March 11, 2007
Over at Salon, Lindsay Beyerstein has a probing interview with photojournalist Nina Berman, who took one of the most iconic, searing pictures of the Iraq War. The shot isn't from Baghdad, though, it's from Illinois, where Renee Kline and Ty Ziegel were getting married. Ty was an Iraq vet and, well, you should just look at the photograph. Be warned, though, it's tough to see. It also illustrates one of Berman's points:
One of the issues in this war is that many of the wounded are really, really badly wounded -- they don't need one surgery, they need 30 surgeries that can go on for over a year. So in order for a family to be with a wounded loved one that whole time, they might have to quit their jobs and move -- and the government doesn't pay for that. Maybe it'll pay for a week, and that's it.
There's a charity, Fisher House, which helps those families, providing low-cost or free lodging for the duration of a loved one's treatments. If you're so moved, you can support their work here.
March 11, 2007 | Permalink
The overall goal of the photos and the charity are great. I must say, though, that I really don't like the photo.
Berman seems to me to be trying too hard to make her own statement, to the point that it detracts from what was very likely the central truth of the occasion. She says the groom had a reputation as a super-positive person, and of the bride she says, "I also think she really loves him. They remind me of a married couple that has been married for 30 years. They weren't very romantic with each other at all, but there was a real bond there." How much of this shows in the photo? Instead what we get is this:
In this picture, we're seeing the moment that those two are experiencing, and they are experiencing it alone -- that's what I got from their body language. No one's around. The other members of the bridal party have moved away from them. It's before the wedding photographer steps up. They're standing together, they're clearly united. They're going to be joined for life. But the way their eyes are, you can tell they're not looking at each other. No matter how in love you are, you're always alone.
That's the photographer's message, one she projects onto a situation that, judging from her own descriptions, was very different for the participants themselves.
I suspect the choice also represents some insecurity on Berman's part that her broader message about war might not come across as effectively with a smile or any very definite positive expression, but that it would be too obviously heavy-handed to pick a negative expression, so we get this compromise, which just isn't much of anything. Anyone who has shot such photos recognizes the expression as one of many similar ones that occur between shots you use, and which usually mean nothing special at all. I know it won an award, but to me it isn't even a very good photo, considering the others that I'm sure were available. If you want a candid shot, that's fine; I prefer them; no smile necessary, even if a smile is usually the most representative of the core emotions at such occasions. The most complete smiles I've ever seen were at weddings, even weddings in which one of the couple was very ill or disabled. But the expression captured here doesn't speak to me as showing anything important about the woman's state of mind or the occasion at all. Berman comes through loud and clear, though.
Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 11, 2007 4:53:23 PM
there are no words for this.
Posted by: jacqueline | Mar 11, 2007 5:22:54 PM
Amanda tried to use this photo in a campaign where everyone would use the word fuck. Some folks thought that was inappropriate and exploitive and perhaps Amanda was projecting her own agenda onto the photograph. Others wondered if Amanda had the copyright permission to do that and suggest that Amanda ask the photographer. Amanda didn't do so, and instead banned people. Eventually the copyright owner stepped in and told Amanda she did not have permission for her use. Now Amanda plays the victim and says the right wing has is in for her, even though there is no evidence that the
person that was objecting was left or right. Amanda will not accept responsibility or even understand that the photographer disagreed with Amanda's use of the photograph. Amanda : victim.
Amanda is an intellectually dishonest bully. But you should support her regardless Ezra, because she has ovaries.
Posted by: appalled | Mar 11, 2007 5:35:33 PM
sanpete managed a few, blaming the messenger while not even getting the message
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 11, 2007 5:37:47 PM
Maybe I should add that I probably see the situation in this photo differently than many would. Those with severe disabilities are often very ambivalent about being pitied or evoking horrified emotions. That is, they're ambivalent if they put up with it at all. Shock value and pity isn't what they want to represent, and to those who know them, and often to themselves, it isn't an issue. I can't help but feel this couple has been robbed of some of the dignity of their true selves that ought to be the soul of this photo; not completely robbed, but too much. The motive behind the photo may be good, in the abstract, but the means aren't what they ought to be.
