How do you publish the pictures of a chemical attack? For French left-wing daily, Libération, the choice was clear. It put an image on its front pages.
The photograph, released by the Associated Press, shows the lifeless bodies of at least children minutes after a chemical weapon attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in Syria. They were stripped half-naked, immediately after the chemical attack, not to leave their skin in contact with contaminated clothing. It was a screenshot from video shot by a group of citizen journalists, Edlib Media Center (EMC). America’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley showed a version of the image to the Security Council.
In Time magazine, Lionel Charrier, Libération’s director of photography, defends his controversial decision:
Our job, as photographers, as photo editors, is to see what we don’t want to see. We don’t take pleasure from it. These images are unbearable, but if we do it sparingly, sometimes we have to break the rules.
This is not gratuitous. This is not done to sell copies. It’s a photograph that we found on the Associated Press’ wire. We’ve captured, in the past, screenshots of videos, but the fact that the wires had authenticated the photograph was important for us. We watched as improvised first responders were carrying these children and putting them in trucks and pickups.
This photograph reminds us of James Nachtwey’s images in Zaire. When you do a front page like this one, you want to disturb people. We can’t hide behind it. It’s the image with a capital I; the one we will remember this year.”
Time asked whether he would have published a photograph of French victims of a terror attack. Charrier noted, “In those cases, publishing these images would be playing in the hands of ISIS, which wants to create terror. In this case, the Syrian regime denies these events ever happened. They don’t want people to see. This pushes us to say: ‘See, here it is.’ That’s an important part of our job.”