Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Drench now or drench later, the choice is yours

Thanks to LibertarianJackass.com for having this image. It should be passed around far and wide. LJ also links to this site which comments on the "shot." That blogger (who's tag line is "I rant, you decide," which I like) says:

Here is the paper's story behind getting the image and publishing. They swear, really, truly, it isn't meant as an anti-war image. Whatever. The woman who took the photo I find far more credible in her motivation: she wants the families to know that at every step of the way their loved ones are always treated with the respect due them.

I understand that motivation on her part, and respect her need to tell her story in that way. But I can't help wondering who she is that she gets to make that decision?

I'm process-writing this, so I'm about to click on that link to the article in question. Pre-reading it, my thought is, we should all get to decide. Who is the President to filter our images? He certainly favors filtering truth, doesn't he?

Okay, now I read the article, and you should too. It's a process story as well from the Seattle Times.

So, having read it, I buy it.

See, the Bush Admin policy of shrouding repatriation in secrecy gives a pallor of inappropriateness to this photo that is undeserved. Men and women have died in Iraq. That is a fact. This picture depicts that - not in a disrespectful, blood soaked, sand caked way, but in an honor draped, carefully attended, somber way. I am anti-war. Do I believe this image helps my cause? Yes and no. But I think it wouldn't be such a major news item were it not for the secrecy Bush forced on the process. This is a beautiful, haunting image that should take its rightful place next to indelible images of falling statues and streaking green lights across a night sky.

By the way, several media watcher-types have commented on most major media outlets refusal to run this image, or anything like it. Doesn't that outrage you? Doesn't your lack of outrage outrage you? They're the press for god's sake - they pester and annoy any number of two-bit celebrities, but they shy away from this? I thought half the fun of America was it's press and their "bring it on" spirit. As it was, the Seattle Times waited almost a week to run the photo so they could put it in proper "context." I wonder why the total of Iraq coverage wasn't sufficient context. And only after they found a way to couch it in the least panty-bunching way possible did they run it. What if the civilian, non-professional's photograph was a product of her feeling that we shouldn't be in Iraq? Would they have run it? Run it with a disclaimer: "Gentle reader, the following image was taken by someone who says she is against the war and therefore should be interpreted as a biased alignment of chemicals on treated paper. Don't blame us, blame user error and molecular changes."

This story is a nice tie in to other discussions I've had on the nature of photography as art, its powerful place in our culture, and its power over history as its being made. You'll note the name of this blog, of course, as well. There's a great debate in literary circles over reader-centered vs. text-centered interpretations. When you read something, should you be figuring out what the author is trying to tell you or what your reaction is to what you're reading? Who's message is more important? This photo is a chance to apply that debate to the visual world. I would argue that with photographs, unlike books, the author (photographer) has less control over the final interpretation. The reader is more important because images are more finite than language (and no, I'm not including digitally enhanced, altered, or otherwise adulterated images). There will, then, always be differing opinions about a photo, different tones of resonance, etc. Bush can only try to stop the spread of images, then. Control their capture and airing. He can't shape it like the news-shaping goons he has at the CPA can spin press releases. His level of fear should incentivize the press and the public to figure out what power he derives from controlling the images.

These images will come out. As voters, as citizens, we need to take every opportunity to evaluate what carried out in our names. This photo is part of that process - an undeniable data point we have to account for in the final analysis.

So scroll up and look again. Take time to think about what it means on every level: What does it mean on its face? What does the capture of this image mean? What does the policy against such images mean? What does this image's publication now mean?

The more we drench now in meaning, the less we will drench later in blood.

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