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Monday, 31 May 2010


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I had a feeling it was going to be that image, I couldn't recall who shot it but it is a great photograph.

It's bank (public) holiday in the UK today. Always sales on bank holiday Monday, bargains to be had, hours to kill in DIY and electrical stores. I can here drilling coming from a garden right now, the hammering of nails in to wood from another.

I don't know what sounds that fine girl will hear today. Maybe something that reminds her of him, maybe the rustle of the leaves while she sits by him once again.

The only reaction that picture gave me is that I would find it hard to photograph someone in such a situation.

Lest we forget,


That's your only reaction?!


Well, Mike, maybe not my only reaction. But I found myself questioning the ethics of photographing someone in such a situation more than I was enjoying the quality of the photo.

Great photo, should be hanging proudly in every recruitment center across the land.

Thanks for the link. His story behind it made it all right to me, in the inexplicable way morals always work. At least he had spoken to the girl beforehand. Makes it less exploitative, in a way.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana.

We've institutionalized that remembrance and reduced it down to one lousy day a year, therefore we keep repeating the past over and over and over, ad nauseam. Every package of hot dogs, every bag of buns, and every sack of charcoal briquettes ought to feature a photograph of a casualty of war, military and civilian, foreign and domestic. Maybe it'll help to jog our memories.


Far more egregious than Kevin's reaction (which was, at least, a human acknowledgment of the feeling that moments like these are perhaps too sacred for a photographer to invade) were the comments after you initially posted this image in 2008.

Half the commenters seemed to think of nothing upon viewing this image but how they themselves would have "improved" the photo by converting to B&W, cropping, etc.

Reading these comments, I had a very discouraging epiphany: that the obsession with gear and post-processing technique not only hinders most photographers from creating art -- it actually renders them incapable of *seeing* art.

The day for the living to remember, as the photograph above clearly shows. I found and photographed a recent veteran sleeping rough at Viet Nam memorial in San Antonio a couple of days ago. He was waiting to play TAPS at the ceremony there today. He said he was taking care of business.

Hey Mike,
Thanks for ruining my Memorial Day celebration by posting those awfully good pics. Since I seem to have lost my appetite for beer and hot dogs by the pool, I'm throwing said picnic funds into the TOP tip jar.


P.S. Keep up the great work!

Kevin - I'd suggest continuing along the line you're thinking. Where it winds up, I think, is that if this picture shouldn't have been taken, then all pictures of grief and/or the grieving shouldn't exist. If that's something that's OK with you, so be it. But if something about that doesn't sit right, and it didn't with me, then maybe you'll feel a little more comfortable looking at images like the one posted.

"I found myself questioning the ethics of photographing someone in such a situation"

Funny you should mention that. I often can't take pictures like that myself, but, pace David Bostedo, and Ctein's thoughts on absolutism, I see nothing wrong with other people taking them.


Kevin: Photograph what IS. Really.

My post from another blogsite:

I am always conflicted about Memorial Day, though never about Remembrance (aka Veteran’s) Day.

Memorial Day has become entwined with “patriotism”, while Remembrance Day simply remembers naive men who sadly learned what blood and mud really meant.

Beyond that ... I can never escape the certain knowledge that while I would NEVER dishonor those who have served (for whatever motivation—- I cannot be a judge; my Dad is a WWII decorated hero), to engage in honoring in the manner expected contributes to perpetuating a culture that institutionalizes conflict and war. It builds a society that derives its meaning from solely being warriors.


This entry in Merriam-Webster perfectly summarizes what I wanted to say:

Main Entry: al·le·go·ry

1 : the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence; also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression
2 : a symbolic representation : emblem 2

It's not a picture of her situation, it's a "generalization about human existence". An exquisite one, I might add :)

Memorial Day is but one opportunity to remember fallen soldiers. I think we do a pretty good job overall.

What we fail to remember, and thus succumb to what Satayana warned about, are the lying, cowardly, arrogant politicians who put these brave soldiers in their graves. How about a day to remember their moral crimes?

