War Photography: Questions and Comments

Peter Turnley’s “The Unseen Gulf War”:
When I was browsing through various photographers in search of a Gleaning topic, I randomly clicked on Peter Turnley’s general site. Browsing through his work, I was struck by his open and often dramatacized portrayal of people in many different contexts and emotional states. Intrigued, I googled his name, found he has a twin brother who is also a “documentary” photographer, and found many articles revolving around his work on wars and the 911 attacks. Browsing these as well as his Gulf War introduction and portfolio on Digital Journal, I wondered where photography such as this fits into our conceptions of art, ethics, and journalism.
Mostly I questioned Turnley’s own interaction within these war environments of death and destruction. Should his photographs be considered war “realities” if they are taken within a context of journalism, a highly politicized and subjective medium of understanding? While these photographs are mostly indicative of Turnley’s own political agenda and view of war, they still have an affect on people in distinctly individual ways.
The Gulf War porfolio is relevant to the ongoing war in Iraq, which Turnley ultimately predicts in his introduction. Currently the war in Iraq is a major issue in America, especially with the upcoming election. However it is fairly invisible and removed from American society and perceptions. Despite media attention in the form of writing, photography, and video footage, the war in Iraq is externalized as we briefly empathize then continue on with our daily life. Maybe it is through the dramatic photography and documentation of people such as Peter Turnley where the “reality” of war is exposed and can promote increased understanding and association with the world outside our own.
What is the role of war photography?
Is it to frighten us? Disturb us? Bring us closer to the “realities” of war? Or to comfort us in our blanket of American security? Turnley focuses on the dramatic, gruesome, and most provocative aspects of war such as death and human suffering in order to promote certain understandings and truth beyond politics. The purpose is to shock and expose and in that way he succeeds. But what about the people he is photographing? They become nameless victims and subjects of a nationalized discourse. Is this ethical?
The war continues onward…

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