Lee Grant – Photography Blog

And on and on life goes…….

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The world can be a cruel and senseless place and there is nothing like a war to bring this idea home. One of the e-journals I subscribe to is The Digital Journalist, an American publication which mostly focuses on photojournalism and other visual media. I like this mag simply because it keeps me updated with current issues in photojournalism as well as the work of photographers around the world. One of the articles in this month’s issue discusses the work of one photojournalist , Michael Kamber, who has been working in Iraq as an embed for the NY Times. I like Kamber’s work because, for me, he has a sensibility not seen very much anymore. It’s like he is really seeing the war, beyond the visually obvious. In an age where there are plenty of cowboys to cover the plenty global conflicts, it is good to know that there are a few humanists out there. Kamber also writes eloquently about one of his experiences on patrol with an American military unit and also discusses some of the censorship challenges that most journalists in this war are facing (which I’ve quoted in part here):

“Back at the base that night, the editing and censoring process began. The embed regulations had recently been changed to say that no photos of identifiable wounded soldiers could be published without their written permission. Nor of identifiable soldiers killed in action. The explanation was that this rule was in place to protect the soldiers and their families. This seemed patently unworkable. The badly wounded soldier I had photographed earlier was temporarily blinded by the blast and on a plane to Germany. How could he be shown a photo and asked to sign off on it?

[Two of the slightly wounded soldiers returned to their unit the next day. I showed them their photos and they quickly signed releases.]

I asked John Burns, The New York Times’ Baghdad bureau chief, a rhetorical question I repeat here. What would our collective photographic history of World War II look like if Robert Capa was forced to chase stretchers down Omaha Beach on D-Day trying to get releases? What would our history of Vietnam be if Tim Page or Don McCullin carried a clipboard as they worked and presented it for signatures at Khe Sanh or Hué?”


Latafiya, Iraq, May 19, 2007 – A pregnant Iraqi woman and her children look at their husband/father who has been detained while an Iraqi soldier enters their home to search it. The man was arrested for questioning after a land mine or IED nearby killed a U.S. soldier and wounded four others. He was later released. The soldiers were searching for three missing American comrades.


Latafiya, Iraq, May 19, 2007 – Following an explosion that killed a U.S. soldier and injured four coalition troops, the patrol for three missing American soldiers continues with these Iraqi troops searching a home. One man was detained for questioning, but later released (both images courtesy Michael Kamber for the NY Times)

What indeed? It is depressing to realise that readers of even the liberal press (what little there is left) are being spoon fed so-called appropriate yet sanitised stories and images for the sake of military and political repute. On the other hand, do we as readers – compassionate though we might be – weigh in as a guilty party too when we turn away from such stories and images? It’s a difficult issue but one I think where consumers of the press have a right to view the ‘truths’ of these journalists and in turn the awful reality of what war means for so many people.

I suppose what I find truly bizarre is the extent to which we in the apparently free West are living litigious existences. Where a photographer must go to the lengths that they do in order to do their jobs – or even pursue their hobbies – to assuage the general populace (and regulators, more like). In my experience, chasing after people to sign off on releases – though understood by most – is nevertheless received as a bizarre request. One that is perceived as less appealing even than actually being photographed! Then again the thought of being sued or libeled in some way – even here in Australia – is never too far from one’s mind. Such a hassle might not, in the end, be worth the photograph?

Despite the ridiculousness that life seems to chuck out, it does go on…. And my thoughts are that we might as well photograph it….. if not for posterity and the historical record, then at least, just because. The good, the bad and the ugly……….

Written by Lee Grant

July 14, 2007 at 11:31 pm

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