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June 6, 2005

Punching Up The Orange

This Sunday’s latest perfunctory Iraq story in the NYT seems to sum up what’s wildly wrong with the coverage of the war — as well as, perhaps, what’s wrong with the overall American military strategy.  Simply put, there is no context to it.

Take this image, for example.  The article it accompanies (U.S. Uncovers Vast Hide-Out of Iraqi Rebelslink)  describes a large underground rebel hideout discovered by U.S. troops in Karma, west of Baghdad.  The photo, however, depicts an Iraqi soldier searching a home in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad.  What one has to do with the other is a complete mystery.  (What’s going on in this photo is also hard to discern.)

How can we account for the fact this picture bears no relation to the story?  Is it just a routine journalistic circumstance?  Could it be a consequence of the difficulty covering a war?  Or, could it result from the way the press has been partitioned from fuller access to the hostilities?

(Do you notice, by the way, how little mention is made these days about the policy of embedding journalists and photographers?  Over time, the effect has been to confine our correspondents to a stenographic function, narrowing their ability to ask larger questions — either about specific missions or the war over all.  And, while on the subject, maybe it’s time to review the term “embedded” itself.  “Embedded” sounds so objective, it deflects attention from what it now signifies — which is a form of censorship and media control.)

Another curious thing going on is that we have the image of an Iraqi-led raid paired with a story about an American-led military operation.


Maybe it’s just how goofy this masked Iraqi soldier looks (as he poses for a picture in a role I’m used to seeing American soldiers play much more effectively).  Maybe it’s partly the English letters on his vest.  Either way, the question it raises for me — especially if you read the authoritative statements of the Marine spokesperson in the article — is just how much this war remains our war, and the ultimate operating power remains in our hands.

There are other visual elements to consider, as well:

It’s always interesting to see how photo cropping can effect a story — especially on the web.  In the on-line article, if you didn’t click to enlarge this smaller image, all you would visually know of this story was the shot of this soldier alone.

When I mention this following point, some people take me to task for calling out a standard — if fairly recent — convention used frequently by the NYT.  If you’ll notice, this image is super color-saturated.  (Just look at how punched up the orange is, or the baby’s clothes.)  The effect is to make the image more lush and visually seductive.  The net effect is a troubling contradiction between the content and its sensory impact.

Also, if you’ve been following the BAG for a while, you know that I’ve been quite interested in these wartime scenes of domestic intrusion.  Why is there such a premium on images featuring male soldiers holding sway in a home with women and children at their mercy?  If this situation is so innocuous that this soldier can stand off to the corner and pose for a picture, why is he still there hanging around?  (By the way, if a readers could identify these paintings or posters, it would be helpful.  The presence of art seems to suggest a more important or well-to-do household, which might be a clue why these soldiers would be inclined to pause and capture the visual souvenir.)

Finally, there are few issues I have specifically with this article:

The Marine spokesman states that this is “the largest underground system discovered in at least the last year.”  I thought I was following the war pretty closely, but I wasn’t aware we had found any underground lairs, large or small.  From reading this, by the way, I don’t have a sense of how many more underground lairs there are out there, how significant they are, or what importance this discovery has relative to the overall fight.  (In fact, in makes me think that this is just one more suddenly discovered facet about the all too invisible enemy that shows we really don’t have a good sense of who or what we are dealing with.)

(image: Alan Chin/The New York Times.  June 5, 2005 in The New York Times, p. A13)

  • lytom

    Invader, occupier, mercenary, torturer… come to my mind seeing the picture of a soldier armed to the teeth, and protected against any poisonous gases that could have been used against the home he “bravely” entered. All this against the background of an Iraqi woman with a baby, in her home, protecting the baby as much as she can, yet frightened herself.
    This picture just magnifies the evil that has been imported to Iraq and the collateral damage to all of us as human beings.
    Violations of humanitarian protections of the Geneva Conventions have been defended by few organizations and Iraqi do not have right to voice their protests.

  • eva

    I wonder if the title the Times gave this story, “U.S. Uncovers Vast Hide-Out of Iraqi Rebels”, would have read “Iraq Uncovers Vast Hide-Out of Iraqi Rebels” had the weapons cache been uncovered by Iraqi solders, rather than U.S. marines. In fact, CNN International reports the cache was found by both U.S. and Iraqi troops on patrol. A more objective title might have read, “Soldiers Uncover Vast Weapons Cache in Iraq”. In other words, individuals found the cache, not the United States of America.

  • Asta

    Being a fan of science fiction, my reaction was, “Close Encounters of the In-Your-Home Kind.” The Soldier is so covered up with armor and gear, and with his face masked, he takes on an almost extraterrestrial appearance. Could he be one of the Greys? Or is he a Green? Has he come for the child? Are the mother and baby being abducted?
    His pose is so casual, and hers so frightened.
    In response to Bag’s inquiry about the art work: I think I have seen those pictures somewhere before. If my memory serves me at all, I believe they are images of a garden beside a stream, printed on canvas. The two pictures form a mural, and the colors are bright and happy. It looks like there’s a little white bridge crossing the stream. A gazebo is reflected in the water.
    Another thought: I don’t believe many Americans think the people of Iraq appreciate art. It seems we give more human attributes to our dogs and cats than we do the Iraqi people. The media show so few photos of Iraqi homelife and so many pictures of ruins and bombed out villages that I believe most of us think they live in caves and rubble and like it that way.

  • Swangelok

    By definition, if this is the first hide-out uncovered, it is the largest.
    Funny business, spinning the news

  • Kerstin

    Orange Crush. Subversive product placement. Very effective. ;)
    In choosing this photo for “U.S. Uncovers Vast Hide-Out of Iraqi Rebels,” the NYT manages to implant in the American mind that Iraqi homes are, in fact, the “vast hide-out.”
    I often wonder if the biggest difference between conservatives and liberals is the ability to empathize. How can you not look at this and emphathize with the average Iraqi? How can you not see the incredible contrast between the fear of the mother and the power of the faceless invader? I find these images even more haunting than the more typical “guts and gore” pics — not that we’ve seen many of those in the media.
    Asta makes an excellent point. I wonder if more of these photos were seen, if they would not, in fact, have a humanizing effect. They certainly bring the invasion home for me.

