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Serbia’s Atrocity, Holland’s Shame

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A Toast to Fratricide: Mladic (left) drinks with Karremans (middle)

I have previously covered the events leading to Srebrenica Massacre. This post continues the discussion.

In the days following the massacre, American spy planes flew over Srebrenica, and took photos showing the ground in vast areas around the town had been removed — a sign of mass burials. Early reports of massacres appeared here and there as the first survivors of the long march from Srebrenica began to arrive in Muslim-held areas a few days later.

The international community was horrified, but the Dutch — who previously enjoyed high reputation as peacekeepers — were almost unperturbed; when the Karremans Garrison which left Srebrenica to Ratko Mladic and his band of butchers returned to Zagreb, they were welcomed back by the Dutch crown prince and prime minister. As the news of the massacre became widespread, the Dutch newspaper the Telegraaf featured a photograph of twelve cheerful Dutch soldiers in Novi Sad, enjoying a post-hostage meal provided by the Serb government on 24th July. “A toast to freedom” read the headline, and the article now ironically reads, “Their dedication shows once again how well-equipped for its task the Dutch military is, when it comes right down to it”.

In the late 1995 — this after Miguel Gil Moreno, Dusko Tubic and David Rhode had covered and photographed the killing fields of Srebrenica — Karremans was promoted to the rank of colonel. More shockingly was the fate of a roll of film shot by a Dutch soldier, with photographs of the events in Srebrenica, which was destroyed in a darkroom in an action the Dutch parliament deemed as a “cover-up” by the Defense Ministry.

On 13th July, just before the massacre, a girl fetching water for her family in Potocari found nine bodies in a stream across the street from the UN base. A Dutch warrant officer Be Oosterveen was approached by a young local, who led him and another soldier towards the bodies. The Dutch soldiers both videotaped and photographed the bodies. However, the videotape was later destroyed by Dutch soldiers under orders from an officer because it also had video of top-secret Dutch air defense equipment. The photographs were “accidentally destroyed” during their development in a military film-processing lab.

Considering all this, the Netherlands’ fight to make Serbia’s EU accession dependent on the capture of Ratko Mladic seems pompous and ironic. Mladic, who was finally caught yesterday, was mainly responsible for Srebrenica (and many other atrocities during that excessive and brutal war), but the Dutch garrison, which wanted to go home; the UN high command, which wanted to end enclave problems in eastern Bosnia; and the Bosnian army which saw no value in protecting strategically unimportant Srebrenica must also share some of the blame. Srebrenica was a sad episode; it is a dark stain of Europe’s history, made all more tragic because it could have been averted.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 27, 2011 at 10:49 pm

To Those We Lost

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Fifty-seven years ago today died one of the first and brightest stars of photojournalism — Robert Capa, the Hungarian-born visionary who defined the word “war photographer”. In addition to covering the course of the Second World War in London, North Africa, Italy, Normandy Landings and the Liberation of Paris, he reported from four different wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, Arab-Israeli War and the First Indochina War. The above photo was the last one he took before he stepped on a landmine in Indochina on May 25th 1954.

On the Huffington Post, David Schonauer, the former editor-in-chief of American Photo Magazine, wrote a tribute to all the war photographers we lost, from Capa to Hetherington and Hondros: (To that list, we must now add Anton Hammerl).

They join the likes of Ken Oosterbroek, a member of the so-called Bang Bang Club of photojournalists immortalized now in a new movie. Oosterbroek was killed in 1994 while covering the violence in South Africa during the final days of apartheid. They join Olivier Rebbot, killed in El Salvador in 1981 while on assignment for Newsweek. Rebbot was a model for the photographer played by Nick Nolte in the 1983 film Under Fire. They join Robert Capa, killed near Thai Binh, Vietnam in 1954, who was the model for all who would follow in his profession. If the war photographer has come to be seen as a romantic figure, we have the Hemingwayesque Capa to thank.

It was Capa, famed for covering the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach, who said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” and the photographers who followed him into Vietnam took his advice. Vietnam was a particular deadly place for photographers, who jumped aboard helicopters alongside soldiers to fly into firefights. The names of the dead — Larry Burrows, Gilles Caron, Henri Huet, Robert Ellison, Dickie Chapelle, Charles Eggleston, and Oliver Noonan among them — have become legend. The haunting 1997 book Requiem memorialized these journalists — 135 photographers from different nations known to have died in Vietnam.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 25, 2011 at 12:01 am

One Night in Tal Afar

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In January 2005, photographer Chris Hondros was embedded with the US troops in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar; the town had seen frequent clashes between US forces and insurgents, and just after dusk, as the curfew was coming into force, a red car ignored the warning shots and rushed past the patrol. The soldiers believed that it was a suicide attack, and opened fire.

