In memories of Robert Capa (October 22, 1913 – May 25, 1954) To the man who invented himself and “for superlative photography requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad.”

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” Robert Capa

All the world’s a stage, and all men and women are merely players and thus the stage of war and tug are manipulated by strings of marionettes and puppeteer of the messy, polluted, uncontrolled world we are living in now. Joseph Conrad said, “He was obeyed, yet he inspired neither love nor fear, nor even respect. He inspired uneasiness. That was it!”

And that was it.

Dog eats dog. Man kills man.

“‘The horror! The horror!” Joseph Conrad continued saying.

The psychological portraiture of war exalts influential hurt and contagious misery, embarking on an exodus journey of violent baggage. War after war, the orgy of brutal savagery in humankind spells chaotic passion and communal violence on Earth.

Bombs, slaying, stained iodine of dried blood… Flies manifest on open flesh.

War photography: A dialogue of vile despondency between subjects and the angry world via the lens of important social documentation; a prism of greed and ego from the dictators versus the sufferings of the citizens of the world.

War photography and their photographers

Photos above by Matthew Bardy

The first war photography started by Mathew Brady in 1862. This 1st civil war photographer made his own history through his silver gelatine pictures when he displayed the very-few-of-its-kind collection of photographs (then) titled, The Dead of Antietan.

While Robert Capa (October 22, 1913 – May 25, 1954) was the first to die on the battlefield in the course of duty at Indochina, joining the fate of his Polish fiancée, Gerda Taro who died on the battlefield of Spain. The most famous war photographer of the 20th century, Robert Capa covered five different wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, World War II across Europe, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and his last, the First Indochina War.

“Robert Capa, the impetus behind the founding of Magnum, stepped on a land mine and was killed while photographing there in 1954, the first of many American correspondents to be killed in Indochina.”

How real is the death scene and how immaculate are the tears? How true the colour is the blood and how raw is the wound of misery? How far can these evidences be telecasted and shown to the rest of the world?

The secular credentials of war photography lies in the divinity of sensitivity and truth, albeit Oscar Wilde mentioned that the pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple. Looking through the eyes with un-bias, un-sided and un-doctrined insight: among the many who went to war to show the public what damaged has been done to humankind on the other flipside of the modern world we are living in now.

During the World War 2 in 1945, the photograph of Russian’s conquer over Berlin by Soviet Photojournalist,Yevgeny Khaldei, Germany was manipulated based on subjectivity of aesthetic and public thought. When the Russian soldier was forking the Russia flag on the earth of Berlin, what the photo captured was not the victory of the conquer but the incidents which folded prior to that victory: the soldier’s hands was seen to be cuffed by several watches, stolen and robbed from the Germans.

“Tass, the Soviet news agency, proceeded to manipulate the Soviet document yet again. The lower soldier had a watch on each wrist, which officials thought made him look like a criminal;one had to be removed in the negative. Mr. Khaldei himself later played around with clouds and smoke to change the drama quotient. Even history is not always what it seems.” reported Vicki Goldberg on 1997 in The New York Times.

Truth was hidden and the victory stench with acts of communism.

Photos above by Matthew Bardy

Bert Hardy, Korean war photographer, shot a group of abused and mistreated political prisoners being mistreated who were crouching and chained like prideless animals in massacre. Bert Hardy, together with fellow journalist, James Cameron, concludes that they were going to be unreasonably executed. They then sought and seek emergency aid from United Nations and the Red Cross in vain. Publication of this news was adamantly declined. Twice.

To quote from Brian Joseph Davis, photo-based artist, “War, by its very nature, is spectacle—a grand staged execution—and staged photos are often the only images we are allowed to see. The purpose of these images is, under closer scrutiny, the same purpose behind vacation photos—proof of adventure and dominance over an exotic locale.”

From Russell Miller’s book Magnum: ‘I always thought that soldiers running up and down hills firing at each other was the most boring aspect of what actually happened in Vietnam. What was really important … was the efforts by one society to subjugate another society and the resistance of the subjugated.’