  • Asta

    Kerstin, your observation ‘In choosing this photo for “U.S. Uncovers Vast Hide-Out of Iraqi Rebels,” the NYT manages to implant in the American mind that Iraqi homes are, in fact, the “vast hide-out.”‘ is brilliant.
    The photo which initially appeared as inappropriate now takes on a deeper meaning because of your insight.
    (We are also viewing the baby picture of a future terrorist, and he will have justifications for his wrath.)

  • Johanna

    The town of Karma.
    Yes, I expect as the result of our military’s actions in Iraq, we shall be experiencing plenty of that in the very near future.
    Peace. Johanna

  • Asta

    Johanna wrote: “The town of Karma.”
    And they said irony was dead. I missed that one, Johanna. It went right over my head.

  • Diane

    The soldier appearing might be the woman’s husband, all dolled up and ready to go to work that day. I think she might have moved to one side to avoid her face being seen, as the baby seems very relaxed and she is not hiding the baby away from the soldier. When you are ruled by the gun (Saddam) you tend to go with whoever has the gun next as your best bet for survival, not any commitment to that abstraction, democracy.

  • Diane

    The soldier appearing might be the woman’s husband, all dolled up and ready to go to work that day. I think she might have moved to one side to avoid her face being seen, as the baby seems very relaxed and she is not hiding the baby away from the soldier. When you are ruled by the gun (Saddam) you tend to go with whoever has the gun next as your best bet for survival, not any commitment to that abstraction, democracy.

  • manxome

    I agree that the immediate feeling is that these hideouts are in the neat, well-kept homes of the average citizen. Actual undated photos from the AP released by the Marines on the day this story was published show a colorless, cinderblock dwelling. Inside a picture of the opening in the floor of the colorless room. There is no furniture, no foliage, no families, no sign its been recently inhabited. It’s lifeless in every sense of the word.
    AP “action” photos from Operation Lightning (which the published photo represents) for the past two weeks all take place outdoors.
    So, I’m guessing it went this way: Do we have any art for this story? What does our guy in Iraq have? Nothing? What about AP? Nothing? Well, something with soldiers and a house then. Ooh, this one with the mother and child adds a human element.
    It’s just that it’s not honest.

  • bob crane

    manxome, i don’t believe it’s usually that simple in the nyt editors offices.
    diane, your defense/analysis is absurd. even if your conclusions were to be factual, the photo does not present anything to conclude your hypothosis, and given the current situation your summation seems to be completely unanalytical and totally subjective to support a predisposed ideology.

  • Diane

    Thanks for the comments, bob. I don’t have a presupposed idiology, really, and meant to convey the complete confusion of story, photo chosen to illustrate it, and what a confusing image it is, in any case. BTW, Good Muslims don’t look at anything with images of people in them, hence possible “lack of art” seen in their homes. I love the curtain on the TV, tho.

  • Gaianne

    What Iytom said.
    It is interesting to me how the NYT is choosing pictures with multiple meanings. The disconnect is there: What is this war about? The image suggests no explanation is possible. The violation is there: When the British gov’t stationed soldiers in the homes of (British) American colonists–resulting in a special prohibition later in the US constitution–the abuse was not half as grotesque and creepy as this. Is the NYT edging away from its gung-ho support of the war? Probabably not: As already mentioned, we are invited equally to view this as the image of an incipient baby terrorist, and many Americans will view it that way. BTW the US has no plans to leave Iraq, ever, and the NYT knows this perfectly well.
    What Joanna said about karma? What we have done will return to us.
    I have two separate, but related thoughts about this. First, that there is a blood price to be paid for our actions, and it will be paid: Americans are going to pay for these actions, done by Americans or with American money or in America’s name, with their lives. Considering that American soldiers are routinely getting blown up you could argue that it is already happening, but that is not quite right: Combat deaths of US soldiers are just the merest foretaste. It is going to get much, much worse before the end.
    Secondly, as the American empire devolves and the ensuing economic chaos creates political unrest at home, Americans will find these same tactics being used here. In Iraq the US Government operates through fear alone, and has no hope of anything else. That will become the case here as well.

  • hk-reader

    re: the artwork
    They look like posters to me. Here in HK there are a fair amount of shops that sell posters like this – often of scenic spots or “nature” scenes to make a drab room w/ no windows (or small windows looking out on somebody else’s wall) prettier, or like it has a sort of window. I’ve seen similar type posters in Taiwan and China.
    Diane, putting a curtain over your TV is not that unusual. I used to do that in my own flat, because it made the room prettier (I live in HK, but I’m from the USA originally).
    In Iraq, I imagine it might be dusty, so the cloth over the TV might have a practical function.

  • Alan Chin

    I am the photographer on assignment for the New York Times, and I want to make a few comments clarifying the circumstances in which I took this photo.
    It is correct that Mahmudiyah is about 10 miles south of Baghdad while the bunker complex at Karma is to the west. They are entirely different regions — but they are linked in this case by that fact that both were locales for Operation Lightning — which is a large operation occuring in many places over an extended period.
    I was embedded with an American adviser team (5 or 6 soldiers led by a lieutenant) that works with an Iraqi Army battalion. Their mission was to raid targeted houses where they suspected insurgents to be. The Americans were not in direct command, although they had a leading role in the planning. This photograph was taken in one of the houses that was raided. In the raids that I saw that morning, in no case were the women or children the targets. However, obviously this woman was frightened and surprised to have armed soldiers burst into her home.
    The Iraqi soldier masks his face, as many of them do, out of concern for reprisals against him or his family if he is identified or recognized. He stands calmly, because, after the initial entry, the search and arrests, if there are any, proceed quickly and methodically. Usually the soldiers are in and out of a house in less than 5 minutes.
    Now, regarding the use of the picture in the newspaper: it is precisely because of the combination of her fear, his calm, the deceptively cheerful posters and colors, and overall ambiguiety of the scene, that I selected it. My editor consulted me on the choice and I agreed, was pleased that a picture like this with some subtleties and oddities was chosen rather than, say, a straight-up depiction of the arrested detainees, or of the soldiers running to and fro. As a photographer I feel that the connections between the photos and the words in the newspaper need not and should not be literally connected.
    Sometimes all I can do is illustrate simple fact. At other times, I hope that the pictures help show the confusion, the complexity, the grey areas. I believe that i am as fair and objective as is possible, and certainly there is no conspiracy from my part to “slant” my photos in any particular way. But if they provoke, as this one has on this forum, then so much the better.
    Regarding embedding: at no point are my photos reviewed by the US military before I transmit them. i have been asked not to photograph dead and wounded US soldiers, but the officers asking me this understood that they were asking, not ordering. In practice, they would be upset and might hinder my future access and so on. But they could not censor, and if that came up (it never has), i would categorically refuse. I have not seen any US dead or wounded so thus far this is hypothetical for me. But I have photographed plenty of Iraqi dead and wounded, from the car bombs, and the more graphic images are not published. I argue that they should be, because we should not censor ourselves.