Inside the car was an ethnic Turkoman family rushing to the hospital for a treatment for their ill-son, Rakan; the parents were killed, and five children in the back — the oldest a teenager, the youngest, 6 — were left bloodied and traumatized, before the soldiers realized that it was a civilian car. They carried the traumatised children to the pavement and started binding their wounds. Hondros’s photographs of the incident revealed not only the tragedies suffered by so many civilians in Iraq, but also tough decisions the soldiers faced under duress. Especially haunting was the picture of the youngest girl, Samar Hassan, crying and covered in the blood of her parents. The blood on the pavement, her hands and face, as well as the red of her dress, makes this photo an instantly disturbing image.

Hondros was working for Getty, and the photos were quickly distributed, and became some of the most iconic pictures to come out of the Iraq War. While the photograph led to him being sent to Boston for treatment, Rakan was accused of being an American spy on his return. Three years later, he would be killed in a bomb attack. Samar Hassan had never seen the photo until last week, when The New York Times traced her to the northern Iraqi town of Mosul. Samar, now 12, told them that the picture showed, ““the sad thing that is happening in Iraq.”

Equally sad is the fact that the general public does not see many such pictures; the U.S. military, which tend to keep many graphic images away from the public eye, was deeply bothered by Hondros. The New York Times claimed that he was removed from his embedded assignment, although Hondros conceded that he left on his own accord after a spat between Getty, his employer, and the military over the pictures. Hondros would go on to win the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his work in Iraq, and to cover natural disasters and military conflicts across the world, including the current crisis in Libya. Two weeks ago, Hondros was killed, alongside Tim Hetherington, in Misrata. He was 41.

See the full gallery here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 8, 2011 at 11:21 am

When Hitler Met His End

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“For seldom had so many millions of people hoped so implacably for the death of one man” wrote Time magazine. The magazine was of course writing about Adolf Hilter, whose death was announced by the Hamburg radio at about 10.30 pm on May 1st 1945, almost 66 years to the hour of bin Laden’s death-notice.

There were many karmic similarities between the ignominious ends of this and last century’s greatest villains. Bombed out or driven away from the nations they cynically manipulated, both men would met their demise surrounded only by a dwindling loyal cadre. The armies they wronged would carry the photos to figure out how a fugitive Hitler or bin Laden might disguise himself.

There were conflicting reports on Hitler’s last days, his power and sanity during the cornered days under the Reich Chancellery, and unsurprisingly there were conflicting reports on his death too. The West believed, based on testimonies by those who were in the bunker with him, that Hitler had shot himself; the Soviets only revealed in the late 1960s that Hitler took a cyanide pill. Hitler was identified by his dental records; the Soviets buried the body, but the East German government dug it up, burned it, and thrown the ashes into a river.

On its cover, Time magazine featured a portrait of Hitler with a bloody X through it — starting a powerful tradition that the magazine carried through its coverage on the demise of the Empire of Japan, Saddam Hussein, al Zarqawi, and now bin Laden (above). [Bin Laden cover was commissioned years ago, back in 2002.]

While it took the Internet only a few minutes to fake bin Laden’s final photo, it took the world of 1945 quite a while to come up with a photo of a man who vaguely resembled Hitler (ab0ve).

the origins of this video are murky

And an event of this scale required conspiracies too. Lack of photographic evidence surrounding Hitler’s death fuelled allegations that the Fuhrer had indeed escaped. A German submarine that escaped the Allied blockade to arrive in South America further escalated these rumors. No matter how or where he met his end, Adolf Hitler as a political force died in 1945. The Nazis would gain a place in popular culture, but more often than not, only as delusional and self-important vaudevillians.

If the Revolutions of 2011 are any guide, Islamic radicalism will probably follow this route too in a few years’ time.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 4, 2011 at 5:12 am

Posted in Politics, Society, War

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Osama bin Laden (1957 – 2011)

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Osama bin Laden, America’s ultimate boogeyman for two decades is dead, a victim of whirlwinds he contemptuously sowed. 