I hope I'm not being offensive, but I have strong feelings about such things, I suppose. Bob, I wish you would expand on your reaction to the photo and what I've said. I think I got the message very well, but I'm willing to learn otherwise.
Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 11, 2007 5:54:52 PM
I think it's an iconic photo. It shows the horror that Bush has caused, the disruption of lives, and all for nothing, nothing but his desire to get back at a clown who was not worth one American life, one American dollar, one American casualty, and certainly not worth the same multiplied by hundreds of thousands of the suffering people in Iraq.
This is what Bush as done to Americans. Imagine what he's done to Afghanis and Iraqis.
Posted by: Mike | Mar 11, 2007 6:28:30 PM
appalled- Ezra is referencing Lindsay Beyerstein and not Amanda Marcotte. A little reading comprehension and a time-out go a long way. The two women are not interchangeable, even if they both have ovaries.
Posted by: Hawise | Mar 11, 2007 6:30:36 PM
Berman was at the wedding, you know, and obviously spent quite a bit of time with the couple. Perhaps she actually would have a good idea of what was going on between them, even if that doesn't match up to a typical wedding scene.
Also, "typical" wedding photos are usually pretty schlocky. I'm not surprised that a photo of a bride and groom that doesn't conform to the inanity of most wedding photos (I can hardly stand to look at mine) would stand out and perhaps win an award.
Posted by: Stephen | Mar 11, 2007 6:33:44 PM
You present us with two difficult options. Your recounting of what was said both in Amanda's post and in the comments is so removed from reality, we must decide whether you are:
-so stupid that you can't understand plain words
That's a shame. I'd rather not be presented with options so limited, but that's how it goes, I guess.
Those with severe disabilities are often very ambivalent about being pitied or evoking horrified emotions. That is, they're ambivalent if they put up with it at all. Shock value and pity isn't what they want to represent, and to those who know them, and often to themselves, it isn't an issue.
I have read stories of people with severe disabilities who feel strongly that such photos and stories should be published and promoted widely. Their goal is to not allow people who aren't directly affected by this to pretend that it doesn't exist.
These photos are shocking. They evoke pity and sorrow. Ultimately, though, they show a young couple - in love, afraid, happy, tired - all the emotions that everyone in their situation feels. They humanize what so much of the time is kept in the abstract: those with severe injuries and/or disabilities will live their lives just like anyone else.
Posted by: Stephen | Mar 11, 2007 6:44:21 PM
Stephen, Berman was at the wedding, and yet she doesn't show what she said herself the wedding and this couple were about. That's part of my point.
I didn't call for a typical wedding photo, though I think even that probably would have been better. As I said, a candid shot would have been my choice, but one that revealed them instead of the photographer's message.
I have read stories of people with severe disabilities who feel strongly that such photos and stories should be published and promoted widely.
"Such photos"? I do want photos of this couple and others with severe injuries to be shown widely, photos that show the truth of the whole people. That means that the photographer's message cannot take precedence over the greater truth and fuller dignity of the people, as I think it does here. I doubt you can find many, especially who have been disabled for at least five years, who support photos designed to make them look pitiful at the expense of their looking like themselves as they are. They want to be show truthfully both as to their disability and their whole person. They want that very much.
Ultimately, though, they show a young couple - in love, afraid, happy, tired - all the emotions that everyone in their situation feels. They humanize what so much of the time is kept in the abstract: those with severe injuries and/or disabilities will live their lives just like anyone else.
This is exactly what the photo primarily fails to do. Where is the love, the happiness? The photographer picked this shot specifically because it doesn't show those things but rather something else she thought was the greater truth, that of being always alone. It falsifies the heart of the occasion and the people.