  • bob crane

    sorry if i misunderstood and overreacted. it is indeed confusing, particulary contextually as the bag points out.
    and the photographer’s statement above that the photos and words ’should not be literally connected’ does indeed raise serious concerns as to what impression the publication in question is intending to portray. contextual choices are therefore being made to not elaborate on given stories, but rather to …. to what end then? aesthetics? politics?

  • lytom

    To Alan Chin:
    You do play a role, no doubt. NYT has played that role for long time and has succeeded in “deadening the readers” to the morality issue of the war and occupation of Iraq.
    I am curious about your feelings when you are in situations like the one you took picture of. Where are your sympathies?
    The violence that takes place in Iraq is indescribable and one picture cannot express it.
    Having more information about the military intruder in the picture, as being Iraqi, underlines the fact of the brutality of the occupation, which happens under the watchful eyes of the US soldiers. This is same as Nazi’s occupations, where the collaborators along with Nazis worked along and were despised by the population. They were later sentenced for crimes against humanity.

  • Alan Chin

    to bob crane: are you seriously suggesting that all you want to see are simplistic, literal photographs everyday, pictures the have only a single theme or meaning? pictures like headshots of politicians standing at podiums, or soldiers waving guns, or houses burning, and so on? i take plenty of those photos too, and they get published too, but don’t you think that aesthetics, complexity, and ambiguiety are important too?
    to lytom: look at the photograph again. where do you think my sympathies are? the comparison to the Nazis is absurd. a better comparison might be to the armies that were American created, trained and advised, like the Salvadorean in the 1980s or the Croatian Army in 1995. I am deliberately citing two examples with vastly different historical and political contexts, US trained armies have played many roles, in El Salvador you had the El Mozote massacre where a US trained force killed hundreds of civilians; in the ex-Yugoslavia, the US revitalized Croatian and Bosnian armies counter-attacked against the Serbian forces, and were able to reverse aggression and end the war. So, in Iraq, the mechanism is the same. The US provides arms, advisers, supplies, etc. to the Iraqi Army. This Army is under the command of the Iraqi Ministries of Defense and Interior, not the US military. clearly, the jury is still out on where this effort will lead.
    The soldiers do not seem to be despised by the population, although that might be true in some Sunni areas. Most of the Army’s soldiers are Shiite and Kurdish; as might be expected. The mid-level officers are mostly former junior officers in Saddam’s army, the senior officers are mostly former mid-level officers, so the officer corps probably has a much higher percentage of Sunni than the rank-and-file. The senior officers of Saddam’s army were mostly not re-hired, after some scandals of former Baathists regaining positions.
    to manxome: “So, I’m guessing it went this way: Do we have any art for this story? What does our guy in Iraq have? Nothing? What about AP? Nothing? Well, something with soldiers and a house then. Ooh, this one with the mother and child adds a human element.” — that’s about right, actually, on any given day for the daily story. what is so dishonest about that? would you rather that they do not use a photo at all, or pick the one that is the most boring?
    regarding the “deadening of readers,” that is why i argue against self-censorship. as i wrote, many of the pictures i have made of Iraqi dead and wounded have not been published because they are considered too graphic or bloody. this is wrong. the realities of war are, of course extremely disgusting to look at, and there is no reason why the public should be “protected” or “sheltered” from this. I do my best to photograph what happens here, and it should be seen.

  • lytom

    To: Alan Chin
    You and I will not agree on everything, especially on how we view the US involvement in Iraq,… the “distant” past, the conspiracy for a pretext to start the war, the recent past and the present.
    There is no legitimacy, so I do not accept the training by the invader of the local armies!
    There is no legitimate government in Iraq, so I do not accept the “self-invitation” of the occupiers to “freedomize” Iraq.
    The bombings of Iraqi populated areas from air, control of Iraqi air space, the high military technology, including use of the depleted uranium weapons, all come from the invaders, without that, there would be no occupation and thus no collaborators!
    I do not accept the thought that US armies are only “advising” the Iraqi forces… That is the problem which is being “fed” to the readers of the NYT. Actions of the US forces are not questioned, after all they do not make mistakes, as it would come of in reading articles in NYT. I believe, it is the policy of the military, directed by the US government to do all the military actions in Iraq. The responsibility for all actions should be shouldered only by the USA and its coalition forces! There I equate it to Nazi!

  • dvn

    “karma” in arabic means “fig tree”; but I still like the irony

  • bob crane

    i’m not suggesting, i’m questioning. i love photography ranging from weegee to sally mann with all the inherent complexities and nuances. what i am concerned about is the role of ‘news’ and the editorial choices being made.
    you asked, “but don’t you think that aesthetics, complexity, and ambiguiety are important too?”
    those elements are unavoidable, but i realize your point as an artist, my concern is the role of journalist. consider the same issues in regard with the text. when a major newspaper is putting out articles in which information is lacking or skewed, i have to say, i’ll sacrifice aesthetics without question for information.
    by the way, i’m not analyising you as a photographer or your photograph really, i’m analyising the editorial decisions made by nyt and other media outlets. from your statements, i think you’ll admit, they have not been serving the public interest to the degree in which they’re obliged which raises serious concerns regarding approach.