You don’t need this blog to tell you this, because the international press and social media has already done their jobs. But here is how the story unfolded:

The story broke online as the chief of staff for the former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.” Earlier, as the White House corespondents were being summoned back, the President and the Vice President briefed the former presidents and the congressional leaders respectively. The president’s address to the nation, originally scheduled for 10.30 p.m. (Washington D.C. time), began sixty five minutes late — probably because Mr. Obama was writing his own speech. (Even earlier, someone had unknowingly livetweeted about the operation that would eventually kill bin Laden).

That bin Laden’s demise was a culmination, if not cloture, of a decade-long multinational manhunt was clear in obituaries major newspapers quickly released, the obituaries that they evidently had written years ago. To the New York Times, he was “An Emblem of Evil in the U.S., an Icon to the Cause of Terror”. BBC took a measured stance, calling him a terrorist only once in their obituary. The Telegraph’s title, “the presumed architect of the shocking events of September 11”, is a bit wrong, but not as wrong as filling it under ‘religion obituaries’. In the unique journalese it now reserves for only the most solemn occasions, Time declared, “Death Comes For the Master Terrorist.”  “A moment of unadulterated celebration” noted the Economist, after a 6.5-hour delay that seemed eternal by today’s standards.

Ben Macintyre’s flowery piece for The Times of London called him “the ultimate anti-hero for the last decade”. At Time, Tony Karon reiterates his oft-repeated stance that bin Laden had largely failed, a position this blog had endorsed before. At the New York Times too, Ross Douthat reflects on “The Death of a Failure“, while Nic Kristof ponders the life after bin Laden. For me personally, deeply troubling is the fact that bin Laden was finally discovered not in a squalid Afghan cave, but in a luxuriant compound some 50 miles away from the Pakistani capital. It is an affluent suburb close to the Pakistani military academy, where many retired generals in the Pakistani government — a government the U.S. has given over billions of dollars to track down terrorists — reside. It is more than an embarrassment; it is an indictment.

To wrap up, this is how he was finally found out. Here is how they already faked his death photo (below). Here is how many news sites scrambled for the scoop.

I wonder what Matthew Norman, who wrote this sad epitaph to American might only ten days ago, think of now.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Obituary, Politics, War

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Tim Hetherington (1970-2011)

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Tim Hetherington, tireless and lyrical raconteur of global conflicts, is dead, a victim of a Libyan mortar shell.

Many will remember Tim Hetherington as a great photographer, but to call him such would be to pigeonhole his contributions. He himself acknowledged his changing role in a new topography of media: “If you are interested in mass communication, then you have to stop thinking of yourself as a photographer. We live in a post-photographic world. If you are interested in photography, then you are interested in something — in terms of mass communication — that is past. I am interested in reaching as many people as possible.”

And he did. He covered various conflicts in West Africa and contributed to two documentaries on Liberia and Darfur. In 2007, he began a yearlong assignment documenting a battalion of American troops stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley as bait to the Taliban. He published a touching book Infidel, won his fourth World Press Photo award for his coverage, and was nominated for an Oscar for his resulting documentary, Restrepo, which was all too human for it was palpably apolitical. His broad experiences were also recorded an ethereal webvideo, “Diary”.

To the very end, he was determined to reach out to as many people as possible; he began using twitter eight months ago, and his first and last tweet from Libya — posted just hours before he himself was hit  — read: “In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO”. It was fitting, if heartrending, epitaph.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/18497543]

Excepted from the Times of London:

When he was hit he was with [Chris Hondros of Getty], Guy Martin, a British freelance journalist and Michael Christopher Brown, an American photographer. They were covering the bitter fight for control of a bridge over Tripoli Street, which Colonel Gaddafi’s forces are trying to retake to give them a clear route into the heart of Misrata.

The group, escorted by a Libyan guide, were on the front line when the regime forces spotted them and fired a mortar round. Hetherington suffered massive blood loss by the time an ambulance managed to reach him and take him through the cratered streets to the Hikmeh hospital, where doctors did their best to revive him. Hondros, who was due to marry soon, also died late last night, while Martin suffered serious injuries to the abdomen. Brown was hit in the arm and was not believed to be in danger.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 21, 2011 at 12:11 am

Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields

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1.7 million Cambodians died during those bloody years

For five seemingly endless years, a former school in Phnom Penh codenamed S-21 was death’s antechamber. During the worse excesses of the Khmer Rouge, over 16,000 people were tortured and imprisoned in the rooms of this prison before being carted off to their executions in the nearby killing fields. And most of them passed in front of an expressionless teenager’s camera.

