I want to attempt to come to conclusions about both the way photographers described war and how underlying larger professional and societal trends influenced the description. Needless to say, these two aspects are not independent at all. Photographers are embedded in societies. However much they might try, they can never escape the restrictions put upon them. They might fully embrace them, fight them, or engage in a combination of both. This then feeds back into the societies, which might change their thinking around wars based on what photographs tell them. It’s an imperfect feedback loop, whose imperfections are frequently being discussed by both photographers and society. Both tend to voice their dismay about war imagery not having enough power and/or impact to dissuade the starting of yet another war (by the same society having such conversations).
More than a movie about Italian photographer Franco Pagetti’s work, the short documentary Shooting War (23 minutes) is a lesson in practicing critical visual literacy. Beyond the photographer himself, several people chime in, including Alice Gabriner, International Photo Editor at TIME who assigned the VII photographer to cover the war in Iraq from 2003 until the end of 2008, and Sara Farhan, a History Ph.D. candidate at York University in Toronto
The fighting is taking an increasing toll on civilians. During a reporting trip with Italian photographer Emanuele Satolli in March and April, residents recounted terrifying scenes: ISIS militants taking human shields and imprisoning people in their homes, airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition that leveled entire houses. Reports of civilian deaths from American-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria soared in March to more than 1,700, an all-time high in the campaign against ISIS.
Never before has the influence of photography been so tested as it has with Syria. Millions of pictures and videos have emerged over more than six years of war. Students, bakers and teachers made cameras their weapon of choice. Photographers have been kidnapped, maimed, tortured, ransomed and executed. Some images have won awards. Others have been viewed by those who critics say could make peace a reality. The majority of photographs remain hidden in plain sight—available if we want them, avoidable if we don’t.
n the middle of 2014, after the Syrian government had retaken the city of Homs from rebel fighters, Sergey Ponomarev stood with his camera and surveyed the damage. The photojournalist found a family who had returned to their old flat and captured the scene: in a street buried in rubble and lined with destroyed buildings, they load whatever possessions they can salvage into a taxi. Their son wears a brightly coloured party hat he has found. It is at once mundane – the family calmly going about their business – and devastating.
Your neighbours beheaded, the terror of the religious police: in this extract from a new book, a Syrian activist, interviewed below, records the horror in his city
When people step out of their houses in my home town, they tell their loved ones, “I hope to see you again” — there’s no guarantee they will make it back. I started photographing Kirkuk in 2007. The security situation has been bad since 2003, but it took a turn for the worst with the war against the Islamic State. The war is very close to the city and people are scared. The economy worsened and there are fewer jobs. Arabs are suspicious of the Turkmen and Peshmergas and the other way around. There are still explosions and kidnappings. The city has long been a dangerous place, a flashpoint for Iraq’s many ethnic and sectarian conflicts.
This fall, I spent six weeks with the writer Luke Mogelson, following an élite Iraqi police unit called the Mosul swat team as its members fought to take back their city from the forces of the Islamic State. The story, which Luke wrote and I photographed, was called “The Avengers of Mosul”—the men were seeking vengeance not just for the threat to their country as a whole but also for the murders of family members by isis. Nearly every fighter had suffered this kind of loss, and many of them had family still living in peril in Mosul. The men welcomed us on their campaign, and shared with us their provisions, their blankets and mats, their seats in the trucks, and their stories.
Showkat Nanda grew up hard in Indian-run Kashmir, a child of war, iron-fisted rule and relentless tragedy.