  • Asta

    I guess my screen name should be Doubting Thomasina.
    Mr. Chin, I’d have thought your response to this website entry would have been, first, that copyright infringement had occurred and/or your photo had been reproduced without your consent. So far, there’s no protest on this issue from you so I assume your consent has been given and no copyright laws have been violated.
    Secondly, the “Punching Up the Orange” title didn’t solicit any reaction from you. Quoting from the BagnewsNotes article, “If you’ll notice, this image is super color-saturated. (Just look at how punched up the orange is, or the baby’s clothes.) The effect is to make the image more lush and visually seductive.” (My emphasis.) Again your silence on this suggests that Michael is correct in his observation and the photo has been digitally altered. For aesthetic reasons only, no doubt.
    And the third thing that bugs me is your email address. I am a bit surprised that your email is not connected with the NYT. I ran a search on the Times and you seem to be more than a infrequent contributor or freelancer, therefore I can only conclude you are an employee, and can send and receive email correspondence through their offices. You state that you are on assignment which could mean many things. AOL is just sooooo generic that it makes me suspicious as to your true identity. NYT has its own domain, so it doesn’t make sense to me that it would use AOL for its email provider.
    Would it be possible for you to verify your identity in a way that would not jeapordize the privacy rights of anyone involved, such as maybe a small mention regarding BagnewsNotes in one of your OpEds to the NYT, then we would know we’re not wasting our time arguing with a troll.
    Also, could you tell us just how you ran across BAGnewsNotes in the first place?

  • Alan Chin

    OK, let’s cut to the bone. i speak now not as a photographer on assignment but as a private individual:
    1) the debate over the initial decision to go to war and invade Iraq, that for many people remains the crucial point of difference.
    2) accepting the invasion, the overthrow of Saddam, and the formation of a new Iraqi government, the debate over HOW this is done, what decisions have been made and the consequences of these decisions. I would say that at this point in time, with the current realities, THIS is the crucial debate.
    3) accepting the point of view from the other side, the perspective of the insurgency, and the differing and competing strains within that, what are they trying to achieve, how they try to achieve this, and these consequences, e.g. you could hate the American presence in Iraq, and yet not condone suicide bombings, beheadings, and kidnappings as legitimate tactics of war. This too, is an important debate.
    getting to the specifics for my photograph, and why i chose it (of course my choices are then gone through by my editors: they can choose from what I photographed, they can reject all of them and go with AP, etc.):
    Now you have here an Iraqi army that is advised by Americans. They have, by the traditional concepts of law and moral opinion, a legitimate task to suppress an armed insurgency that has as its public goal the overthrow of the new Iraqi government and the American occupation force which installed it and supports it. So, the Iraqi Army has to go after these insurgents. You could say by the same token that the insurgents have, from their point of view, an equally legitimate task to remove a government that they do not recognize. But it is impossible for a foreigner to embed with the insurgents. So I cannot comment on them.
    How do the Iraqi Army and their US allies do this? Do they do so effectively? well, clearly not yet effectively enough, as attacks continue. Are they getting better? maybe. Do they have public support? from certain sections of the population but not others. Do they do this in a manner consistent with human rights and respect for the rule-of-law? Not enough. Certainly the Americans at Abu Ghraib were deficient in this regard.
    At each step of the debate, you can have a different opinion, you can go all the way back to point 1 above as lytom does, and reject everything since March 2003. you could be at the next step, and support the overthrow of Saddam and the creation of a new government, but not the way it has been done. You could go further, and support the program whole-heartedly, and still roundly criticize the implementation of it.
    So, does my photograph give you any information at all to inform you in these debates? I would argue, yes, because on the one hand, the human impact of the war on ordinary people is very real. this woman, holding her child in fear, most likely innocent of any crime. Then, on the other hand, the Iraqi soldiers targeted this home for a reason: they suspected that it sheltered insurgents. Were they right in thinking so? There is no way for us to know. If they were, then this raid is justified. If they were not, then it is an intrusive and disturbing mistake, the kind of action that may create an enemy where there was none before.
    These are the complexities and ambiguieties that I try to show, which is, I believe, good journalism. I don’t know the answers, I can, however, present some scenes, and let the viewer think about it. I don’t pretend to be a great photographer or artist or whatever. I’m just trying to do my assignment in the best way that I can.

  • Alan Chin

    I am a freelance photographer on assignment for the NY Times. I am not an employee of the New York Times, nor have I ever been. I have been a regular contributor since 1996. I do not have a NYTimes email address. The email address I use here is one that i use on forums and other public arenas. You can see some of my previous work at and some other recent Iraq photos at I will be happy to provide other proof if you email me privately.
    Regarding copyright infringement, somebody needs to tell me about this RSS stuff. I am not an expert in this when it comes to the web. Perhaps, instead of debating the intellectual issues, I should call my lawyer?
    The photo was not digitally altered in any way except for “burning and dodging” in Photoshop, which is standard. The woman’s face was lightened a little so you can see it better, as was the soldier’s face. It was taken with a Nikon D70 digital camera and a Nikon 20-35mm lens, and like a lot of digital cameras, it automatically creates fairly “punchy” images, similar to Kodachrome slides, at least in certain conditions. If I had shot this with a film camera using, say, Fuji or Kodak color negative film, it would have been a bit more muted. Digital cameras are standard, there are about 4 or 5 models that we all use and they produce similar results. I would be happy to publish the original, out-of-camera JPG on this site.
    I do google my own name every week or so to see where my photographs are published. They do end up in many places, and in this case I felt that it was important to try and answer some of the questions and issues raised.

  • bob crane

    thank you for your candid responses. it’s been really interesting to have a bit of insight and to follow this dialog. i, for one, didn’t intend on putting you on the defensive, the nyt, yes. i certainly do find this to be an interesting and well made photograph and will be keeping my eye out for your work in the future. your work keeps you on a tightrope in many, many ways and i do believe you and your fellow photographers perform an invaluable service and do so at personal peril.

  • jefrog

    NYTimes readers owe thanks to photogs like Mr. Chin, who try to represent these complexities in their work, regardless of the text they accompany. Yes, a decision is made to run them together, but the initial choice to take it is disregarded (and perhaps misunderstood and mischaracterized) if each photo is only considered in the context of what it appears next to.

  • Asta

    I am with bob crane in stating that I didn’t intend to put you on the defensive…but you know the old saying, on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog (which is why I am “Asta”, it’s part of the joke). I was merely asking you — are you a dog or a real person.
    Are you this Alan Chin? If you are, I am surprised you didn’t mention these photos. They’re really quite nice. The one where you (if that’s you) portray Bush with the ray of light shining down on his face in the darkened crowd is interesting. He appears to be annointed from above.
    Nikon makes really nice cameras, don’t they? Being the adult offspring of a professional photographer father, my life is filled with cameras, as are my closets. I inherited them all.
    So…How do you like the Nikon D70? I am curious why you didn’t choose the Sony CyberShot DSC-F707 (although not new but formidable and at the same current price, a better buy) for your profession. The D70 seems toy-like against the F707. But we can always argue “it’s the lens, stupid!” which I can only side with Nikon on that point. I bring up this name brand to counter your argument that everyone loves the D70. Not necessarily true.
    If you want to publish the original photo, email Michael. It’s his website and I betcha he would be more than happy to oblige you. I, for one, would love to see what else is in the room. I really would like to know more about the Iraqi people, and I would like to see it without prejudiced commentary.

