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Thursday, 20 March 2008


Sorry to hear that. I only became aware of him recently, mostly through a long and very interesting interview in Aperture, the American quarterly. Well worth seeking out

I'm going to catch Hell for this, for not only going against the popular train of thought but speaking ill of the deceased but here goes...

I think Jones-Griffiths was a great photographer and a great 'photopropagandist', no different than Korda or any Reagan/Bush/fill in the name of the right-wing worshipper for that matter.

I would not apply the term 'journalist' to him under the industry-adopted belief that a journalist is fair (I never said anything about objectivity).

His photography was so over-the-top biased in a land where huge atrocities were committed on both sides and and his myopic view of a country and government which overtly treats its citizens in equally atrocious ways as those he vilifies make him no more a journalist than Rush Limbaugh. If one hates the western policies, that's fine.

But I felt Jones-Griffiths made these points while turning a blind eye to the other side. If the choices being offered by the Western world were that bad, why did he not question WHY those people were choosing them 25 years later when their existing "people's" government allowed the caplitalists in?

Dear Jason,

A journalist does not have to either "fair" or (as Fox would put it [sic grin]) balanced. They should be accurate. But they are under no obligation, moral or intellectual, to tell all sides of a story. In truth, rarely is it even possible or feasible to do so.

In Philip's case, he certainly had the time and the means to tell more sides, if he had chosen to. He chose not to. That does not make him any less of a journalist, unless you feel he falsified his photos.

A journalist is allowed to be a partisan. It may even prove their finest calling.

If not permissible, then Gene Smith, the Capa's, and a whole bunch of others will have to be tossed from the canon. One could do that with intellectual rigor... but I'd not consider the term 'journalist' to be left with much worth.

pax / Ctein

I concur (cncur?) with Ctein. A journalist tries to get at the truth as he sees it. Griffiths was certainly doing that. His POV was essential to his work; you can see how much by looking at the Aperture book "Dark Odyssey." It presents his pictures in big, splashy, dark, often double-truck repro all the way through, then adds the captions at the end, next to thumbnails. It seems wrong, and emphasizes how integral the captions are to the pictures.

Cf. a book like "The Decisive Moment" where the captions are in a separate little booklet. Whether the booklet is still present affects the monetary worth of the book, but you could argue that its presence or absence doesn't affect the impact or the aesthetic worth of the book very much.

I acknowledged in the writeup that Griffiths' POV was and is controversial. But as a reporter he is obligated to tell the truth as he saw it, emphasizing what he thinks is important, and I think everyone who knew him would judge that his effort to do so was in good faith.

Mike J.

There can be no fair representation of war. War's very nature prevents it. Politicians like to talk of it as an instrument of foreign policy and see it in very clearly defined terms. However when you get to the battlefront all that has disappeared. Politicians talk of collateral damage, in reality there are victims on both sides. Politicians talk of precision surgical strikes without giving a moment's thought to the damage done to people physically and emotionally. Phillip Jones-Griffiths sought to portray all that in his photographs. He wanted to show that the REAL cost of war was high. Whatever your feelings about the rights and wrongs of war, you can't deny that war causes untold suffering to victim and perpetrator. Jones-Griffiths documented this. He saw it as photography's only raison d'etre.

No matter where we go or what we do, our perspective of reality is subjugated by context. We put things into context on the basis of preconceived notions of the order of things. When something doesn't fit, we try to make it fit - it's simply the nature of all humankind. To argue that a journalist is not a journalist simply because they report in a subjective and opinionated manner defies them of the ability to be human.

You do not have to agree with the journalistic style of Griffiths, and disagreement is not necessarily a bad thing. I am not particularly held to TV quotes, but one from a long-since cut show called Sports Night has stuck with me:

"If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you."

Having said that, I do not purport to even know much about Griffiths - the first I'd heard of him was this very evening on TOP. Whether I agree with his subjective perspective on war and politics in general, my heart goes out to the surviving family.

Dear Mike,

At the risk of noting the obvious:

Controversial does not mean false (or even true). It merely means that it provokes a substantial argument.

There are undeniably true things that are controversial. E.g., evolution in the US-- nearly half the population doesn't believe in it. You can't find a better definition of controversial, despite its validity.

Controversy doesn't make it wrong. Doesn't make it right. Doesn't have any bearing on reality, only humans' penchant for argument.

In politics, you can hardly find any statement of import that isn't 'controversial.'

pax / Ctein

Ctein, Mike, I do agree that Griffiths was accurate. It is that he chose not to represent both sides is where I have the problem. If balance is not the responsibility of the field journalist, then whose is it? If it's nobody in the Fourth Estate then I suppose how can you blame the rise of the Limbaughs, Hannitys and the reviled Fox News? Do you blame it all on the idiocy of the viewers? Or is it just a result of the people trying to find balance after knowing things were not as they were always portrayed in print?

I must ask, Ctein, why do you have such sarcasm when mentioning the "fairness" of Fox unless there is supposed to be a set standard of objectivity?

If that's not the case, then is the sarcasm directed toward their misuse of a slogan, which is a vehicle to sell what the people say they want. Interestingly though, what those people want from those who they trust to be in places they can't IS balance.

Where I'm going with this is that I see some journalists unbound by constraints of fairness are then no different than politicians; they are trying to motivate individuals to behave in a certain manner having an effect on the community.

Here's why: while we've exchanged on whether or not cropping vs. photoshopping in items is different, I see it as the same: doing either to change the message from what happened is a lie.

Personally, I have no issue with Agent Orange for the reason that Americans did it and here's the effects. Period. There was no 'other side' to it. It's the Vietnam 25 Years Later I had such problem with because there was no indication of the People's Republic's failure to keep the promises to its citizens and the reasons they died for ideals championed by leaders of men, and often through forced methods.

And to me, lies of omission are still lies and will always be lies and those who tell them are liars.

Journalists such as Griffiths who choose not to tell a full story lie, politicians who tell you nothing about the civilian strife in Iraq lie. Whereas perhaps the journalist does not 'add' facts, I would argue that neither are they held accountable for their omissions either. In fact, they're almost given license to spread propaganda. At least the politician is held accountable at the ballot boxes in civilized nations, and at gunpoint otherwise.

If I were to put up an advertisement for free beer and did not mention that you needed to be one of the first ten customers, and you were customer eleven and had to pay for the beer did I lie? Did I mislead? Am I guilty of a misdeed? But I DID give out free beer, which was true. However, how would you feel about my next promise of ANYTHING?

I would fear the one who isn't accountable for their actions more than the one who is. And to say that I'm being alarmist, then that must logically diminish the impact of Griffiths' works and thus negate all the praise lauded on him by his colleagues.

A great loss.
I don't know how anyone could go on year after year making these penetrating images in such disturbing circumstances.

Dear Jason,
I am surprised by two different quotes in your posts:
1. "If the choices being offered by the Western world were that bad, why did he not question WHY those people were choosing them 25 years later when their existing "people's" government allowed the caplitalists in?"
_--Why must the Western world give a "choice" to an eastern country? Why don't they get to choose what they want?

2. Once you write: "I think Jones-Griffiths was a great photographer and a great 'photopropagandist', no different than Korda or any Reagan/Bush/fill in the name of the right-wing worshipper for that matter." To me this opinionated statement implies some familiarity with Jone-Griffiths' work. You may well be right in your appreciation. But then you write: "..I do not purport to even know much about Griffiths - the first I'd heard of him was this very evening on TOP."
--to me these two statements quoted above are contradictory, and imply an opinion or judgement uninformed by knowledge. Am I wrong in my appreciation of your words?

Best regards,

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