The war photography has always been an important part of the media. It gives the evidence of conflicts that happened in the past. The real photographer shows all the horrors of the war, no matter how difficult it is.
However, the job of photographer has always been extremely difficult. The government’s pressure on media companies has always been intense and there is evidence that it still is. The politicians do not want people to find out the truth about war conflicts. They do not want people to panic or be disorganized. Despite certain pressure on the media, war photographers should provide authentic images of the war conflict and its aftermath. People have a right to know the truth about what the real war does to people.
Current paper will discuss photographer’s misrepresentation during different periods of war conflicts. It will also review the issue of propaganda and how to avoid it. The paper will discuss the impact of photography on people’s opinions. The paper focuses on the article of Susan Sontag “Looking at War: Photography’s view of devastation and death”, published in The New Yorker in 2002.
The British photographer, Roger Fenton introduced war photography while capturing the events of the Crimean War in 1855. Since that time, there have always been questions about the truthful representation of those photos. In comparison with the contemporary cameras, it was impossible to take action shots because cameras were technically insufficient back then. Photographers could take either images of dead people on the battlefields or images of those people who posed in front of the camera.
Many photographers who were taking images of armed conflicts died. This profession was extremely dangerous back in those days. Sometimes they tried to get to the frontlines in order to make extraordinary images. It rarely resulted in success. Later, in order not to subject themselves to danger, photographers started staging their shots. This paper will consider the examples of photos, framed up by war photographers during different war conflicts.
Today’s international conventions and laws protect the profession of war correspondent or photographer. However, they do not always help. This job has become more dangerous with the expansion of terrorism around the world. Today, there are many examples when enemies kill photographers in the first turn. They know that they take images that can be a proof of their illegal actions. War photography has a tight connection with the freedom of press and governmental and political control. The censorship does not allow presenting the events openly. This pressure has changed many times during different historical periods.
For instance, during the World War I only a limited number of photographers had access to battlefields. During the World War II, there were first published photos of casualties. The USA always wanted to make people think that there are no casualties in the wars in which they take part. However, the Vietnam War proved they were wrong. It was the first war during which photographers presented real facts and only authentic photographs. The photos of armed conflicts became the most shocking images ever. Nevertheless, this was the only way of how people could be provided with information so as to understand what the real war could do.
There has always been a dispute between the media on the one side and the war on the other. Media suppose to mean freedom of speech, enlightening all events truthfully while military forces provide state’s security during the war. During the peacetime, journalists are not interested in what military does. When the war conflict breaks out, the reporters suddenly rush to the frontline in order to get something interesting and offer it to the public.
Media covers the war conflict in a way that public would support the war efforts. The media manipulates to inform or persuade image interpretation. During the war, civilians need more information; they need to be sure that the government’s actions are successful. The media transmits this desired information to the civilian population. This desire to find out more truth becomes a potential threat to misinformation and propaganda.
The government uses propaganda in order to accomplish objectives during the wartime. It helps politicians to win the support for the war among the civilian population. Its aim is to influence the opinions of the public rather than provide facts. There have always been different forms of propaganda including television, radio, films and songs. But the most successful innovation that the war witnessed was photography.
Susan Sontag based her article on Virginia Woolf’s book Three Guineas, which consisted of her considerations about the war. Virginia Woolf stated that men felt it their obligation to fight in the war. She also stated that they were the root of the war as it was “a man’s game” while women were against it. However, she stated that these differences could only test the feelings that both men and women have while looking at horrific war pictures. The author claimed that women considered the war “abomination; a barbarity” and people ought to stop the war at any cost.
The only thing that people want is the peaceful life without wars. In the 1930s, there were anti-war protests. Virginia Woolf stated that in 1924 when Ernst Friedrich published almost two hundred photos of the war in his album War Against War!, the German government did not support this idea. The police searched through the bookstores trying to sue the author for showing such images. However, the album had an impressive impact on society’s views and belief. It was “a shock therapy” for them. In six years, there were many translations of the captions of those images in Friedrich’s album. Virginia Woolf claimed that this shock ought to unite the society. When people look at such photos they understand that war is the worst thing on the planet, as it destroys and causes grief.
