July 15, 2006

So Says The NYT Photo Editor, Part I: This War Is In The Book


Vietnam-Execution  Iwo-Jima-Flag  Viet-Napalm-Attack

(click for full scale)

Last week, as part of its Talk to the Newsroom series, the NYT featured a Q. and A. with Director of Photography, Michele McNally.  Given the quality, influence and visibility of The Times photo coverage (especially at this address), I thought it worthwhile to spend at least a few posts trying to see through Ms. McNally’s eyes.  (The plentiful photographic examples lend even more of a window into the visual mind of the paper.)

The point I found most interesting involved Ms. McNally’s prediction around the enduring symbol of the Iraq war.  By now, most people are familiar with Khalid Mohammed’s photo from Fallujah showing Iraqis chanting anti-American slogans before the charred remains of American contractors.  Says Ms. McNally:

“Time will tell, but this one is iconic enough to join the ranks of Eddie Adams, Joe Rosenthal and Nick Ut…”

I’m thinking the Adams, Rosenthal and Ut photos (respectively, above) wouldn’t be as strong if they didn’t capture the moral tone of each conflict, as well as the ultimate result.  In what ways, however, does Mohammed’s image qualify as the central icon of the Gulf war?  Does the photo embody our failure to grasp (or build a bridge) to Iraqi society, with its profoundly different sects and subcultures?  Does the focus on contractors even frame our incursion as the quest for a pay day?  Time-wise, does this imply that Iraq was lost as of November ’05, either before or as a result of the Fallujah invasion?

Clearly, what makes an image an icon is a complex question.  Would you give the Mohammed photo the same weight McNally does? Also, in what ways would you define the resonance between the Fallujah shot, and the extraordinary other three?

(Edited for clarity: 8:40 am PST.  hat tips: Colin, James)

(image 1: Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press.  image 2: Eddie Adams/Associated Press. image 3: Joe Rosenthal/Associated Press.  image 4: Nick Ut/Associated Press.  All reprinted July 2006.  nyt.com.)

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Michael Shaw
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