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Monday, 03 September 2007


Now that you have revealed the stagecraft of the photo, I am reminded of this:


The Tate does an adequate job of describing Wall's work and what he calls a "cinematic" process. On a theoretical level, I like it. I'm not convinced of its artistic(aesthetic) value, however.
Feel free to disagree with me, I am anxious to read other comments and learn something new.
Great post, Mike.

If you look at the 2nd floor doorway on the left of the right panel, you can see hills not an interior view. You can also see an angled prop serving to hold up the false facade.
That made me immediately think of Jeff Wall's "Destroyed Room." Your comments with regard to image size, and manner of creation, serve to further diminish this work as being derivative of Wall. For me, this recognition serves to undermine any power the work may have had.

Staged and likely digitally manipulated as it is - it leaves me cold. Yet, it reminds me of the impressive work of Don McCullin. Beacons of humanity by comparison.

"...only an art piece can successfully overcome all the clichés and become "just" an image of war, immediate and direct."

Sorry, but to me, this is not an image of war. It’s an image of a stage with actors on it (and this, by the way, is the case no matter if the photographer used film or digital, in reference to an earlier debate...)
Why showing us a staged picture of people dying and suffering in something that resembles Iraq or Afghanistan, when in fact there are lots of opportunities to show us the real thing? Well, one reason could be to introduce some strange elements in the photograph, to stage it so that it references some other piece of art or in some other way interpret the whole scene in a way that makes us think otherwise, than a "simple" representation of reality would do. In other words: offer us an artistic interpretation, maybe even a statement about the real wars going on for the moment.
But this, as I see it, is not the case here. This photo is no more informative and offers no more of a new vision on war than a child’s display of toy soldiers.

I have always liked the work of Don McCullin. His photographs give, to me, the experience and essence of War. Then he showed pictures of his farm in England, printed by himself. The pictures of his farm looked dark as well, showing trenches and images of death so it looks like he brought the war back with him.
Enjoyed the post, Mike.

To me the picture looks very artificial. The poses look like playmobil people, no tension in the way they stand. I even thought it could be a model (there's something about the depth of field). But not an actual war image.

I knew it was fake. It has the obvious large format look needed to access the fine-art-museum-pretentious-market, and no body will be taking LF pics in Irak.
It reminds me of Jeff Wall's "Dead Troops Talk", but the shot itself doesn't provokes nothing on me.

Ho-hum. I'm unmoved. When I look at Newsweek and images by John McHugh I see a lot more than any critic would care to ponder.


What is it about the art world that compels it to reproduce reality so faithfully? In this mode it ALWAYS fall short. Period.

If anything it makes it (to me at least) all the more apparent (if that's even possible) that news photography has become just a way to fill space. Content itself is largely irrelevant and you could easily get away with publishing a small selection of stock images of usual daily events over and over again, just change the caption if needed.

I feel there's a connection in here somewhere to the photoshopped images that appeared on Reuters etc. in the sense that for all the hype such stories generate among photographers and in the media it hardly even matters to most people.

I agree with Max. When I looked at these photos I thought something was just not right. I didn't know what it was at the time but now I do. We've seen Don McCullin's work and this really doesn't compare in my opinion.

When I looked at it closer, it screamed "Photoshop" to me. The soldiers in the second part of the photo have such nonsensical poses...

Whether it does evoke something like Guernica... no, not for me. The author did get some almost archetypal elements (or possibly cliches) of modern Near East war imagery right in the first part, but the second part is just piling stuff on without any need.

BTW, fjf, that second floor window is nothing unusual on buildings hit by shells - everything seems to stand allright and then you see that there's no roof and you can see the sky through the windows. So it may be an archetype. Or just a cliche.

I have a few comments on this piece.

First off it doesn't look very real. Everyone looks like a cardboard cut out. The three soldiers in a row on the right panel look particularly bad. I actually do this sort of work for a living and this wouldn't pass.

Overall the composition is rather weak.

But worst of all It doesn't really say anything. It is empty and has no emotion. This is NOT "Guernica" by a long shot.

I'm sorry, but I find this piece to be average at best.

If someone is interested in seeing artwork that truly depicts the horror of war and resulting trauma, take a look at the period after World War I (Weimar) and prior to WWII. In particular the work coming out of Germany. You can truly smell the stench of death on those paintings.

Okay, now did anyone who's commented so far bother to read the text piece the posting was about?

I'm not saying your reactions to the picture are "wrong" or "bad" or anything, but I was encouraging people to try to accept the artwork on its own terms, at least provisionally....


"Why showing us a staged picture of people dying and suffering in something that resembles Iraq or Afghanistan, when in fact there are lots of opportunities to show us the real thing?"

I assume it's because the staged picture makes our side look worse. Isn't that the point?