Woolf believed that some people considered that the war ought not to stop. While looking at those pictures they only care about whom the victim is and who the killer is. Militant need the captions for the explanation of the photo. Very often, the propaganda falsifies these captions. Despite this fact, people should always condemn the war while looking at such kind of pictures. They can feel the pain that the war causes through these photos. Their aim must be a demand of a peaceful life.
The awareness of the war among those who have never experienced it fully depends on the impact of those images. A photograph is an easy way to apprehend and memorize something. The slogan of the French journal, Paris Match was “The weight of words, the shock of photos.” Photographers strive to show people more dramatic images which will be the source of values.
The war is conducted by means of the battlefield and propaganda. The latter one directs public opinion towards approval of war. The Vietnam War itself is a good example of America’s propaganda system. George Herring states that the U.S. administration officials established “A Vietnam Information Group” during the war. It monitored the reaction of people to the war and dealt only with negative ones. The reason the pro-war propaganda did its job only partially was the fact that the United States was not winning the war. Another fact that could influence the spreading of the propaganda was the structure of the population. Noam Chomsky states that propaganda works much better among the well-educated people than the lower social classes. People with higher education read more, hence, receive more information. Another important fact was that an audience preferred television as means of acquiring war-related information to any other source. The American people became increasingly dependent on watching the conflict in Vietnam. The government wanted people to believe that it was a planned war and that soldiers were defending democracy. The media could not cover up the deaths of American soldiers. Eventually, people started to notice.
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The Vietnam War was the first war ever broadcasted on TV. People could watch the deaths and destruction caused by war as it was a routine entertainment for them. Larry Burrow’s photos of tortured to death Vietnamese citizens and wounded American soldiers strengthened the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Susan Sontag states that photos of the Vietnam War were real. One of the reasons for it is that TV broadcasted the images of war. It was impossible for the photographer to compete with TV cameras. Filming presents more evidence than photos do.
Since the Vietnam War, photographs have been used to include objectivity and impartiality. The memories about war are local. In order to attract international attention, the photos must be exceptional today. The war conflicts do not acquire their full meaning. For instance, the Chaco War of 1932 -1935 was a conflict which caused thousands of deaths. However, the pictures taken by the German journalist Willi Ruge are forgotten as well as the war itself.
Today, war photos do not give a clear explanation of what really happened. It is an image chosen by photographer. The development of digital innovations and creation of Photoshop are the opportunities to misrepresent the image. The photos found on TV or Internet are meant to mislead people and not to show the real impact of war. Susan Sontag in her article states that these misrepresentations cannot disqualify the disasters caused by war. She claims that a photo has to show the real evidence of the war, but not to evoke the feelings.
The government often controls the media and uses photos to show patriotism and the good will of sacrificing people’s lives. In 1855, the British government sent Roger Fenton, a well-known British photographer to the Crimea. It was the first war to be photographed. The British government strived to prevent the negative effect of pictures that started to appear, showing the danger that British soldiers endured. They funded Fenton and wanted him to show a more positive impression of the Crimean war. He took the pictures of war behind the frontline: “dignified all-male group outing”. He avoided showing disaster, pain, deaths, and tortured civilians. The government used these photos to mislead the society by “distorting the real facts of the events”.
Despite the alterations made by Fenton, media displayed the horrors and deaths through the pictures of the American Civil War. Mathew Brady, a well-known photographer who took pictures of Abraham Lincoln leaded the group of photographers. The President accessed Brady to the battlefields. The photographers took pictures of dead bodies of soldiers and presented them to American audience. However, Brady explained this as “the camera is the eye of history”.
It has always been difficult to present real war with its horror and violence through images for non-combatants. Sometimes, artists take the responsibility to show the brutality of war. However, Susan Sontag claims that artists create paintings, but the photographers take photos. However, they can include or exclude something by means of different manipulations. She believes that photos are better evidence than drawings.
