a place for sharing all things photographic and some things not

Posts tagged “war

Welcome Home (Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography)

The Pulitzer panel of judges have finally announced their picks for this years photography award. I’ll just be focusing on the award for Feature Photography because a long series is harder to pull off in terms of maintaining quality across all the images and being able to communicate an evocative story.

This year the award was given to Craig F Walker for his series Welcome Home. He documents the return of veteran Brian Scott Ostrom from the war in iraq and the difficulties that he faces in returning back to his normal life, especially in the manifestation of personal trouble due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The entire set of images can be viewed at http://photos.denverpost.com/mediacenter/2011/12/special-project-welcome-home/26786/

This too ties in with the article by Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times about a veteran committing suicide every 80 minutes. It’s apparent that the issue of veterans returning from war is going to be a problem that will plague the US for many years to come.

Interestingly enough, Walker has won the prize just 2 years ago, for his series Ian Fisher : American Soldier. Also, I’m feeling rather proud that I saw Welcome Home before it won the pulitzer (just a small sidenote, perhaps my only highlight of the day). Do check out all the links! They’re well worth your time.


James Nachtwey, peace photographer.

One of the photographers who inspires me the most is James Nachtwey. In some ways he has ‘seen it all’, but given the way the world evolves these days, I doubt it’s possible to see it all.

An interesting thing about photography is that you can never presume what the photographer looks like simply by looking at his photos. You can tell how he thinks and how he feels and how he shoots, but all these may not immediately present themselves upon looking at him/her. I’ve seen Nachtwey’s photos, they are  immensely powerful in their own way, but here’s a portrait of him.

This was taken in 1995. When I first googled his portrait image, I was surprised by how old he was. Granted he had been there for many wars, but the fact that he’s still doing it now surprises me. I thought him to be younger.

Back to the point I want to make. There was an article published that was sort of a writeup for Nachtwey. The website called it a eulogy but that’s a misnomer in the sense that he is still with us. There are several lines that jump out at me and I cannot help but to agree with them. For those of you who can’t be bothered to read the whole thing, I’ll pick out some excerpts.

War is a huge, infernal industry, the largest one on this planet. It seems presumptuous for one man to attempt to stand in the way of this machinery. Once war has broken out, everything spirals out of control almost immediately, turning even the armies and the soldiers who fight in it into helpless onlookers, victims of their own hubris. Who would dare then to oppose it and put it into perspective with mere… photographs.

 Just imagine going to war with that! And imagine doing so just to take a picture to undeceive the entire world and tell them what’s going on there!

Each photograph contains a second one, invisible at first, that doesn’t reveal itself immediately. It’s a “reverse angle”, if you will, a “counter-shot”. That reminds us that taking photos is also called “to shoot pictures”… Yes, the camera is shooting back, is literally “backfiring”! The eye that looks through the lens is also reflected on the photo itself. It leaves a faint, sometimes shadowy trace of the photographer, something between a silhouette and an engraving, an “image” not of his features, but of his… heart, his soul, his mind, his spirits. Let’s stay with the first and simple word for a moment, “the heart”.

These lines were written with much thought, and I find them true to the spirit of what it describes. I don’t think I have heard the same sentiments expressed in the same way by another. The article was also to talk about Nachtwey winning the Dresden International Peace Prize.

This man is a “Menschenfreund”, a lover of humanity, and therefore an enemy of war.

A lover of humanity. No better way to put it.

I leave you in the good hands of the original article, which although wordy, bears true in the things that it asserts.

Just remember, everytime you see an image by Nachtwey, an image of war or the many bloodied trails that it leaves behind, it is not about you, it is not about him, it’s about us, as a people, as one humanity. It’s what we choose to do and what we don’t. It’s what we see and what we pretend not to. And perhaps, the remnants of one man’s undying hope that someday this world will be a better place.

Image by James Nachtwey

Western Journalists killed in Syria (of souls departed and now gone)

Hey everyone, sad news has come in from Syria. I might be a tad late but this is still worth mentioning. Marie Colvin, a well-known reporter as well as Rémi Ochlik, a french photographer, have both been killed in Syria.