So what does one expect from war photography? How do one depict a safe and politically correct photography? What is allowed to be seen, what can you see? And cannot?

Susan Sontag wrote in her 1972 treatise, “ A capitalist society requires a culture based on images.” 30 years down the road, Brian Joseph Davis, a photo-based artist said Sontag’s strident criticism now seems as artificially old-timey as boudoir photography.

Her adage and fistful belief that nobody can connect nor can they understand photographs because there is no basis and evidence of aesthetics in photographs, as the true meaning of photography lies behind the raison d’etre de la photographie. The entity of composition that makes up the pixels of the photograph from photographer to subject, and not mere moment captures as she feels that “our oppressive sense of transience of everything is more acute since the camera gave us the means to ‘fix’ the fleeting moment… The attempts by photographers to bolster up a depleted sense of reality contribute to the depletion… From the first, I regarded myself as under obligation to my country to preserve the faces of its historic men and mothers”.

In support to her sentences, I echo by quoting James Nachtwey’s intelligent speech of The Discipline of the Frame: “Aesthetic beauty is meant to strengthen the impact of the image, strongly communicates defiance in face of evil and a willingness to record this evil for others to see,” and Philip Jones Griffiths, a Magnum photographer Griffiths believes ‘To me, there is no point in pressing the shutter unless you are making some caustic comment on the incongruities of life. That is what photography is all about. It is the only reason for doing it.’

“What the human race is capable of and what it looks like,” Lord of the flies, William Golding.

So, what is the purpose of war photography?

Photos above by James Nachtwey

Sunil Shibad, copywriter from India, shares his opinion and felt that he has always seen war photographers as vultures. To just stand there and take a photograph as a soldier’s brains are being blown out mean that ice-cold blood flows in your veins. No matter the rationalization later on.

In his famous speech to the US 3rd Army in 1944, Gen George Patton said, “The bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating.”

The failure of the human kind captured truthfully in the borders of the 4 framed walls; photography. True or False? What do people want to see? What do the government of raging war want to see in their fighting countries? To some, these pictures are artistic and documentary but to these war photographers, it has developed a war within themselves:

Miljenko Popovic, 52, a former Croatian soldier, would never look at war photography because ”there are too many emotions, wounds that have not been healed,” he said. “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”

James Nachtwey’s photographs of a mob killing a man right in front of his eyes in, despite pleading them desperately to stop, images what we don’t see behind the photographs.

In one talk of Max Desfor’s he explained that “he used his photography as a means of shaping people’s opinions about a war he wanted to use it as a purely objective record of the things he witnessed. “ while to Robert Capa, “To me war is like an aging actress – more and more dangerous and less and less photogenic. I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”

Expensive printing techniques using liquified charcoal used to ensure the highest quality and survivability of images are used but it is more to visitors and fame, definitely. During his exhibition at War Photo Limited, American photographer Ron Haviv shared his sadness that “used to believe his photographs could change the world, he said, but became frustrated when the world stood by impervious to what he saw.”

Wade Goddard: Gallery Director, Curator, and war photographer of War Photo Limited shared that the objective of War Photo Limited is “to strip away the Hollywood image of war, to replace the glamour, the heroic bravura, the “only the bad guys suffer“ image of war, with the raw and undeniable evidence that war inflicts injustices on all who experience it.’

“Either you give up and don’t do it and let people just go about their business and think war is easy and nobody really dies…or myself and my colleagues keep trying. ‘I now realize that this is part of a process,” said Ron Haviv. ”One image can no longer change the world. It is just not possible anymore.”

William Golding said in his book Lord of the Flies, “Here at last was the imagined but never fully realized place leaping into real life —after all we aren’t savages really and being rescued isn’t a game.”

The dialogue provoked by greed and war au contra to the public who passively see and the war which inevitably shrunk their hearts by the physical pictures they see and captured, live.

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