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Monday, 24 March 2008


At the time of the Abu Ghraib photographs receiving world wide press attention I made many enemies in the United States by suggesting, on an internet forum, that they would probably achieve an eventual important cultural significance.

I happened to read the New Yorker essay just before connecting to TOP and I'm pleased that Mike has directed readers to it. I do hope that at this distance the measured and considered tone of the essay will find a reception reflecting its objectivity, but also stimulate a heart search in the reader about that war (and remember we Australians are there too)

Regards - Ross Chambers

Just goes to show that one does not have to have an interest in cameras or photography......... just be there and point and shoot as the cliché goes

I think the image of the prisoner from Abu Ghraib defines the Iraq conflict in much the same way as the street execution of the Viet Cong insurgent did for the Viet Nam war. Both show bare raw reality that is immune to media or government spin. I'm glad there are photographers in the world who are willing and able to make such images.

One cannot help feeling that there really is no hope for the human race when reading this article. We seem to be unbelievably susceptible to corruption of the spirit, able to rationalize our basest actions in dealing with people we label as our enemies. History provides innumerable examples of this irrespective of race, creed, or country. Why do we elect such incompetent crooks to represent us and then believe their lies when common sense tells us not to?

Is Robert Frank holding Ricoh GR1 in his hand?

It's interesting to read that Robert Frank's activities in the 1950's sometimes led to accusations of that then red threat, tying back to our recent associations of photography and terrorism.

I guess the more things change...

Look forward to reading this, and can't help but think how many precedents this war has set. The first modern war where the most important images were made by non professionals. The first modern war where prisoners were purposely interrogated by those who had no training. And the first war run by a national leader that had no clue as to how to run his own country, let alone a foreign conflict. Actually, I take the last one back. I'm sure history's littered with their remains.

In the associated video interview with Errol Morris on the information gathering process for his documentary film, Philip Gourevitch provocatively states that a photograph can NOT tell a story; interesting. Knowing that Sabrina saw herself in the role of forensic photographer completely changes what I see when I look at those pictures, and she becomes so human, sympathetic, even. This story is utterly fascinating.

I'm ambivalent about the war, for many reasons (although I'm not a supporter of George Bush, who has been a dreadful president.) About Abu Ghraib, however, there was never any doubt that American conduct there was disgraceful. There really wasn't even any doubt among most of the military -- one of the first reactions I read from a high-up military guy was that "this bunch of idiots just lost the war." Beyond the immediate disgrace of the activities there, there was the further disgrace that all the penalties fell on a bunch of ill-trained low-ranking reservists who were thrust into a nightmarish situation without any real way out. I have no doubt that, given the atmosphere of the time, if these low-ranking guys had tried to protest, they would have been court-martialed for dereliction of duty or refusing to obey orders or insubordination or whatever else the Army could pull out of its butt. When this situation was uncovered, the first and heaviest penalties should have fallen on the people who were behind this thing: they should have done hard jail time, from the regional commander on down the chain of command.

One thing that can be said in America's defense was that this incident is widely viewed within America as repulsive. There are large countries -- Russia and China to name two -- where this kind of thing *is* policy and not an aberration.

But I also think, though the woman in this article is portrayed as something of a victim, and I'm sure she was -- of both circumstances and military discipline gone terribly wrong -- she still bears some responsibility for her behavior; and given her behavior, six months in jail doesn't sound too harsh.


Thanks for noting these two fine articles which I otherwise might have missed.

That looks like a Konica Big Mini F.

"Thanks for noting these two fine articles which I otherwise might have missed."

You're welcome. That's what we're here for....

Mike J.

I had caught the New Yorker article, but not the Robert Frank today story. I'm glad to see that Steidl is getting so much of Frank's work into print finally, and I guess his present shaky health is part of the reason that this is finally happening.


Amazon.com is listing a May, 2008 re-release of Robert Frank's "The Americans" (hardcover) for those of us who are not in a position to spend $200 on an earlier edition. The pre-order price is only $26.37.

Hopefully Mike will soon post a link so we can order through TOP.

It might have been better to separate the two articles (or links to the articles). That way, the comments wouldn't get mixed up.

I found the following two concurrent sentences the most telling in the whole Ghraib/Harman article- the former concerning the inevitable chain concerning abuse of power, the latter particularly telling in a time when photography is said to have lost so much of its power: "The only person ranked above staff sergeant to face a court martial was cleared of criminal wrong doing. No one has ever been charged for abuses at the prison that were not photographed."

Mike - the Army didn't "sentence her to prison for taking pictures." She was convicted for felonies committed at Abu Ghraib, that is, her mistreatment of prisoners.

If you look her up on Wikipedia, you'll see her in a photo with a big grin, standing just behind a human pyramid of naked, hooded prisoners that were in her custody. She is just one of the many people in her unit, along with Graner, England, et al.,who abandoned common decency and disgraced the American military by their actions.

Please don't treat her as any sort of hero.

Ken White - you should Google this set of words: ["Eddie Adams" Loan Context]

That will take you to a number of articles explaining that Adams regretted taking this photo, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize, because he felt it "lies" about the context. Here are Adams' own words:

"The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?'"

What Adams meant is that the Viet Cong had just been captured in the act of killing defenseless civilians. Moreover, just minutes earlier, several of General Loan's men had been killed, one of them at home, along with his wife and children. This was all going on during the 1968 Tet Offensive, and who knows how many innocent civilians Loan had seen slaughtered by the VC and North Vietnamese.

After Loan's death in Virginia in 1998, Eddie Adams said of Loan, "The guy was a hero. America should be crying. I just hate to see him go this way, without people knowing anything about him"

Steve Rosenbach

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