  • addmanure

    You guys are too funny, as if this guy with the “AOL” account is actually “Alan Chin.”
    right, ya-betcha.
    howdy, Tex.

  • travy

    wonderful photograph! but, i feel a shot of those arrested or some elements of the hideout itself would have been more appropriate as this the subject of the piece. perhaps this photo would be better with a story about home intrusions…

  • The BAG

    Asta brings up the issue of copyright. Given that BAGnewsNotes makes liberal use of newspaper and newswire photos, I am glad to speak to this. Since I began the blog, I have been very deliberate about making sure I have the right to assemble the site as I do. From the legal consultation I have obtained, I understand I am entitled to use the material under copyright law as long as it’s for the expressed purpose of critical analysis and intellectual commentary. Beyond that, I try to maintain to maintain “best practice” conventions for the crediting of all photos and graphical material.

    Primarily though, I want to thank Alan Chin for coming in to this forum. I started the BAG two years ago and have been looking at news photos on an almost exclusive basis for nine months now. With the exception of the brief participation of Denis Poroy who take photos for the AP (Show of Support — link), no other photographer or photo editor besides Alan has managed? bothered? dared? to join the fray.

    Alan, I also had a few questions for you, if you’re still checking in. I thought you comments about embedding were a little perfunctory — limited to the fact the military doesn’t review your photos and you don’t photograph dead or wounded Americans. What I was trying to get at in the post, however, is the overall dynamic of being embedded.

    Maybe I’m off base and things are much more straight forward than they seem. Given the shifting pretenses and explanations for why we are in Iraq however — not to mention the heavy dose of government spin and propaganda surrounding every military move and countermove we make, I don’t believe that you wouldn’t be aware of a strong “editorial environment” in the actual war zone.

    Perhaps, in taking these assignments, you don’t process the more unstated political terms and parameters associated with it. You seem like a thoughtful and “conscious” person, however, so I was wondering if you could shed some light on the process and the internal negotiations involved in participating in these missions. (Unless you are completely supportive of the war including the specific way it is being executed, I can’t believe there aren’t a set of “buy ins” necessary to “go along.”)

    I also had one other question. You said:

    “the Iraqi soldiers targeted this home for a reason: they suspected that it sheltered insurgents. Were they right in thinking so? There is no way for us to know.”

    Is it really true that “there is no way to know?” As someone who makes a living based on good intuition, and is/was on-the-scene during Operation Lightening, are you saying our folks out there have/had “no way to know” how good these targets are?

    On another point, involving the “punching up” of color. I’m not sure if this is what you refer to by “burning and dodging” in Photoshop — but, if you are referring to the “standard” tendency to boost the color saturation of news photos, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I look at a number of physical newspapers on an almost daily basis, and it seems nobody enhances the color like the NYT does. From what you say, it sounds like they also do it on a “spot” basis within the photo, which is news to me. I thought they only applied the technique to the image overall. By the way, I stand by my feeling that the practice often adds an inappropriately lush or seductive (if more salable) quality to certain images.

    Finally, regarding the original image, I’m happy to take up Asta’s suggestion about posting it. If you email it to me, I will link to it right here in the thread. I’d be interested in looking at it if just for the color intensity.

    –Michael Shaw

  • George Myers

    Not From Nuzi, I thought the photo a reminder of a theft that sparks a who-dunnit and the woman is being offered a reward (as many of the prisoners of Gitmo were sold to US according to recent press sources, for $5,000 to $8,000) for further information. She shuns the idea and points the little boy at the soldier by his behind, trying to remind him he was once like him, bare-ass naked poor. Ironically, Gitmo is just around the corner from Christopher Columbus’ Cape Maysi, which he discovered and where the infamous American yacht “Wanderer” which took slaves from Africa in 1858, and landed on Jekyll Island, Georgia in 1859, even visited by a British blockade officer, sank in a storm after the American Civil War, involved in the fruit trade. It was built in Setauket, NY and outfitted with water tanks for the trans-Atlantic crossing in Port Jefferson, NY.

  • Daniel

    I would also like to commend Alan Chin for responding to this discussion. And I think it is a great photograph.
    It is important for people who like to do analysis to remember that they are not the only ones capable of complex thought. The ironies and questions that inhere in a photo like this one are usually thanks to the skill of the photographer. Of course, teasing out these bits of information is important work for the rest of us, but credit where credit is due.
    Back to the image itself, though. As I was reading the comments above, before Chin weighed in and the debate shifted, I couldn’t believe no one else had commented on what seemed to me to be the most glaring aspect (pun?) of the photo: the Iraqi soldier has covered his face because he cannot show it without risk of being ostracized, or killed. This is the kind of comment that belongs in the caption in the newspaper. Here we have this big, bad powerful soldier capable of inserting himself into the home and daily life of the frightened woman and child, but he is powerless to act as himself… he must act anonymously.
    This gives the true lie to the Administration’s claim that “we” are turning things over to the “Iraqi Defence Force” with anything approaching success.

  • The BAG

    I would concur with Daniel… This image would never have sparked a discussion like this if it wasn’t a great photograph. I regret not having paid the compliment above.

