Famous U.S. photojournalist Kenneth Jarecke was subjected to critical questions regarding a powerful photograph which he took during the first Gulf war.
The photo showed an incinerated Iraqi soldier in a truck which burnt by American shelling. The soldier appeared as though he was trying to save himself to the very end, his charred remains were photographed in a position of attempted escape.
At the time, the photo was not published in American media outlets. However, it was published in the French daily Libération sometime later. Predictably, it did not cause as much uproar as it would have had it been published at the height of the war.
The photograph lost its value at the peak of American celebration of the war. Despite its importance, many who refused to publish the photo argued that there was something immoral in taking photos of dead people. This shocked Jarecke as he thought that his photo would defy the common idea that the Gulf war was a “clean” war. He was certain that his photo, which showed how the Iraqi soldier was struggling to save his life until his last breath, would have caused an uproar just as the infamous photograph of a Vietnamese child struck by napalm and the starving child watched by a vulture in Sudan had done.
When Jarecke was asked why he took the photo of the burnt Iraqi soldier, he said: “I am not interested in taking photos of dead people. However, if I didn’t take photos like this, people like my mother will think the war is what they see in movies.”
It seems the time when a certain photograph was capable of causing some sort of change has ended. We’ve seen many photos death and thought these photos would make a difference. But none of this happened. From Syria to Egypt to Lebanon, Yemen and Libya, we’ve seen terrifying photos reflecting the brutality of war, tyranny and murder but this clearly documented violence no longer achieves real change.
I’m certain that the advent of the Internet has altered how photos affect the public opinion. It seems we now suffer from an abundance of horrific photos.
Endless stream of violence
Some people think that constant photos of blood and horror desensitizes people. Or perhaps seeing such an endless stream of violent photos makes us feel frustrated and helpless. So, are feelings of anger and frustration enough to make us act?
In today’s world, it’s impossible for our eyes to rest and there’s no hope that we will return to that bubble which made us feel safe, even if it was a delusion. We can no longer claim innocence and say we have seen no evil. However, whether we look at these photos or not, their presence is necessary because they will teach future generations about our time.
The ability of shocking photos to cause change has become doubtful but what’s certain is that turning a blind eye to these photos is no longer an available option.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on February 23, 2015.
Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.