Nhem Ein was just ten when he left the family farm and joined the Khmer Rouge with his four brothers in 1970. In 1975, he was sent to Shanghai to study photography and filmmaking, and was subsequently made chief photographer at S-21. Using looted cameras, he meticulously chronicled life inside Pol Pot’s abattoir (New York Times)

If Brother Number One’s killing machines worked perfectly, it was due to the help of thousands like Nhem Ein who worked tirelessly to keep cogs well-oiled. As he removed their blindfolds and adjusted lights, Nhem Ein would lie to the newly arrived prisoners that “I’m just a photographer; I don’t know anything.” He would photograph hundreds of people a day, processing his film overnight to be attached to individual dossiers, comfortably cocooned from terrible realities of the Killing Fields from inside his isolated darkroom. He was careful not to let screams from torture chambers disturb his sleep, for he had to get up early to photograph the next batch of prisoners, he later recalled. As Arendt said of Eichmann, it was banality of evil personified, and like Eichmann, Nhem Ein had since retreated into bureaucratic doublespeak that he merely did what was asked of him.

That said, life was definitely not easy working for mercurial Pol Pot. When Nhem Ein accidentally damaged during development a negative of Pol Pot’s visit to China — there were spots on the eyes of the leader — he was sent to a prison farm. Only by convincing his interrogators that the film had been damaged before it reached him, Nhem Ein was spared the fate of thousands whose portraits he had taken.

Nhem Ein’s original negatives were left behind inside S-21 after the fall of Khmer Rouge. In 1997, two photographers, Douglas Niven and Chris Riley, discovered some 7,000 of them in S-21 and published 78 of them in a book called ”The Killing Fields.” Identifying them is next to impossible.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 12, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Politics, Society, War

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As Saddam falls

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As viewers watched on television, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Leon Lambert and Corporal Edward Chin prepared to bring down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. Photograph by Alexandra Boulat.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue on April 9th 2003 quickly became one of the enduring images of the war in Iraq. But it was a controversial moment; in a 2004 documentary, “Control Room”, Al-Jazeera reporters argued that the toppling was merely “a show … a very clever idea,” and that Iraqis had been brought to the square like actors delivered to the stage. This sentiment was echoed by Los Angeles Times, citing an internal army report, and later by a New Yorker/ProPublica investigative report.

Since then, the issue had devolved into a series of he-said, she-said’s and it is hard to remember that it all happened only eight years ago, and all records are online and out there to review. Analysis of broadcast news with regards to this pivotal moment had been done before, but I would like to turn the focus here into how major news outlets covered it.

The BBC correspondent, who was in the square said, his impression was of “a newly free people” expressing their “overwhelming joy”. CNN’s coverage (in print at least) was monotonously factual: “A Marine draped the American flag over the head of the statue — a gesture that drew a muted reaction from the crowd, gasps in a Pentagon briefing room and anger from a commentator on the Arab news network Al Arabiya.”

The newspapers’ coverage, perhaps because it was immediate, was effusive.  The Times wrote, “It was a momentous day, reminiscent of the fall of the Berlin Wall and with it the communist empire in 1989. And no image of it will be more enduring than the toppling of that 20ft Saddam statue by a US tank egged on by a cheering, excited mob which then stamped with undisguised glee on the fallen idol.” The New York Times was equally enthusiastic: “Cheering ecstatically, a crowd of Iraqis danced and trampled on the fallen 20-foot high metal statue in contempt for the man who had held them in fear for so long. In scenes recalling the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, Iraqis hacked at the statue’s marble plinth with a sledgehammer.” Meanwhile, the Guardian files in a confusing report.

The foreign press, according to BBC, was equally prone to sensationalism. Even the left-leaning Liberation says there were no regrets when the statue fell. Bild, too, made comparisons with the fall of other personality cults of Hitler and Stalin. Throughout the Arab World, however, TV coverage played down the fall of Baghdad, focusing on scenes of chaos and looting.

In the weeklies that were published a few days later, the tone became more tempered. The Economist noted “If the fall of a regime has a single moment of collapse, it came on April 9th.” But it also emphasized that “This was not the Berlin Wall. The crowd in the square was small.” Time magazine, too, echoed those sentiments, wryly dismissing TV stations’ more sentimental reporting.

It is my personal opinion that while the media did not deliberately exaggerate the events, its presence didn’t help either. Observation often changes the phenomenon being observed, and the toppling was perhaps a mere victim of this. While the original reportage was frenzied, I also think the subsequent accusations are equally cavalier.