  • Alan Chin

    Regarding embedding: Let me describe how the process works in Iraq: There is a CPIC here in Baghdad (Combined Press Information Center) which is the central US military office that issues press releases, answers questions, and organizes embeds. The idea of the embed is that a journalist spends a period of time with a single unit, and goes where they go, sees what they do, etc. In theory any CPIC accredited journalist (Iraqi or foreign) can do this, you are supposed to call them, say, “I want to do embed in town of Mosul” or whatever your request is, and they are supposed to find a place for you. There are times before a big operation when they will call you or your news organization beforehand with an invitation to embed. They won’t tell you details, of course, and you have to decide if you think it will be worth your time.
    In practice, the system is very clumsy and bureaucratic. It was set up for the invasion, where from their point of view it kind of made sense: units invading from Kuwait would be on the move, so a journalist would join a unit for the whole ride. (I did not do this in 2003, i rented a car in Kuwait and drove in with other journalists, we were “unilateral” as opposed to “embedded.”) Now in 2005 we do not have a traditional war of movement. We have static US military bases from which they sally forth for missions, and to which they return. So unless you want to be bored out of your mind and really unproductive, you don’t want to be permanently embedded with a single unit that most of the time does little except routine duties.
    Which is why journalists here live in hotels, house compounds, or the green zone. And when we want to embed, we have found that CPIC is extremely slow in granting our requests. And we have found that they do not give us embeds for bad areas, like the Airport Road. I have done a total of 5 or 6 embeds in the last few months. Except for this last one and one other, none were actual missions. One of those times, I embedded with a unit for a night simply to have dinner with a photographer friend who was embedded with them; that was the easiest way to see him! In practice we have tried to deal not with CPIC, but directly with the officers of units.
    And then once you’re in, it all depends on the officers you have to deal with. Brigade and divisional level have PAOs (Public Affairs Officers) who are our “minders” — they can be very helpful or very obstructive, depending on who they are. Luckily, they usually pass us on to the actual officers in command of a unit. And these guys, the mid-level officers who are critical in any army, they are usually as frank and honest as they can be with us. The ones who really don’t like us and don’t want us there, don’t agree to having a journalist join them. So the ones we end up with are usually OK, with some exceptions, of course.
    If I could have it my way, I would say to the military, look, give us real access, we should be able to go to any of these bases and embed with that unit, any time. But obviously they would not like this. That’s your “strong ‘editorial environment’ in the actual war zone” for you, that the military picks and chooses when and where we can join them.
    Enough on how it’s done. How do I feel about what it means? As I mentioned, in 2003 i was not embedded. I felt, as did many others, that the whole system was a controlling and access-limiting one. Far better to have your own car, not to rely on them. So that’s what many of us did. But in reality you are unofficially embedding every time you join a military unit, even if it’s only for ten minutes when you run down a street with them. We quickly found that we needed the shelter of a military unit every night, because mayhem and looting had broken out. We would work during the day, and usually chance it on our own, but at night we would at least park the car next to a military checkpoint and sleep there. Now, they didn’t control my movements, that’s the difference. Anyway journalists have been embedding with militaries always, whether they be conventional or insurgent, if you spent 2 months with Maoist guerillas in Nepal right now, or a day with Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip, that’s an embed.
    But now in 2005, how do you cover this kind of war, which is very different now? When the military does an operation, they cordon off the area and you cannot drive in there on your own. Frankly many of the roads are too dangerous to drive if you get recognized as a foreigner. So you have to embed. Now, this is not true in Baghdad itself. Here you can drive to the sites of bombings, visit people, work on your own. But in the countryside, how else can you do it? If we could embed with the insurgency we would. In other conflicts I have covered, you work both sides and most people respect your neutrality, or at least your non-combatant status. That is not the case in Iraq, as journalists have been frequent targets of the insurgency. 85 journalists have been killed, mostly Iraqis, since 2003. Maybe 10 or 15 of these were killed by US forces in crossfires or mistakes at checkpoints, etc. The rest were killed by the insurgency.
    I don’t have to support this war to be in an embed. I will go on embeds because it is the only way to cover US/Iraqi Army operations, that does not imply that I approve or disapprove. The only “buy-in” is that for the duration of your embed, you are reliant on them for transport and access. BTW I never said I wouldn’t photograph dead or wounded Americans; I would. If you read what I wrote, I am conveying their request for me not to. Like I said, a request, not an order.
    And how could I know how good their information is when they target a specific house? I’m not privy to their intelligence of course, I only get to see how they act on it. It’s exactly like if you are with a group of policeman who arrest someone, how do you know if the guy is really the guy they want? you don’t.
    I have deliberately refrained from stating my own opinion too much; I don’t think that would be appropriate while on assignment. I have done my best to address the points, some very good ones, that have been raised.

  • cj

    I came to this particular thread late. I have to say that I think that this has been one of the better discussions about the role of photos/media concerning Iraq. Thank you BAG, Alan Chin, and others.
    I have a question for Alan: I appreciate this photo–its subtlety and complexity –and your comments. But I also realize that most people would not take the time to analyze such a photo, much less respond to it on an internet forum. Do you think that the American media gives the American public an accurate picture of Iraq/Bagdad? I often find context lacking with many Iraq photos. So, as a result, I, as a reader/viewer, am left to my own devices about how to put them into a perspective. Unfortunately, I feel that the perspective is deficient because I am being shown only a small part of the story. Consider the early comments on this photo (before your comments), we could begin to divide the analysis into “home invasion by military” and “soldier at home getting ready for work” camps. With not too much effort one can provide satisfactory narrative for each. For example, although the woman appears frightened, it could be narrated in different ways. In short, we, as public, don’t get access to photographers of images that often, so we don’t get the luxury of asking: hey, what is really going on here? Thanks

  • Diane

    I add my thanks to Alan Chin – good work and I appreciate your time enlightening us as to how the system works. It may have taken up a lot of your time, but now we are educated about the process. I wold like to know: do you send along any comment/caption of your own to the editors explaining how/where/why the photos are taken? Does this influence the editors?

  • Jesus, the christ god

    I challenge everyone here (including “ALAN CHIN”) to verify the Alan Chin source authentic.
    Proof is important or is everyone so desperate to believe? How can you verify he is who he is when asked twice on this thread for additional links to photos or asked about additional information regarding “his” photo documentation, there is no response?
    How do you know I am not him, and he is not she?
    No verification, no legitimacy.
    On a compelling note, if people are sincerely interested in hearing eye witness accounts from journalist who were in Iraq (verifiable, ie worthy of reference) go to the recent Democracy now! interviews with un-embedded reporters…
    “French Journalist Describes Mistreatment by U.S. Forces During Siege of Fallujah”
    “French Reporter Kidnapped by Iraqi Resistance For 4 Months Says Bush Brought Al Qaeda to Iraq”
    Both interviews are from the Wednesday, June 8, 2005 show.
    This IS the word of the Lord, so give me thanks.