While news of correspondents dying in the field might be quite common, we shouldn’t altogether harden ourselves to such news. Rémi was but 28 years of age. For one so young to go so soon…

Apparently a shell hit the makeshift media centre that they were using on the side of the rebels and there were several other journalists who were wounded. There has been an outpouring of articles to report on the incident. One remarkable one hails from the New York Times.

“I watched a little baby die today. Absolutely horrific, just a 2-year-old,” said Marie on one interview. “The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense. The inhabitants are living in terror. Almost every family seems to have suffered the death or injury of a loved one,”

There’s another article from Time, which I found to have some quotes that rung so so true, but also were very brutal about our reality.

“Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history ,… In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same — someone has to go there and see what is happening … You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you.”

“We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story, what is bravery, and what is bravado?” Colvin was quoted to have said.

The last quote would be particularly relevant to photojournalists still out in the field today.

This event reminds me of how the world lost Tim Hetherington almost a year ago. Ochlik was not short of potential either. He has a World Press Photo to his name, among other awards. His works can be found here. It is a comforting thought that although he is now gone, his photos are still here to remind us what we are, where we live and what we’ve come to accept as part of things that happen on our earth.

Still it’s a shame for one so young and with so much talent to have to leave so soon. Here’s praying that others will step forward and take his place.

Until all the wars end.

Don McCullin

Recently PageOne (one of the larger bookstores in Singapore) announced that it was closing down and was holding a closing sale. While this might not bode well for the book industry in Singapore, it is a great place to get photo books, which regularly cost quite a bit (and a lot more given the amount that bookstores add for distribution).

At another sale, I had managed to get a huge book of Magnum photographs for 5 bucks. (and by huge I mean really large, larger than A4!) It was the first book that I purchased and it was really really cheap. Given that I’m operating on a tight budget, it is great for me to be able to get great photos as an extremely reasonable price.

So back to PageOne, one of the books on the Photography shelf caught my eye – it was a collection of work by Don McCullin. He’s a well travelled war photographer and although the collection wasn’t exactly cheap, the quality of the images was remarkable. The foreword too, was interesting. McCullin gave an interview and excerpts from that are published at the front.

the book!

“When I was starting as a young photographer, I bought a plane ticket with the little money I had saved and flew to Berlin. I was determined to be there… That’s what I would always try to do: be there”

“Wars have dreadful differences, but also a dreadful sameness. You sleep with the dead, you cradle the dead, you live with the living who become the dead. Often in a battle you think tomorrow it will be you, that you are going to be the one lying with your face to the stars. It is strange to think of a human body lying fixed in one position, staring at the stars without seeing.”

some of his images are beyond my ability to describe in words, so I’ll just put them up for you. Do go check out the rest of his work if this piques your interest, it is fantastic.

image by Don McCullin, Turkish woman with son mourning the death of her husband killed by Greek forces during the civil war, Limassol, Cyprus, 1964

image by Don McCullin, Marine wounded in both legs, Tet Offensive, Hue, Vietnam, 1968

Act of Valor (the film)

There’s a new dramatic film coming up entitled Act of Valor, set to be released in the US on the 17th of February. It tells the ‘story’ of the US Navy Seals as the viewer follows various platoons out on various missions. As most people know I’m drawn to war related things like a firefly to the flame, so this caught my eye.

The way it was filmed was interesting, some parts really feel like a documentary but the entire film was actually filmed with the intention of being a dramatic film. Most of the shots were caught during training missions (so there was no need to stage big effects, everything was ‘real’ to some extent). The actors were Navy Seals themselves and during situational shots (ie in Mexico), locals were hired for the shoots.

It’s captivating for sure. The description of how the film was shot is itself rather long. Some of the scenes are fantastically done considering that most of these were done with 1 shoot.

As military cutbacks come to the forefront and veterans start to pour in from Afghanistan, works like these immediately gain importance in the world. I feel a little conflicted however, for this film will no doubt leave young teens itching to go overseas and shoot something (which is no doubt one of the intentions) and it feels like a very realistic shooting game. As documentaries like Hell and Back Again and Restrepo show, such a depiction is far from reality.

