Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 17, 2007

More WTF: Point And Shoot

Gilbertson-Wtf-Photo

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If you’ve been following this site, you know I’ve been taking in images from Ashley Gilbertson’s book, Whisky Tango Foxtrot, based on the extended time he spent as a war photographer in Iraq.

In this shot, we see an American soldier snapping a photo of a dead Mahdi Army fighter. The Iraqi was killed in May 2004 in the course of an overnight grenade-lobbing battle in a Karbala amusement park between insurgents and  troops of the First Armored Division.  According to Ashley’s caption, Army policy is to leave Iraqi dead for other Iraqis to recover and bury.  As a result, the body was still on the street the next morning.

Based on Ashley’s text, the soldier is taking the photo because the scene is “an object of curiosity for GI’s.”

The allusion reminds me of a bumper sticker that was popular during the Vietnam War.  It read:  “Join the Army: Travel to exotic distant lands; meet exciting, unusual people and kill them.”  Of course, the slogan has everything to do with cynicism and next-to-nothing to do with insight.  Still, looking at an image like this, it makes me think hard about the intersection of war (especially a U.S.-instigated cultural and religious war) and personal digital photography and video. (You do remember this, right?).

Call it a mixing of metaphors, but at a perverse level, where does a shot like this depart from the sphere of work-a-day war fighting and become, a lá the bumper sticker, a sadistic exemplification of tourism?

At the same time, I’m interested in the politics of the shot, and the curiosity of one shooter — a professional — shooting an amateur.

As Gilbertson conveys throughout the book, the largest portion of the shots he ended up with were the result of his — and the visual media’s — limited access to the war.  That being the case, one thing this picture captures is the irony that the troops — so many of them with a point-and-shoot on their person — had the media in their pockets, while the war photographers, and by extension, the rest of us, had next-to-nothing.

BAG’s WTF series herePurchase WTF hereWTF Web Site right here.



(Images from “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer’s Chronicle of the Iraq War”.  © Ashley Gilbertson. Used by permission.)

About the Photographer

Ashley Gilbertson

Ashley Gilbertson is a photographer with the VII photo agency, and a principal at Shell Shock Pictures. Gilbertson's photographs from Iraq where he worked from 2002 until 2008, gained him recognition from the Overseas Press Club who awarded Gilbertson the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal. His first book, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, was released in 2007. Since then, Gilbertson has been examining veterans issues including Post Traumatic Stress and suicide for Time Magazine, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Times. In 2007, he began working on Bedrooms Of The Fallen, a collection of photographs depicting the intact bedrooms of service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. That series was published by The New York Times Magazine, and went on to win the documentary photography National Magazine Award. It will be published in book form in 2012. He lives with his wife and child in New York City. See more of Ashley's work for BagNews here.

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