These great photographs don't make me feel proud, or patriotic, or even sad. They make me feel angry.


The photograph raises ethical questions alright, but not to do with the photographer.

I thought the photo on the front page of the NYT was good.


I always notice in discussions such as these the constant refrain of "While we must honour our brave soldiers..." followed by a regret for war.

I can't help but feel this is hypocrisy at it's most visceral. Why should we honour and respect soldiers, men who have willingly signed up to kill people? They should be reviled if we truly hate war.

Thankyou for showing those photographs Mike. There is nothing honourable in war, it's just brutish killing and great sadness on all sides.

@Paul: What I hate is unnecessary war. Soldiers are not to blame, nor are senior officers, who are almost always against these wars. The politicians who wage these wars were never themselves in battle, and many of them (e.g., Dick Cheney, Barack Obama) never served at all or barely served (e.g., George Bush).

-- Marc

The chief tragedy of the human race is that the war approaching always seems necessary and “inevitable”; it is only 20 years later that it is seen as avoidable and futile. Is the mind perpetually condemned to live two steps behind the passion?
—–– Sydney J. Harris


I think that's needlessly harsh. First, you assume that all the soldiers volunteered to go kill. In the strictest sense, that's true, that is, they had to sign up. OTOH, how free was the choice. Did they have better opportunities in life? Did they have objective info on which to base their choices before signing up? I don't think it's fair to be that dogmatic.

Taking the long view about the futility and brutality of war is one thing, but holding the individuals at the lowest levels to too high a standard is not always justified, I'd say. To what extent their consent is freely given rather than coerced or just manufactured is an open question.

It would be nice if everyone everywhere didn't take up arms when some tinpot asked them to, but that does not seem to be case. Not everyone is nice and peace loving.

I envy the Americans, with their Memorial day. We do not have anything like that in Spain. Our army has done nothing much in the last 150 years beyond killing it´s fellow Spaniards.

Lucky you...

The Vietnam war was obviously a bad idea from the very beginning. The second Iraq invasion was obviously a bad idea from the beginning.

In Vietnam and earlier, lots and lots of the soldiers were drafted, not volunteers. Having been a soldier doesn't mean one "volunteered to kill" in general; it means only that one wasn't willing to abandon home and country (or couldn't find anywhere to go).

Robert, that is one of the reasons I place such importance on war photography. Gritty, close photography that may help counteract state propaganda and Hollywood depictions.

Ultimately, it is not the politicians who fight, as you say Marc. It is the individual man, with dirt under his nails and fear in his eyes. Responsibility has to be placed on those men just as much, at least in wars involving soldiers who had the choice, not forced by conscription.

John Moore and Jim Nachtwey, Capa and McCurry, Jones Griffiths, and all the others who have photographed war and it's aftermath deserve far more respect than any soldier, president, or prime minister in my opinion.

Regardless of what the circumstances of war are, we need to not forget the sacrifices that those who serve make. The loss of life ,limb, and innocence. We here at home take too much for granted. Thanks and gratitude to all those who are or have served.

Marc Rochkind - "What we fail to remember, and thus succumb to what Satayana warned about, are the lying, cowardly, arrogant politicians who put these brave soldiers in their graves. How about a day to remember their moral crimes?"

If I'm not mistaken, we already have such a day, although sadly, only a small percentage of the populace celebrates it - it's called Election Day.

@Dave: Right you are about Election Day. I almost added a sentence like that to the end of my post. In addition to the celebrants being few in number, they are also very likely to support a politician who conducts war. Which is why politicians do that in the first place. People react mostly to fear, and successful politicians manage that fear. (Of terrorists, of gays, of immigrants, of crime, etc., etc.)


@Mark ... which brings us back to the most important political comment and one of the most important political speeches of all time, Roosevelt's fist inaugural speech, saying We have nothing to fear except fear itself... nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Everybody should think of that when faced with those dishonest fear peddlers.

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