The shame and the glory



In The Guardian, Jonathan Jones asks “But where are the images of 21st-century conflict?”. It’s certainly an interesting read, but to me, it appears that Jonathan Jones misses a few points. I don’t want to go into too much detail - in part lest you read the article with my eyes.

But just this one point: For us, living in 2006, war looks different than it does for people living in 1940, say. When the World Trade Center was destroyed, most of us watched it live - but that was it. Ditto for when US troops invaded Iraq1. For most of us Westerners, the “war on terror” is being led for us - by our armies, which consist of volunteers, for many of which a “career” in the military is the only way to get a “decent” job. And it is being kept away from us - mostly for political purposes, because images of dead civilians and especially dead soldiers are not good for approval ratings. For all these reasons, depiciting the war like Picasso or Moore, say, is a rather pointless exercise; and this is why standard depictions of the “war on terror” look so much like the kind of propaganda imagery2 that we know from wars 60 or 70 years ago: We realize (well, hopefully, that is) that we are being spoon-fed just those few images, and after years and years of living with ubiquitous advertizing we have become way too suspicious. However, to say that there are no images that show this “war on terror” is simply wrong - you just have to look in the right places. Just one example: If this photo by Brian Ulrich doesn’t portray our “war on terror”, then you might be expecting the wrong thing, and the problem might not be what artists show but, instead, what you expect to see.

1: We can safely ignore whether that live footage really showed the actual war, because that’s really not the point that I want to make.
2: Don’t email, I know this is a photo by W. Eugene Smith.