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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pictures of war

In the current issue of "The New Yorker" there's a portfolio of pictures of Iraq War service personnel taken by the British photographer Platon. They're remarkable pictures. However none of them seem to be actually taken in Iraq. I don't blame him. I wouldn't go there either, not for all the professional kudos in the world. In a podcast he explains how he took these pictures, how cooperative the subjects were and how much time he worked on them afterwards.

Although Iraq provides the peg to make comfortable "New Yorker" readers like me suddenly interested in the tribulations of young people I am unlikely to meet, the fact is that at any stage in the last fifty years they could have sent somebody to photograph people who had sustained terrible losses in the armed services. They're photographs of warriors rather than photographs of war. We don't see many photographs of the actual war but we suspect if we did we would find them very disturbing rather than somehow uplifting, as Platon's are.

Robert Capa reckoned if your picture wasn't good enough it was because you weren't close enough. He demonstrated that on D-Day when he landed on Omaha Beach with the 1st Infantry Division. He was kicked into the sea by a bosun who thought he was hesitating. He had a camera in either hand. The pictures are all the more extraordinary because only a few survived. A mistake in the lab meant that 100 were ruined. Only ten remained. They're no masterpieces. They're just the kind of thing you and I would take if we were up to our chests in freezing water and terrified out of our minds.