November 12, 2015

War/No War. Reading Spencer Platt’s NY Veterans Day Parade Photos

As you well know from reading this site, I think newswire photos are an endless source of untapped cultural information and that wire photographers are typically under-appreciated for their storytelling and their artistry.

The latest wellspring I’ve encountered is yesterday’s Veterans Day work by Getty’s Spencer Platt. Expanding on that ritual assignment of documenting New York’s Veterans parade, these photos take the theme of service, war and militarism in America today that much further. You could argue, by the way, that these photos are simply more abstract or are mostly seeking novelty. And I would say, they seem to also reference uncomfortable reality that otherwise remains out of mind.

Take the photo above, for example. In the image, Platt highlights the boot as a kinetic curiosity as the uniformed wave rolls by. I can’t look at this photo, though, without thinking of two very recent developments: the President’s U-turn in Afghanistan, undoing his pledge of total withdrawal, and the decision to send, albeit, a small contingent of Special Forces to Syria. What is the connection between the photo, the decree that U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan and the White House decision that U.S. muscle is needed in Syria? Boots on the ground, my friend. Boots on the ground.

And what about this photo of the troops in the street juxtaposed with the lonely barriers and two guys walking on the empty sidewalk, only casually attentive to the commemoration? To me, the photo captures that oddity of business-as-usual while the country goes about it wars.

In this shot, you can’t help but feel the difference between how it goes now, as compared to the grand symbolism of “the great wars.”

And, there’s that ambiguity again in this sweet, but ultimately impersonal thank you. Rather than meeting each other’s eye, the child gazes in our direction while were left to ponder the darkness and blankness of that soldier as he apparently engages the sign.

If the photos are subtle (except for the second one), I don’t find them innocuous at all. On that day once a year we acknowledge our veterans, Platt’s images, beyond just reflex, seem to require more context.

The full edit at Zimbio.

(photos: Spencer Platt/Getty Images caption: Members of the U.S. Army march in the the nation’s largest Veterans Day Parade in New York City on November 11, 2015 in New York City. Known as “America’s Parade” it features over 20,000 participants, including veterans of numerous eras, military units, businesses and high school bands and civic and youth groups.)

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Michael Shaw
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