  • anon

    Alan Chin: You state with absolute certainty that journalists that were killed by the US military, were killed in “crossfire or mistakes at checkpoints.” But, you accuse the insurgency of dilberately killing journalists. Why is that? Some of those who were fired upon accused the US military of deliberately targeting them. What sort of evidence you have that contradicts their accusations?
    Doesn’t that afftect your claim of neutrality.

  • Alan Chin

    ok, now that is quite enough. if you bother to read my remarks you will see that i have provided links to other photos. I have sent the out-of-camera file to Mr. Shaw, for him to publish here if he likes. I have been accused of many things in my life and career but never before of impersonating myself. The level of discourse on this exchange was thus far quite high. I challenge you to use your real name, Mr. Jesus, the christ god. Do you know how to read? or do you just rant and rave, irrespective of the experiences of others?
    that’s the kind of remarks which makes me question why i should spend time here trying to be as straight-forward as i can, and in good faith. in fact, it is incredibly disappointing, and frankly, angers me greatly.
    my understanding about the deaths of journalists came from a Washington Post article several days ago. It is certainly possible that the US military has fired on journalists deliberately, but thus far no case of this has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. of course in these conditions there is no way you could have absolute proof. so I defer to the possiblity. I didn’t state anything with absolute certainty. I really wish that people here would not read more into my words than what I write.
    regarding captions, yes, every photo i send has a caption. usually it describes the who, what, where. this caption is usually rewritten before it is published. my caption for this photo was: “MAMOUDIYAH, IRAQ: June 4, 2005 Thousands of Iraqi Army soldiers, supported by US forces, participated in Operation Lightning, cordoning off neighborhoods, searching houses and detaining suspects alledged to be insurgents. Mamoudiyah is approx. 10 miles south of Baghdad. Iraqi soldier in a home being searched. PHOTOGRAPH by ALAN CHIN”
    and regarding “In short, we, as public, don’t get access to photographers of images that often” — there’s plenty of materials out there for you to get this access.,, the PDN (Photo District News) magazine — all of these have first hand accounts and projects by photo-journalists working across the world.
    i joined this conversation online because I thought that as the photographer, I could answer some questions and provide more details. (also it’s been a slow couple of days, at least for me!) The kind of hostility, ideological rigidity, and personal anger that I am met with leaves me reluctant to participate further. Which is really unfortunate, because I think Michael Shaw has done a very interesting and admirable job here.

  • Michael/The BAG

    Because I’m really busy today, I only have a minute to jump in here. However, I thought it was important to contribute a few thoughts straight away in light of Alan’s participation and the thoughtfulness (and diversity) of the thread.
    On Alan’s behalf, I would say that the blogoshere can sometimes be an unforgiving place. I do appreciate his tenacity, though, and his ability to vent, and then get to the good stuff we all want to hear. Personally, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to ask these questions and get this kind of insight from the person I’ve become convinced (sorry, but I couldn’t help injecting a little levity here!) is actually Alan Chin.
    As just a note (or a teaser, perhaps), Alan sent me two photographs this morning. If I have this right, the first is the original shot he took; the second is the image he sent to the NYTimes. I’m not sure why there is a difference, but I will go back and ferret this out from his messages — unless he comes back in and clarifies it himself.
    In any case, I will be free in the early evening (West Coast time), and I will link both images within the thread (I also left an inquiry with Typepad about directly posting the images themselves) so we can compare them (for cropping, color saturation, etc.) with the version that appeared in the Times.
    –Michael Shaw

  • Asta

    I sure hope that “Jesus the Christ God” apologizes. When I read his comment, I cringed. I thought my comments were snarky enough to warrant a house arrest from Michael; afterall, we are all guests in his house and we should behave accordingly. I felt bad enough about my posts, and I willingly confess that I am jaded, distrustful, suspicious, probably clinically depressed, and definitely somewhat alcoholic, all these symptoms having been induced by the 2000 presidential selection and the ensuing pathos. The persona that posts here is not the person I was in 1999. Which doesn’t excuse me, but hopefully it will explain me.
    I hope that Alan Chin understands that the majority of the regular contributors here are really very caring, articulate and intelligent people, their education and complexity of thought is evident. I don’t necessarily include myself in that group because every time I read a post here, I feel I have been taken to a higher level by the stunning and passionate words of the other voices.
    And Alan, I am sorry if I sounded like an ass about cameras. Most likely I am just jealous that you can afford a really nice photographic tool and I can’t. And that you are a professional photographer and I’m not (much to my father’s disappointment.) I am sure you will understand about that parental expectation thing.
    BTW, my AOL address is real. Anyone here who emails me will get a reply. About cameras, about politics, about wine. About anything.

  • bob crane

    kudos to (almost) everyone involved in this discussion, it’s been most absorbing. and a special, heartfelt toast to both alan chin and our host michael shaw.
    alan, please excuse the children and i hope to see you back sometime soon.

  • Alan Chin

    michael, the fact that you can barely tell the difference between what the camera did and the changes i made in Photoshop, should hopefully convince you that i was not trying to “pump” up the color. look closely: the transmitted file (06AC6970.jpg) has the woman’s face lighter than in the original (DSC_6970.jpg). The NY Times did make the whole image significantly lighter, and also cropped a bit off the top. But they did not change the intrinsic color; it does look brighter and snappier because it is lighter. It’s possible that they may have used the “auto levels” or “auto contrast” tools in Photoshop which often lighten everything up and increase the contrast. Personally, I prefer my darker, moodier version.
    There have been many scandals over the years of photographers and/or publications tampering with images. But we have done nothing of the sort, a bit of leeway in burning, dodging, contrast, density, and cropping, are all allowed and encouraged, to make the photograph look as good as it can. In the pre-digital era, all of this was done by expert printers in the darkroom.
    to asta and everyone else, i do want to thank you all for your sharp questions, your appreciation, and yes, your doubts.
    now i really have spent far too much time on this, it’s 2 AM in baghdad…

  • Michael/The BAG

    Okay. I’ve now collected three versions of the photograph by Alan Chin which appeared in the NYTimes on June 6th. The photo was taken during a raid on a home in Mamoudiyah, Iraq on June 4th as part of Operation Lightening. The progression illustrates:

    1.) Mr. Chin’s original photograph — here

    2.) The version of the photograph Mr. Chin submitted to the NYTimes after some slight touch up in Photoshop — here