I love my wedding photos, by the way, including some of the formal ones, but especially the candids, some of which show moments of fear, fatigue and so on, much more truthfully than this shot. Even so, this shot would be fine in an album showing the heart of the story with this as a proper but not the central element of it.
Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 11, 2007 7:22:11 PM
I think the main thing sanpete is arguing is that no one should be permitted to photograph anything, or depict anything, unless sanpete has decided that that interpretation fits sanpete's definition of the situation. By all means go about your lives, and your work, and your photography, and your marriages as you wish, but just please don't force sanpete to accept *your* reading of an image. That is too brutal and intrusive. Also, please accept sanpete's word for it that he knows what was going on in this picture better than either the photographer/interviewer or the couple.
Posted by: aimai | Mar 11, 2007 8:13:43 PM
Aimai, you have chosen not to even try to understand what I'm saying. I quite obviously don't argue what you say I do, and have already responded to your one point in my original post and when Stephen said essentially the same thing. Sorry to have offended you.
Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 11, 2007 8:32:06 PM
I need to revise part of what I said, with an apology to Stephen. The series of photos is great, just the kind of photos that I think need to be shown. Having slow dial-up, I didn't even see the rest of the series until I reloaded the link just now, and didn't realize they were all there, having clicked on the first one too soon earlier. I didn't realize the series was what Stephen was referring to by "such photos," while I was referring only to the one. I agree completely with him about the collection--wonderful. I still object to picking this shot out from the collection to represent the group of shots, the couple, the wedding, injured soldiers, or anything of the kind, which is apparently what has happened with this shot. But as a group of photos together, without treating that one as the key (so I'd order them differently), I think they're excellent.
Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 11, 2007 10:27:32 PM
I would strongly recommend everyone look at image 21 as well - I thought it was a nice balance with the wedding photo.
Also, I don't have a lot of patience for discussion about whether this photo is "exploitative" or "dishonest" or whatever. They agreed to be photographed. I assume they don't mind the photograph being seen. Then, why should we go rushing to their "defense"? What are we defending? If they ask her to take it down, then we'd have something to talk about.
I found it shocking and powerful. Personally, I think we should confront disabilities more often, so that we can learn to look past them.
Also, if there is something abhorrent here, it's the war that caused these injuries. I mean, are these photos of their beautiful day inappropriate, but all that footage of the bombing of Iraq was AOK?
Posted by: MDtoMN | Mar 11, 2007 11:33:04 PM
MDtoMN, I think the truth matters as much in a photo as an essay, especially when it's treated much the same way in the media. What I said isn't a defense; it's a complaint. If there's anything I said you actually disagree with, I'm interested. (I can tell you didn't read most of it.)
Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 11, 2007 11:44:43 PM
I skimmed what you wrote.
For instance: "I can't help but feel this couple has been robbed of some of the dignity of their true selves that ought to be the soul of this photo; not completely robbed, but too much."
The photo didn't take anything from them. It's a single image of one collection of light at one point in time. No photo ever taken of me has captured my "dignity". That's asking a lot of a photograph.
If it shocks or evokes, it's not robbing their dignity. First, I actually thought it was a picture that evoked a lot of dignity and duty and power and beauty. You're projecting YOUR view on it. Then, you're suggesting that the photographer stole their dignity.
As for Truth - did the photographer doctor the photo? No? Then, it's truthful. If this was the only photo provided, then I would be more concerned because it, like every photo, cannot convey all of their relationship. But looking at the collection as whole, we see a lot more variety and more images of their relationship. The collection can paint a full picture. One image can, at best, convey one moment - with its elements or emotions. This one conveyed one of the many moments in and truths about their relationship.
Did the photographer pick one moment, one emotion, one element of their relationship to emphasize? yes, but that's always the case when you pick one photograph. And the photographer has made the rest available.
