July 28, 2005

Cheese and Pancakes




Just what do these incendiary photos have to do with strawberries and whipped cream?

I wanted to share some of the images released late Wednesday (apparently to the dismay of London police) of the unexploded bombs recovered from the July 7th suicide bombers.

These images are groundbreaking because their likes have rarely ever (and never so prominently) been seen.  I encourage you to look at the entire series (here), as every shot seems noteworthy.   I think the way they happen to be presented, however, is as compelling (and also confounding) as the devices themselves.

One reaction I had deals with the fact that five of the seven bomb
images happened to be photographed in the street.  I can fully
understand if investigators had no say in the matter, but presenting
them "on location" this way not only distracts from a simple
consideration of the device itself, it also interjects a story line
that complicates the portrait. 

Seeing these bombs on the road (as opposed to in someone’s hand, or on
a lab counter, lets say) lends the impression that these things have
now found their way into our streets and towns.  And, in spite of
whether (or to what degree)
this is true, these pictures — which would otherwise provide for a
more clinical inspection (leading us to better understand and relate to
these devices) — seem instead to amplify the fear factor.  What a

Without the lane marker (or anything else) for reference,
the top image has its own set of problems.  We can assume that this
is a close-up, but can we be completely sure?  Maybe those disks are
not the size of sandwiches, but of tambourines.  Maybe the background
is not
asphalt, and the bombs are actually the size of end tables (… and
what we assume is broken glass is some weird substance that officials
don’t want us to know or worry about).

I was also fascinated (but, again, concerned) over the x-ray image.
From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, of course it’s fascinating.  What I
especially like is how anthropomorphic it is.  It has a head, and a
neck with an esophagus-like element.  Then there is the body.  Going
with the analogy, the nails might even suggest appropriate female or
male protuberances.

At the same time, I think there is also a lot in this picture that
works against it, undermining the illustrative impact with confusing or
just dumbed down references. 

Because forensics has become so chic, this photo also does more to
excite than illuminate.  With news merging so easily with fantasy these
days (was the guy marching the halls of Congress with John Roberts the
Fred Thompson of Law-and-Order,
or Fred Thompson the former Senator?), maybe this image is nothing more
than fuel for the CSI craze, and the growing popularity of mayhem,
violence and necro-porn. 

If death doesn’t turn someone on, however, maybe a thrill is possible
from the disease angle.  From that view, one might see this image as a
body riddled with deadly growths –like an x-ray that turned up cancer
or tumors.  Of course, maybe this analogy is not even that far afield.
What I mean is, maybe the potential of such bombs floating around
cities like London, Paris or New York accurately represents a form of
cancer.  But then again, is the comparison so black-and-white?  And, do
we actually have a condition that is metastasizing?

Finally, I wanted to mention the words used to describe this top image.  In the ABC caption, the devices are referred to as pancakes.  In yesterday morning’s NYT, the article described them as appearing like "wheels of Camembert."
If I haven’t expressed this before, the way a picture is described in
words can often color the image as much as the contents of the picture
itself.  Pancakes?  My associations are: warmth, home, mother,
whipped cream, strawberries.  But, just how does that fit with broken
glass and twisted steel?

And Camembert

Well, maybe that’s a little less odd.  Of course, the young men that
get involved in these matters also begin to spoil and disintegrate.
And, well … you know what the right-wing has to say about their
terrorism war and things French.

(images: ABC News. London Terror Investigation 7/27/05.  At abcnews.go.com)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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