"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

18 May, 2008

Corpses & Cornflakes

Another day, more harrowing pictures from China & indeed, from Burma, where the regime can try & prevent overseas aid from coming in but is having markedly less success at preventing photographic evidence of the extent of cyclone death and devastation getting out.
Last week, David Viggers, Reuters UK Chief Photographer, wrote the blog post below:

The post was accompanied by a series of powerful images of the Chinese earthquake. The impact was immediate: a series of comments, initially branding the photographs offensive, and even berating the author for "boasting of his brilliance" - when people needed hands-on help. Fortunately, a raft of subsequent comments praised the images and vindicated Viggers.

Yet the cyber-storm highlighted a perennial problem - who decides which images are acceptable, why and how do they make these decisions? How can we both be sure & ensure that vital images such as those currently coming out of Burma and China are both published and circulated?

Questions of propriety and prurience have become decidedly blurred in the multi-media 21st century of the ubiquitous image. Things have become far less clear cut since 1991, when Ken Jarecke's gruesome carbonized bust of an incinerated Iraqi combatant polarised picture editors across the globe. The image managed to escape the US military censor but was immediately pulled when it hit the AP wire Stateside. Nevertheless, several papers, among them the Observer in London chose to run with the shot.

The move succeeded in sparking a major debate: should editors protect their readers from the sight of such horrors, particularly when they might expect to be enjoying a leisurely weekend breakfast? Or was the image itself simply too important to spike, or to hide downpage on the foreign pages inside?

In Jarecke's case, the image, though indubitably upsetting, ultimately proved its intrinsic worth by demolishing, once and for all, Washington's line that the Gulf War to date had been 'clean bloodless and surgical' with an absolute minimum of Iraqi casualties.

For more, equally important, images from China, follow the link below:

14 May, 2008

Cyclone Pieta - Burma #3

(This image: copyright MYM/IPS)

Courtesy of Frontline Blogger, a link to some extraordinary pictures being emailed out of Burma (see posts passim). What I think I find most moving is the brightly coloured baby-gro - the sort of thing middle-aged women like me rush out to buy for expectant friends. Not to mention the reverent caress, lifeless head still carefully cradled; the look of anguish just discernible on the furrowed brow. It is a pose instantly recognizable from scores of religious imagery over the centuries. Perhaps here even more poignant as it is not "Madonna & Child" but "Father & Son".

12 May, 2008

Juergen Teller vs Josef Koudelka

A senior U.S. editor recently asked me what I thought of the Sunday Times Magazine, a publication she herself had worked on, in its glory days of reportage and striking photo-journalism. I was not very complimentary and complained that it, too, had been rather dumbed down of late. Since I made this pronouncement, I have reluctantly backed down, as week after week the ST mag has published one worthwhile, well produced story after another. This week brought us a welcome spread on Magnum's Josef Koudelka (b.1938) and his famous Prague Photographer shots (see above). The interview itself proved less than illuminating; nevertheless, it did provide an opportunity to review Koudelka's extraordinary images of the Russian tanks on the streets of Prague, on the eve of publication of a new book: Invasion Prague 68 (Thames & Hudson). Immediately preceding this spread was an article about fashion turned fine art photographer Juergen Teller, alongside some of his more arresting images: Lily Cole naked, Bjork in an Icelandic geyser and several of the photographer himself, naked, with & without actress Charlotte Rampling. It made for a thought-provoking juxtaposition.

Burma #2

As predicted here in my last post, the situation in Burma continues to deteriorate hourly. The attitude of the military junta would be almost farcical - if so many millions of lives were not at risk.

The latest UN reports has between 1.2 million and 1.9 million people struggling to survive after the cyclone. The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated the number of deaths at between 63,290 to 101,682, with 220,000 people still missing.

06 May, 2008

Cyclone in Burma-Myanmar - 22,000 reported dead. Far more fatalities to come.

Sitting at my desk over the weekend, headlines about the Burma cyclone popped up regularly in the Top Stories box in the corner of my screen. First estimates were of around 400 fatalities. I knew this was, sadly, going to be way off the mark. I grew up in the Far East and storms of this magnitude always leave a devastating trail of death & destruction.
With my foreign correspondent's hat on, I also wondered how the information was actually getting out of the notoriously xenophobic & isolationist regime. Slowly, the terrible scale of the disaster has leaked - and continues to leak out - not just via the authorities or the NGOs or accredited envoys, but via the Internet & mobile phones - technological advances unknown in Burma until relatively recently.
Without both the latter, it is unlikely that the world beyond the Burmese border would have learned so much so quickly about the scale and passion of the Buddhist Monks' protests in September 2007 (see image above).
At a debate hosted by London's Frontline Club on World Press Freedom Day (2nd May) last week, several speakers, including Nazenin Ansari of London-based Iranian newspaper Kayhan and Palestinian writer Iqbal Tamimi of the Exiled Journalists Network, eloquently lauded the new freedoms and frontiers afforded by the New Media. Regime change effected by text message and photo uploads? Stranger things have happened.
For a guide to the Burma/Myanmar debate, follow this BBC link: