March 11, 2006

Behind The Mask

Update: 3/18/06 11:31am PST:  In light of reports that Mr. Qaissi is not the man in this photo, I pose the following question: How does this story change if Qaissi remains a victim of the torture procedure, but was not the specific person in the famous photograph?


The NYT ran this photo four columns wide on Saturday’s front page, then largely blunted its web impact by severely cropping it with no option to enlarge.

I’ll paint out the larger version for you.  The picture extends lower so Ali Shalal Qaissi’s damaged left hand is almost noticeably cut off by the photographer.  (The hand was mangled as the result of his torture.)  Oddly, there is a wall switch just off his right elbow.  There is also a prominent electrical wire running to the white box just behind his head.  These elements, and the fact he is posed in the corner, between two white walls, provides a domestic counterpoint to the setting in the hand-held image.

The other important element is the presence of doorways.  To the left, you can see a door frame leading to another room.  To the right, you can see the screened front door.  In contrast to his situation as he stands on that box, the impression is that Mr. Qaissi can come and go as he pleases.

The article describes how Mr. Qaissi is applying his fame on behalf of an advocacy group he started to support other former prisoners of Abu Ghraib.  The photo indicates that — for at least one high profile victim — the trauma he experienced is coming under his control.  In my mind, at least, part of the irony of the picture is that the country — in the enduring grip of a spiraling trauma — is far from sharing the same vantage.

(Article link.)

(Largely revised.  3/12/069:28 am EST)

(image: Shawn Baldwin for The New York Time.  March 11, 2006.

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Michael Shaw
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