tourist, takes a picture with a cell phone. We, like them, proceed with discomfort, accustomed to other images, another reality.
It is the photo symbol of 2006: The World Press Photo of the Year.
Spencer Platt, an American war reporter and photograher of many years, is the autor: "I think that this photo, in Lebanon, creates a certain discomfort, in any person, because it's like a mirror. For them it is good if we journalists document the gory consequences of the Israeli bombings, but, not if we aim the camera at the contradictions of the war. It needs to be useful for something; this image could be the beginning of a conversation. Ask those who look at it to reconsider the stereotypes of war victims."
It is not easy to photograph the war, to find the truth in the images: "At times it was stressful work in Lebanon, we never knew if what we had in front of us was destroyed on purpose for the benefit of journalists or if was authentic. In the Middle East, they have learned to help themselves by being crafty with mass media. They are consciously aware of having more images than anyone else in the world. On many occasions, the other journalists and I had the suspicion that what we saw was not what was really happening. I am more proud of the image that won an award, which is a true image of Beirut in the turbulent summer of 2006".
Again, an image that intersects war and daily life. A young bride stands next to a uniformed Marine, who is decorated with medals. It is their wedding day; she wears a white wedding gown and holds a bouquet of flowers. The Marine, her husband, named Ty Ziegel, was wounded during an assignation attempt in Iraq. He was left completely disfigured, practically without a face.
The photo is by Nina Berman: the first prize winner in the category "Portraits" of the World Press Photo, a non-profit organization, based in The Netherlands, was founded in 1955 with the mission to promote and support the photojournalism profession throughout the world.
World Press Photo publishes a catalogue every year in six languages (published in Italy by Contrasto) and a traveling exhibition which moves across 45 countries. (For those who missed the exhibition in Roma and Milano this past May, there is still an opportunity to see it in Lucca, at Villa Bottini, from November 24 to December 16, 2007).
In viewing these images, we find ourselves, the same strangers in the land of war, to wander confused inside its reality because despite global communications, we do not understand the daily horror. Maybe, because one photo, inasmuch as it is an image without movement, compels us to gaze at the details. It is not transitional, it does not escape the present, even if it is already far away.
A photograph compels who looks at it to gaze. Also in front of our discomfort, amongst the debris are blown up bodies, corpses, the wounded, tortured, and unrecognizable. The corpse is right, left and center without cover, and we can not avert our gaze.
(November 25, 2007)