BTW, the scene is confusing. Is this the aftermath of a US raid? Do US troops go on raids in soft trucks? That doesn't make sense. If it's not the aftermath of a raid, why the pointed guns and aggressive stances?

The problem with a photo, no matter how skillfully done it is, is that it's not an argument. It may make an impression on the viewer but it cannot answer questions or solve problems. If the photographer has some ideas or suggestions for the rest of us, let him share them with us via words rather than tease us with ambiguous images. If he can't make his case in words maybe he doesn't have a case. He may be skilled at manipulating the emotions of viewers and yet not understand how things work in the real world. These images are meaningless without more information.

The major problem with any depiction of combat is that it fails to capture the essence of what combat is like. A visual medium like photography can't capture the smells - the cordite, eviscerated bodies, sweat. Nor can it portray the way a human perceives his surroundings when pumped up on adrenaline, fear, and confusion. The senses are overwhelmed to the point that they want to shut down. I would say it impossible with photography. Cinema has almost succeeded. Black Hawk down was a very good attempt, as a colleague said to me after seeing it "It almost gave me PTSD".

Photography can really only capture an essence, and usually it is done to show the aftermath of the effect on individuals. The diptych was too cluttered to show anything much to me, maybe if I'd seen the image at its intended full size the effect would have been different. Personally I query this as art. What is its intention? It comes across as clumsy propaganda at worse or at best a still from a B-grade movie not as a skilfully constructed art piece designed to cause the viewer to ponder and question. Picaso's Guernica quite successfully captured the horrors of war because of its cubist construct and also it was fuelled by the rage of the artist at what had been done. This image leaves me cold.

Not bad-- but have you seen the work by the guy who shoots recreations of weddings!

I also thought that it just didn't look or feel "right," and I agree that they look too "clean." My first thought was that it must be CGI. My second was that maybe they are miniatures shot to look full size. It just looks too staged, too contrived. I was very surprised to read that these were actually human beings staging the shot; I felt certain they were either CGI or some kind of miniatures.

"tableau numerique" surely ?

Great post and thoughtful comments. I can't help but have a visceral reaction to these precious, precious setpieces. There are real photojournalists dodging real bullets making real photographs. Then there are artists with cameras working on their MFAs. I saw a similarly contrived piece at the International Center for Photography last year. It looked real. The fact that it was contrived made me admire the artists' rather formidable technical abilities to direct, stage-manage and record the scene. I also turned away in disgust because of what I saw as a slight, or trivialization of the work of photojournalists.

I'd tell you the name of the photographer, but it escapes me. It sure as heck wasn't Fenton, Capa, Ut, or Nachtwey.

In the end I "guessed" it was contrived. It sent my mind into a current event tailspin and don't think it needs much in the way of critique.

I'd have to see it in it's large format to really have much of an opinion.

Them again my opinion is just that and doubt any conversation with other photographers would change my emotional response to it.

Nice post Mike

I wonder what the resposes might have been prior to the context?

I could tell it was staged right away because of two things. First, I hope that they would be using an apc or up-armoured humvee, not a truck. And second, and more strongly, there appears to be no sense of self-preservation among these soldiers. In every video and picture I've seen the soldiers are constantly looking left, right, down and UP! There are balconies and rooftops and no one appears to be looking up for snipers.

Not at all realistic and the concept reminds me of something the 18-21 year old kids in art classes would come up with, like that Greenday video. Not my idea of artistic effort, although it probably will be very popular with some groups.

When this was first posted on Sunday, I had a hard time figuring out the point of it (the post). It's a boring photograph of a fake event. Well, O.K., two boring photographs of one fake event. It's not "art". It doesn't in any way portray the "horror of war". And it certainly isn't a commentary on "digital" vs. "film", no matter that the "Featured Comment" seems to think it might be. It might, at a stretch, be a commentary on the emptiness of this particular type of photography - large, technically proficient prints of nothing in particular, but, well, why?

My first thought was "what have we gotten ourselves into?".

The staged/real dicussion seems rather pointless. The fact is that we know something is wrong in the world and it may well look like this. Who cares if the army would or would not use that kind of truck for their operations? How much 'documentary' do we need to accept a reality? The image is a benevolent deception.

This is supposed to make us think? Standing in a museum after having ridden there in our oil fueled motorcars after a Sunday breakfast in the comfort of our weatherproof homes, with a full set of intact clothes on our backs? Then let's look at ourselves and at what we peruse daily — the newsmedia (gossip and perpetually the same, as Thoreau said). There is no truth in war photography — anyone who's been there knows that. Why do we repeatedly honor (or pay attention to) those vultures who's work and income is dependent on recording the unnecessary suffering of others induced by our relentless grasping quest for their raw materials? If we are to survive on this tiny planet it's about time we stopped fueling the warmachine with our energy, money, and lives and the energy, money, and lives of our victims.