Posted by: MDtoMN | Mar 12, 2007 1:52:50 AM
MDtoMN, a good deal of what you say appears to overlook what I said a couple posts up, that the collection as a whole, with that photo as part of it, is excellent. My objections are based on taking the photo by itself to represent this couple, or their wedding, or the injured troops, or anything else like that, which is apparently what has happened with this photo in the media. To the extent the photo is taken to be representative of those things as a whole or as a typical example, it isn't truthful, and it robs the subjects of the dignity that comes with being portrayed in a more truthful and whole way. You don't have to doctor a photo to misrepresent, no more than you have to use false words to do so.
I don't know why you don't think photos capture dignity. I think the collection as a whole does respect and capture their dignity.
I have no objection to the photo being shocking, as long as it's in a truthful context.
I don't know what view you think I projected onto it. I quoted the photographer to establish the view I was criticizing.
Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 12, 2007 2:38:38 AM
two words: Harold Russell
his case might not be as extreme as the photograph cited, but war has ALWAYS destroyed lives and dignity. you think it's heavy handed? you're absolutely right. but harold russell lived out the rest of his life with hooks strapped to his arms, and the young man in the picture will spend the rest of his life with most people refusing to look him in the eye, and there's not a damn thing heavy handed about that.
Posted by: jonathan | Mar 12, 2007 8:31:56 AM
Thanks for the link, Ezra.
Sanpete, Berman thinks this photo depicts a moment of quiet contemplation for Ty and Renee. They're standing side-by-side, clearly united. They're about to be joined for life. If the situation, a beautiful, normal wedding doesn't suggest love and commitment, I don't know what does. It's fitting to be solemn and nervous on your wedding day.
Lots of people find this picture heartwarming because they see it as proof of true love. The simplistic reading is something like "Love conquers all." The a more nuanced interpretation is that this picture is about real love and commitment, not the storybook kind that we're raised to aspire to. The myth is that true love is magical,that sacrifices for love are effortless, that if it's right you'll know with the certainty of a revelation. The reality is much more complicated. The fact that people still take the plunge, despite all the ambiguity and uncertainty and compromise is a testament to love itself.
On the day Ty and Renee are to be joined forever, each of them has an unexpected moment to reflect in silence, alone but together. You can see that because they're not looking at each other, and not talking, just standing in silence. Berman says that they were waiting for the wedding photographer to step up and pose them for their portrait.
Bernman doesn't claim to know what Renee is thinking at that moment, although she says she noticed similar expressions on Renee's face some of the other candid shots in the series.
Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Mar 12, 2007 1:24:54 PM
Amanda is an intellectually dishonest bully.
You must be new here. Of course, Marcotte's a bully.
But you should support her regardless Ezra, because she has ovaries.
That's pretty funny.
Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 12, 2007 2:41:36 PM
Lindsay, I think Berman's own description of the photo, which I quoted in my original post, speaks for itself. The photo wasn't selected because it shows love and commitment; it wasn't selected because it shows them being solemn and nervous. It was selected because it shows them not looking at each other, being alone even when united, as she saw it. (I question that view, but that's another matter.) I'm glad lots of people find the photo heartwarming, but that isn't why it was chosen, and it obviously isn't as heartwarming as one with a more heartwarming expression would be. The expression on the bride's face doesn't lend itself to reflections on deeper love either--that just isn't there in the blank expression. Other photos in the series are far better on that score. The same scene with a different expression would have made your points beautifully, but that clearly wasn't Berman's intent or result in choosing the one she did.
Again, I should add that the series of photos, taken together, including this shot, is wonderful, and the series does show the things you're talking about. In the context of the series, this photo is interesting and suggestive. Taken out of the context of the series, it's misleading and untruthful.
Liked the interview, by the way.
Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 12, 2007 2:42:43 PM
Posted by: judy | Sep 27, 2007 8:16:36 AM
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