August 13, 2006

Iconic Images?

Recently the discovery of doctored images shot in South Beirut and the hollywood-esque production of images and video from the hezbollah-occupied village of Qana have sparked a spirited debate in the blogosphere and main stream media over the veracity of the information being released into the MSM.

Kathleen Parker, in her essay at, reminds us:

Every historic moment has its iconic image. Vietnam had Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong on the street; the Oklahoma City bombing had a fireman holding a dying child in his arms; Abu Ghraib had the hooded torture victim standing on a box.

And today, the Israeli-Hezbollah war has Qana — the Lebanese village where Israeli rockets killed civilians, including 16 children (down from the initially reported 27)

Or did they?

Makes one wonder about other images that have been seared into our cultural consciousness. As troubling as is to realize the media has reported as fact blatantly manipulated images, it is not a modern phenomenon. As soon as photography was used to capture moments of cultural significance, the manipulation of said images began.

During the American Civil War, a pioneering individual by the name of Matthew Brady organized corps of traveling photographers to document this conflict. One famous photo taken in the aftermath of Gettysburgh shows a the corpse of a Confederate sharpshooter who had fallen at Devils Den.


The photographer, Alexander Gardner, wrote a narrative to go along with the photo which describes the Confederate soldier's lonely, and painful death as rebel sniper. A gripping photograph, perhaps. A staged tableau? Absolutely. The body of the soldier did not fall there, it appears to have been moved from a slope leading up to Devil's Den. Other photographs in this series reveal a suspiciously similar looking corpse lying close by this 'sharpshooters den'. The rifle pictured next to the body is not a snipers rifle, also this rifle has appeared in several other photographs by Gardner, perhaps like some sort of prop.

Years roll by and the technology of photography improves - even women are getting into the act! During the Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930's, many families migrated to California in search of work. These migrants often lived in harsh conditions as did a widow, Florence Owen, with six of her children. Dorothea Lange, employed by the Farm Security Administration was charged with photographing the plight of the migrant worker. Note: These were American workers doing the jobs that Sen. McCain claimed Americans won't do.


The above photograph is world renown for its encapsulation of the plight and resilience of the migrant worker. Even this image was manipulated in part. Dorothea Owen is pictured with only three of her seven children who were present when this photograph was taken. The staging of the photo was to show that this poor woman would be able to lead her modest flock out of poverty and into prosperity if given the opportunity.

Vietnam: Who can forget the image of the little boy crying as his village lies in burning ruins behind him? No mention of the fact the photographer stepped on the child's foot to get him to start crying in this picture. Perhaps this was the inspiration for Jill Greenbergs exposition "End Times"?

Flash forward 2003: Front page image printed by the LA Times:


This all too perfect image from Basra, Iraq was a compilation of two digital pictures taken by Brian Walski. When asked about the ethics of this, he replied that he really wasn't debating the ethics of when he did this, he just wanted a better picture. How about worrying about the truth of the story instead of creating a picture that meets your preconceived views?

Manipulating an image to influence public opinion is not a modern day phenomenon. The difference today is the with public's ability to challenge the veracity of the information being fed to them through traditional media outlets. The difference is in the truth behind the image is revealed in hours, NOT years.

Posted by: Skye at 11:09 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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