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January 31, 2005

More Than A Day

 Images 2005 01 30 International 30Iraq14

Certainly, the election photos from Iraq are euphoric.  And, who could not share the pride of this rare exercise of popular will?  (This shot, captioned "The streets of Baghdad were full of children playing soccer" was featured in the NYTimes election slideshow.)

At the same time, these pictures point out some of the shortcomings of photojournalism.  In looking at news images, it is sometimes easy to forget that these visuals represent instants in reality, and not always reliable ones.  What are the chances, for example, that these boys are still able to play soccer in this Baghdad street, even twenty four hours later?  How much longer will the posters on the wall in the distant right convey the hope of this one gentle day?  And, what associations might be expected from the election poster on the pole, if not taken down?   The day before, with the streets a menace, this poster — appealing to the future — signified how much the Iraqi people had at stake.  On this day, however, with the street a picture of normality, the poster –with the baby’s furrowed brow and hand to its chin — is more a bitter reminder of how much has been lost, and how much is still left to lose.

I do not wish to take anything away from the Iraqi people.  At the same
time, it is hard for me to look at pictures like these, knowing that
George Bush and Condi Rice are beating their chests today, laying claim
to these hopeful, yet transient images to justify their own political
recklessness.  Just as I was appalled that Dick Cheney would represent
the United States at Auschwitz, and then have the audacity to spin the
Holocaust to endorse his so-called war on terror, so I am appalled that
images like these are routinely exploited for their unreliability.

The truth this, these images sometimes have a lot more to say about
what they can’t confirm than what they can.  One thing this picture
indicates, for example, is that, twenty-three months after the
invasion, Rumsfeld and Bush have still failed to secure Baghdad — at
least, for more than a day.

(image: Anja Niedringhaus/Associated Press in NYTimes)

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