The crowd was mostly reporters and journalists.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 10, 2011 at 9:30 am

Death of Zapata

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For all the narrowness of his goals, Emiliano Zapata surprisingly came to represent that decade-long struggle known as the Mexican Revolution. While others were fighting for the complete overthrow of the government, Zapata originally fought merely for agricultural reform and land repatriations. When the land reforms were not discussed after the initial revolution in 1911, Zapata fought on.

Although much had been made of his bravery and strategic insight these days, the fortunes of Zapata’s ragtag band was vacillating at best. Only frequent coups and governmental disarray saved his army from being annihilated. But by 1916, Zapata’s peasant revolution was faltering; Venustiano Carranza, an erstwhile rebel who was now in power, was determined to root out other rebel efforts; Carranza found Zapata and Villa’s movements most politically embarrassing and threatening for their proximity to Mexico City.

Facing defeat, Zapata tried unsuccessfully to form alliances with other revolutionaries who he had haughtily turned down years before. In 1919, while trying to lure a government colonel to his side, Zapata fell into a trap; when he arrived at the secret meeting place, Zapata was shot and killed by federal troops. Unfortunately for the government, in spranging this trap, they created a martyr in Zapata. Outside world, which had considered Mexico’s revolution as a comic nuisance before — and since — quickly condemned the assassination of a man who give it the oft-quoted phrase, Tierra y Libertad.

His movement was weakened and localized, but continued nonetheless. Carranza publicly displayed Zapata’s remains to convince people that Zapata was truly dead. It was on this occasion that the famed chronicler of the Mexican Revolution Agustin Casasola was invited to take the photo, which was widely circulated but failed to achieve the results Carranza had hoped. The claims that he was still alive persisted long after Zapata’s death.

 

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Christmas Truce

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During the First World War, drafts created the armies that were drawn from remarkably similar societies for the first time in modern warfare. Along the Western Front, on both sides there were industrial workers and farm laborers. On both sides there were aristocratic senior officers and middle-class junior officers. For Catholics, Protestants and Jews fighting for separate armies, they sometimes identified more with their religious brethren on the opposing side than with their fellow soldiers.

The soldiers, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans and Italians were equally irreverent about what they were supposedly fighting for. Over the longer period of trench warfare, a kind of ‘live and let live’ attitude developed in certain relatively quiet sectors of the line; war was reduced to a series of rituals, as with the Greeks and Trojans. English pacifist Vera Brittain noted about a Scottish and a Saxon regiment that had agreed not to aim at each other when they fired. They made a lot of noise and an outsider would have thought the men were fighting hard, but in practice no one was hit. Robert Graves — in his pivotal memoir of the Great War, Goodbye to All That — recollected about letters arriving from the Germans, rolled up in old mortar shells: “Your little dog has run over to us, and we are keeping it safe here.” Newspapers were fired back and forth in the same fashion. Louis Barthas spent some time in a sector where the Germans and the French fired only six mortar rounds a day, ‘out of courtesy’.

Nothing symbolized this easygoing attitudes more than the informal Christmas truce of 1914, when opposing soldiers in many sectors joined together to sing carols, and exchange Christmas greetings and gifts. Soccer games were played in no man’s land with makeshift balls. Of course, there were some who refused to participate in the truce; among those was a German field messenger named Adolf Hitler, who grumbled, ““Such things should not happen in wartime. Have you Germans no sense of honor left at all?”

At Diksmuide, Belgium, the Belgian and German soldiers famously celebrated Christmas Eve together in 1914, drinking schapps together. One year later, ad hoc ceasefires took place again, this time in northern France. No man’s land was suddenly transformed into ‘a country fair’ as lively bartering began for schnapps, cigarettes, coffee, uniform buttons and other trinkets. More worryingly for their superiors, the soldiers sang the Internationale.

Yet socialist hopes that soldiers would ultimately repudiate their national loyalties for the sake of international brotherhood were proven to be futile. Christmas Truce was almost the last hurrah of a bygone era; as the war went on, mutual hatred grew, expunging the common origins and predicament of the combatants. War, too, has lost its mystique; soon, only fools would celebrate it or enter it with excited patriotic fervor. After August 1914, when thousands of red-trousered Frenchmen and white-gloved officers in full dress and plumes were decimated by German machine guns, France eschewed her pride and switched to neutral-colored service uniforms — the last world power to do so. Soon, there will be no more sabres and Sam Browne belts, no more centuries-old habits of chivalry, no more leaving civilians out of war.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 27, 2011 at 8:48 am

Posted in Politics, War

Tagged with , ,

Libya, Jack Hill

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As I have noted previously, I am on vacation; when I am on vacation, I do not blog, but I broke that rule yesterday and I am breaking it again. As I type this, sitting in my room in St. Moritz, sipping my apres ski Hot Toddy, and reading the Daily and the Times on iPad, I feel somewhat sad and disillusioned about the situation in Libya. I have many comments, but cannot bring myself to write them down from safe and cozy distance of my hotel room. I wonder whether many other commentators feel this way.