Proceeds from the film will indeed go to reintegrating veterans into the society, but I’m not sure how to feel about the entire affair.

For HDSLR fans – most of the film was shot with a 5DMII and with the D800 and D4 joining the fray as potential HDSLRs, the market only seems to be getting bigger. You can read about shooting the film and other details here.

But what I really’d like to know is what do you feel about things like this? The sensationalism of war is nothing new, but at this particularly delicate point in world history, are works like this appropriate to be put out to the masses? Can we accept the responsibility of the things that we might start?

The Enemies Project

This is another one of those projects that I’ve found via kickstarter and I personally think it’s a very relevant piece of work. Photographer Nelson Guda decided to go to areas of conflict and photograph parties from both sides standing face to face or at the very least, within the same frame. It’s a ingeniously elegant way of portraying the conflicts while at the same time being respectful to all the parties involved. The kickstarter run has since closed but I do believe you still can contact him to contribute.

The ENEMIES project is about peace.

I am traveling to past and current conflict zones around the world to photograph people from opposite sides of violent conflicts and record their stories about how they moved beyond the cycle of violence into a place of peace. The goal is to bring together people from opposing sides of conflicts and photograph them together.

Mainly I want to document stories of people who have found peace, but I also want to hear as many perspectives as possible. Conflicts are complex issues filled with history and emotion, and peoples’ experiences are equally complex. I want to meet people who were active participants in conflicts as well as people who were simply swept up in a horrible situation. I want to meet people who have already gone through a peace process as well as people who have yet to undertake the effort. There are many, many sides to this issue and I want to see as many of them as possible in order to get a fundamental understanding of this very basic human issue. When all is said and done I plan to exhibit the photographs and their stories in the United Nations in New York City and then in capitals around the world. In addition I will publish a book with the photographs and stories to go along with the exhibit.

Along the way in this project I am working to help local non-profit peace groups with my work. I have already relied on the collaboration of groups like the US Institute for Peace and the Alternatives to Violence Project to help me find people who are willing to be photographed and talk about their experiences. As a part of my work I am donating photographs and video to the groups I work with so that they can use them to raise awareness and help raise funds to continue their work.

– http://enemiesproject.com/about.html

A quick google search confirmed that this project hasn’t been widely publicized but I really believe that it should go out to as many people as possible, it’s incredibly apt given our generation’s continued struggle between human violence and peace. Do check out his works, I’ve got a feeling that this could well be a landmark work of our time.

The intro page to the project can be found here: http://enemiesproject.com/index.html

And the kickstarter (now closed, but still being updated) is here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/358484849/the-enemies-project

Bedrooms of the Fallen – a photo project

I recently stumbled across another intriguing project entitled Bedrooms of the Fallen by Ashley Gilbertson. Given my interest in war photography and war in general, I couldn’t help but follow the crumbs back to the original site.

The premise of the project looks promising, and the description goes as such

These bedrooms once belonged to men and women who died fighting in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These fallen men and women were blown up by IEDs, RPGs, hand grenades and suicide bombers. They were shot down in ambushes and by snipers. They died in helicopters, in humvees, and in tanks. It all took place thousands of miles away from home, and the country they fought to defend.

The purpose of this project is to honor these fallen – not simply as soldiers, marines, airmen and seamen, but as sons, daughters, sisters and brothers – and to remind us that before they fought, they lived, and they slept, just like us, at home.

I love the idea of the project and the photos that have been put up on the site look promising. The series covers casualties from both the Iraq and the Afghanistan Wars and I think it’s an important part in conserving the memories of those who fought in the war as well as presenting the consequences of the wars.

There was a Kickstarter page for the project (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ashleygilbertson/bedrooms-of-the-fallen) that was set up to raise funds for continuing the project and expanding it’s reach outside of the US alone. I’m quite sure that any contributions to the cause would be appreciated and would help Gilbertson expand his series. You can contact him and view the photos that he has taken so far at http://www.bedroomsofthefallen.com/

Also worth noting is that Gilbertson has published a book from his previous time in Iraq, entitled Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot (for those of us not so fluent in military speak, that corresponds to WTF) and can be bought from Amazon for $35.