All’s fair in love and war,or so they say. That’s one thing that the two ancient institutions have in common. Another is that photographers are generally on the scene to document them both. Those who photograph love (you know, engagements, weddings, etc.) are chronicling something beautiful and important, so as to preserve the significant memories associated with it. Whereas the people who photograph war are chronicling something harsh and important, so as to heighten people’s awareness of the seriousness of it.
If we have made it sound as if the skills required in wedding photography transfer easily to war photography, or vice-versa, it may be that we’ve not communicated clearly. War photography not only involves a very particular set of skills—skills quite unlike those acquired by Liam Neeson over a long career in film—but it involves a level of danger and risk, and requires a fund of courage, that happily most wedding photographers are not generally called upon to exhibit. And the contribution made by war photographers is systemic in its influence: they are able to influence how vast numbers of people understand war.
Janie Kliever, channeling a 3:36 video put together by Seeker Stories, brings us [this piece] which summarizes the video and pulls out some highlights. But don’t just take her, or our, word for it! Here’s the video.
Of course, there’s always been war photography. It’s just that, up until the first half of the 19th century, “war photography” was effected using canvas and paint, by an artist who was almost without exception not present at the battle he was depicting in his painting. “But when people started to photograph war”—according to the Seeker Stories presentation—“these images helped bring the realism and the horror of it to the world, to the people living far away from the conflict. These images had an immediate impact on how people saw war.”
The video discusses the role of photography in several modern wars, beginning with the American Civil War and continuing through World Wars I and II, and the Vietnam War. The uneasy relationship between photography and government policy is explored. To censor or not to censor? And what about the role of photography in government propaganda?
At three and a half minutes, the video requires minimal time investment and furnishes an interesting shotgun survey of the role of war photography during the past couple of centuries.