Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 16, 2015

The Boko Haram Massacre from Outer (or is it, Inner?) Space


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Amidst the world wide attention and outrage focused on the murders in Paris last week of 17 political cartoonists, police and patrons of a Jewish butcher shop, one could also hear a faint cry — about a double standard. Sketchy at best and devoid of pictures, the news from Nigeria was that the radical Islamic group, Boko Haram, had murdered up to 2,000 citizens in the remote towns of Baga and Doron Baga.

I was drawn to this before-and-after set of satellite images, produced by Digital Globe, for several reasons. Thinking trees falling in the forest, it’s a miraculous form of witnessing of fundamental humanitarian value. If the imagery falls short in marshaling the kind of empathy and passion of effective news photos, in terms of scope, scale and basic evidence, perhaps imagery such as this is more than second best.

What I was most drawn in by, however, was the color. Clearly, the red of the infrared, when we’re talking about mass carnage, is not irrelevant. Although the Guardian article doesn’t exactly say, the red objects appear to be trees … which are largely gone, along with a large number of the structures, as the result of fire. At first, I thought the saturated red in the imagery was misleading. If we naturally equate red with blood, wouldn’t we would expect to see more, not less, in the “after” views? Considering it further, however, like a vampire, Boko Haram has literally drained the life blood out of this place.

(photo: Micah Farfour/DigitalGlobe. caption: Satellite image of the village of Doro Baga (AKA Doro Gowon) in north-eastern Nigeria taken on 2 January above an image of the same area taken on 7 January.)

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