Anyway, onwards to photos. No matter what you may think of the Libyan Campaign, it cannot be denied that a lot of great photos are coming out of it; I don’t know why but Iraq and Afghanistan produced not that many memorable/iconic images, considering that there were so many photographers working there. On the cover of yesterday’s Times, there was a beautiful (if carnage can be described as such) photo of a tank explosion (above). Immediately, I told myself, wow, there was one iconic image. Many people felt this way, I guess, for today’s Times featured a piece by the photographer, Jack Hill:

About 30 km south of Benghazi, we came across the site of a huge airstrike. One tank was destroyed and another was burning. There were abandoned self-propelled guns and charred bodies covered with blankets.

Slightly farther down the road was more destruction: a munition truck was burning heavily and the ordnance was exploding out of it. It was a dramatic sight.

I moved carefully towards the burning truck. I was captivated by the smoke and the colours within it, and the exploding shells wee an impromptu fireworks display. How to photograph such a scene? It was hard to know where to look or start.

I added a 1.4 converter to my longest lens, a 70-200 mm and I filed the frame, aiming to illustrate the power and destruction of the strike. Edging as close as I felt comfortable, I compared a picture just as contents of the truck started exploding again. I started shooting, not even checking my exposures. I was shooting 1/6400th of a second at F5.6. That was accident rather than design, but the exposure was good. As I was shooting a young ran across the frame. At the time, I though “if that works out, it won’t be a bad picture”. It was hard to know what to shoot. There was so much to take in.

I chose this picture over the others because it gives a human scale to a scene that I couldn’t have imagined.”

Other great photos on Libya are courtesy of Goran Tomasevio, Suhaib Salem and Finbarr O’Reilley for Reuters, and Anja Niedringhaus for AP. (shameless ad: I recommend getting an iPad, if only for photos; its resolution is great for viewing photos, and photo sections of the Times, the Daily, Paris Match, and the New York Times really make iPad an aesthetic device).

 

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Posted in Politics, War

Tagged with , ,

The Kill Team

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a drop in the bucket of 4,000 images

(click to see enlarged photos at Der Speigel)

In 2010, there operated in the southern province of Kandahar, Afghanistan, a US Stryker tank unit that called itself a “Kill Team”. Twelve members of that team are now currently on trail in Seattle for their role in the killing of three civilians. In one incident in May 2010, when the team arrested a mullah who was merely standing by the road, they took him into a ditch and ordered him to kneel down. The group’s leader, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, threw a grenade at the mullah, ordered his men to shoot him, and then cut off the mullah’s fingers and a tooth. Then, he reported to his superiors that the team had no choice but to shoot the mullah because he threatened them with a grenade.

Now, Gibbs and his men are being charged for this incident, and other crimes, which included drug abuse, and possession of images of human casualties (I didn’t know that was a crime). The U.S. military had tried hard to prevent these images reaching into the public domain, but Der Speigel had obtained nearly 4000 photos and videos taken by the men; last Sunday, it has decided to publish three, editorializing that since there are collections of pictures which pointed to other heinous crimes committed, in addition to the crimes these men were on trial for, it would only be fair for a news outlet to draw attention to them.

I agree. While publishing all 4000 images will be repugnant and unnecessary, reproducing a small number of photos is informational. Like shocking images from Vietnam, these photos will spur the conversation on all too real human casualties of wars we fight, collaterals we often forget. I believe the perpetrators of these acts are merely rogue agents and bad apples, but sometimes it is healthy to examine, like in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, whether the systemic failures of the barrel prompted these apples to go bad.

One of the nice things about writing for a blog, as opposed to writing for a newspaper, is that I don’t really have to care much about censors. (But, I have decided to link them because they are too brutal to be depicted on my homepage). But I don’t deny that these photos won’t have any consequences; they do — in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 22, 2011 at 5:59 am

Posted in Politics, War

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