The better part of the photos of the early war turned out to be framed up. Susan Sontag states that it is too easy to change the image: “Photographs of victims of war are themselves a species of rhetoric. They reiterate. They simplify. They agitate. They create the illusion of consensus”.
The war photography is not an art; its aim is to document the evidence of war conflicts. Photographers cannot exaggerate what they have witnessed.
People remember events trough photograph. For instance, the photo of the concentration camp reminds people about Nazism and adversity of the Second World War.
Susan Sontag explains that photos do not help people to understand something; they just help to recall the history. On one of the images taken during the War in Bosnia, a military man was kicking a dying woman in the head. People cannot understand anything from this image. However, the photograph gave a little more additional information, explaining that it was a Serb soldier and Muslim woman. He shows people that it was a horrific war when anyone could hit older helpless women.
Susan Sontag considers two ideas on the impact of photos. The first one is that media controls public attention. When there is visual evidence, people consider the war real: “public attention is steered by the attentions of the media, when there are photographs, the war becomes ‘real’”. The anti-Vietnam war movements started with the help of media.
The second one is the fact that the world is saturated with images that should matter to people. In reality they have a diminishing effect. People start feeling less and become more careless.
Television and news transmit images nonstop. Sooner or later people get tired of them. Redundancy of images, which aim to arouse feelings, in reality, causes carelessness. The author states that: “flooded with images of the sort that once used to shock and arouse indignation, we are losing our capacity to react”.
The next day after the USA invaded Panama on December 20, 1989, ABC, CBS and CNN networks transmitted the same images. One part of the screen was dedicated to a picture of covered with flags coffins of American dead soldiers. The other part contained a picture of George Bush joking with the journalists at his first press conference since the American invasion of Panama. This broadcast brought the attention of publicity and media. People’s attention was finally focused on the number of casualties rather than the war victory.
In 1990, before the war in Iraq, the President of the USA prohibited media to take photographs of soldiers’ remains. Such bans were known as Dover Bans.
When it comes to war photography people have doubts as for whether it is authentic and truthful. Today, big corporations and government control almost all the media sources. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find a reliable source of information.
However, today it seems more possible than back in the previous days. People had no Internet; there were several TV channels controlled by the government. The politicians always presented the information that they wanted people to believe in. People had to believe what the media offered them. They had no other choice back then.
Today, the situation is completely different. There are so many different sources, from which people can get information. If a person sees a photo of some historical or modern event, it is not very easy to find out the truth, but it is possible. The Internet is the best source where people can find authentic as well as propagandistic information. The television broadcasts information that the government wants. However, there are still several channels that are independent.
In the 21st century, the time of the freedom of speech, it is much easier to discuss facts that are interesting to a person. Back in the previous days, there were bans that prohibited criticizing the government.
Thus, when a person sees a picture or reads some information that is shocking, there is no need to panic. A person can surf the Internet and try to find the needed information. People should always remember that there are no rules as to how to reduce or destroy propaganda. Unfortunately, the government will always control the media. The only thing the person can do is to perceive information wisely.
Sometimes people forget or ignore the brutality and number of deaths without images of war. Photographers and correspondents have their own war for public attention. They present images that form people’s understanding of historical events. The mankind has witnessed war many times. These wars were changed by the images that represented them. When photographers exclude the brutality and horror from the photos, then people perceive the war the way it is shown. When the media uses censorship and controls the way people see these images, it lowers people’s criticism of war.
Thus, in the modern world, there is no need to hide the truth. People should know what is going on around them. Today, there is so much cruelty, violence, disrespect and hate that every single attempt of reducing it is valuable. People deserve to know the truth. If they see authentic war photos they will know it is important to change the world and stop conflicts. People want to live a peaceful life; they want to raise their kids in a world free from lies.
War correspondents and photographers have the biggest influence ever on how people perceive war. It is important to remember that not all media cover the war truthfully. They are always under the pressure of big corporations or government.