Perhaps this artform is most appropriate for the chosen subject matter. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been contrived and "staged", how fitting therefore that they are represented in this manner.

How 'knowing' people are when they have been given the answer.
Just how many of the commenter's would truly have guessed the nature of the picture if they had been left to comment yesterday without the explanation?

I think HBP got closest here. If anything this picture feels like a comment on the plasticity of the war image we somehow trust to be truthful.

But what I want to know is why some art needs to be arranged in two panels, a diptych? What's the idea of that and where did it come from? I've seen these quite a few times and just can't fathom what the point is. Contrasting sides? Not this one it seems. Is there some need to split this image in two? Or is this just artist affectation?

Some commentary fromt the Library of Congress site about the Gardner shot:


Honestly, my first thought when I saw that photograph was "is someone trying to recreate Star Wars in modern-day Iraq?".

I spent a fair bit of time looking at this photo when it was first posted. Examining the detail, considering each of the small parts of the scene, the message in the use of cellphones/ cameras while the soldiers are there and so on. It seemed a little too realistic, somehow contrived to have all those parts in play, but it made me think a lot about these modern conflicts and the impact they have. I felt sadness, revulsion, pity and a whole host of other emotions that played out on my face. My wife even commented on the change in my mood and expression while I was looking across this image.

So does it matter that it isn't 'real' ? Are the emotions it inspired in me somehow different if the scene is staged or not ? Is the communication between me, the image and the photographer cheapened or changed by the fact that the elements were all planned ?

I still had those thoughts, I was forced to consider how I feel about some of these issues, media, war, photography, suffering. The 'truth' of the image isn't in the particular instant photographed, but in how it looks to the viewer.

Would I have felt the same way if I knew the truth of the image before hand - perhaps, perhaps not. It would still be trying to communicate the same ideas.

I was nearly right. I thought it was a set from "Over There" about the US soldiers in Iraq.

I thought the Soldiers were too clean.



First, re. Glenn Piper: Yes, definitely... almost as "knowing" as someone who is being pompous.
Second, re. Mike and wanting to know about people accepting this artwork on its own terms: As I mentioned in my previous post, they didn't look quite right to me; so as far as pieces of art go, I am not very impressed and am left a bit confused about the point of the works. Then again, maybe that is what the photographer was/is hoping for.
Of course this is based on not having seen these pieces in person. I suspect that if I were to see them in person I would be impressed with the quality of the photos, but would be left with an even stronger feeling of them just not quite looking "right."
If the point of these pieces (and not that I think art needs to have a point, but with pieces like these I just assume that is the case) is to get people talking/thinking about these works, then he has certainly been successful.

Just a quick note to anyone contemplating a trip to Montreal to see this or any of the other Mois de la Photo exhibitions; the World Press Photo show is also in town from September 1 to 30.

It's a great show with only one U.S. venue (New York, last May).

My guess was about six "I knew it was a fake picture" comments. Boy, did I underestimate!

It is equally disturbing pre or post knowing the production of the image to me. I think if you can immediately decipher that this was a staged image upon first glance, then the FBI has a job for you. I eventually came to that conclusion on my own as well, but my immediate response was deeply felt.

I personally resent the staged or not staged arguement seeing that my entire body of work consists of panoramic narratives, part staged, part autobiographical.

I'm sorry to say I didn't read the essay. Until you suggested it. My apologies.

But it's still not close enough. Or, maybe I'm not close enough to it.

the key to the content of this piece is the cameraman in the left panel....an immediate dismissal because of the staging misses the point

I think the point of this work isn't to solely recreate an image of war, or make a statement specifically about war. Many of the comments so far seem to be from people looking for these themes, and thus there are many 'leaves me cold' reactions.
Looking at the work differently, not as a comment on war but as a comment on the coverage of war and the way it is represented to us- the viewers of tv news and photographs in papers- may change peoples frosty opinions.
The fact that is shot on a stage using actors evokes a notion of the theatrical nature of war coverage, delivered in impressive and hard hitting samples each night. The image is riddled with the cliches of war imagery these days- mobile phone cameramen, the dead in front of a bloodied wall, women cradling injured children. The diptych presentation even invites the viewer to look at each image separately and compare the impact of the image when viewed as a whole or cropped into other singular works (try it!). The stale positioning of the figures and numerous staging faults plainly state that this image is a fake. That's right- the artist means for it to look 'not real'!
These aspects serve as a reminder that what we see when we look at an 'authentic' war photograph or videoclip are actually seen from someone else's perspective, and we rarely going to get the whole, unbiased truth. From this perspective, the message of work is rich and detailed, something layered and intricate, and something that evokes contemplation, rather than pure emotion.
Fantastic post, Mike.

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