    3.) The version of the photograph that appeared on the NYTimes website after the newspaper cropped it and adjusted for contrast and brightness — here

    As for my own conclusions, if you compare #2 and #3, you can definitely tell the Times has boosted the color saturation, although I couldn’t say exactly which Photoshop functions were used to do it. Obviously (as Alan said), the photo was also lightened, and the contrast was probably accentuated as well.
    Just as a clarification to Alan: I never meant to imply that you were tampering or even inordinately modifying the image. I’m not saying that what the Times is doing to the images is even close to “tampering” either. My point was simply that the “supersaturation” of images gives photos a surreal (or “sexed up”) look that I believe is strictly for marketing purposes. At times, I also find this practice to be in poor taste, given the particular subject matter.
    Finally, to Asta: I really appreciate your candor. Re: house rules — In two years, I have only “banned” one person from commenting on this site, and that was really an exceptional case. In general, I want everyone to feel welcome here. If things get a little dicey, I figure the group can either maintain or restore equilibrium. Like I’ve said before: my BAG is your BAG.
    (A few technical notes: 1) For display on-line, I reduce the first two shots to 500 pixels in width. The NYTimes version is also 500 pixels wide. It is 24 pixels shorter than the other two shots, however, because the Times topped it off (eliminating parts of the posters/paintings on the wall). 2.) All three images were saved at 300 pixels/inch resolution. A typical web photo is usually 72 pixels/inch, but I thought the increased clarity might be useful. 3.) All three images we saved in Photoshop as jpeg’s at “high” quality.)

  • hauksdottir

    If you boost contrast in PhotoShop, it also boosts the saturation. I regularly boost contrast between 5 – 10% on my digital images; the camera is only a 3 megapixel and barely average in quality. My real camera is a beautiful old Nikon F2, but finding slide processors or even slide film has become a major problem. If I shoot digital, it is easier to share online. :shrug: Legacy vs audience. And film has its own color quirks, too.
    Anyway, I use PhotoShop daily and don’t consider a bit of brightening or color correction “cheating”… it only restores what the eye sees. Moving a pyramid to make a better composition is cheating, the same way that Bierdstadt moved Sentinal Rock when painting Yosemite, and for the same reason. Removing wattles and wrinkles from a politician’s face would be cheating, too, but cutting the glare wouldn’t be.
    I’ve been following along, and want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences, as well as your images, with us. A really great image will inspire a lot of commentary as we pull it apart for meaning.
    You have faced a double suspicion here. One of the things I’ve arranged for on various forums is to have members of my group meet ftf… it reinforces the fact that we are real people with real feelings. Enough people know that I exist, that I can accept that someone else exists… although my cat may be the better typist. ;^)
    The other suspicion that we have is about Iraq, and the fragmented news we are getting from it perhaps reflects the broken country. We can’t trust what our own government is telling us. We can’t trust what the media is telling us. If most reporters are barricaded in the Green Zone or their hotels and being fed stories by various unquotable officials, the spin is delivered even before it gets to the publisher. Yet with the number of deaths and kidnappings, a foreign reporter would be foolhardy to wander out of Baghdad looking for a scrap of truth away from the reach of the military.
    So, I honor you for your courage, as well as for succeeding in capturing notable images under trying conditions.
    Carolly Hauksdottir

  • Johanna

    Thanks Bag for posting the 3 photo’s as it was very helpful in clarifying my experience. And thank you Alan Chin for the courage to be working in Iraq as a witness.
    For me, Mr. Chin’s original photograph seems to better reflect the reality of that moment rather than the other 2 enhanced photos.
    There is something about visually creating more “light” (as in the other 2 visual presentations) of a particular moment in time, where light is not; which seems to reflect an underlying insidiousness related to the presentation of “the news from Iraq” and news in general. And perhaps if I may expand upon this – from our Government.
    Creating “light” through visual enhancements, positive feelings, commentaries, thoughts, etc. where in truth there is “darkness.”
    Truly, after looking at the 3 photographs, I am feeling at some level, duped, by the manipulation of the original photo. The dark atmosphere was a vital part of the visual context as a whole.
    Peace. Johanna

  • Jesus, the christ god

    To whom it may concern, and to Alan Chin directly:
    Pardon my frankness, and an attempt at a comedic tryst while posting a sincere desire for an absolute fleshing out, so to speak.
    There was an attempt at tongue-n-cheek, sarcasm, feigned disbelief, and as it is, I regret drawing out such a rash of anger. Not finding verifiable links provided in previous posts, and still, until comparisons made overt (ex:internal email confirmation via host), there was enough room for question and I most willingly exploited the floor.
    For me, my “ranting” is a crass and humorous jab. For others, it is over the top, insulting, and worthy of anger and rage. My use of anonymity seems to be taken with too much seriousness. To my disappointment, calling myself Jesus while being anonymous didn’t draw any light on Ego. Anger and rage and such importance typically bemuses, but in this instance, I feel embarrassed for causing such a response. perhaps begrudging Chin his success…. Too rightly so, I suspect, the importance of self professing is important.
    Sorry for any excessiveness on my part. I will take my leave and venture to half-baked comedy central off-shoots.
    the Jesus
    and without attempts at humor, looking at the photo, there is something reminiscent of snapshots of people on holiday. (for all purposes, the background could be a cafe.) However, the contrast, and a success of the image comes from the woman who appears desperate to be out from under the control of the raid, and perhaps more critically, the camera.
    hopefully, the disappointment of Mr Chin is as short-lived as an emotional reaction (could be) to my ill received gibing, and he will simply not take to heart my crassness. Hopefully he will continue to offer from time to time his support to Mr “BAGnewsNotes” Shaw success.
    Jesus, the (feigned) christ god.

  • Johanna

    Peace. Johanna

  • Johanna

    To clarify a point from my previous (by 1) posting.
    I did not mean to imply that Alan Chin had directly caused the feeling within me of “feeling duped”, if in fact that came across in my posting.
    I was having the experience as a result of recognizing that in so many ways the news organizations, the government, religous based think tanks and organizations, and the entertainment industry, just to name a few outlets of information, are all so way ahead of me (in concsiousness) of manipulation of word and visuals :( Oh… (sigh)
    Peace. Johanna

  • Asta

    Dear Jesus (is it okay to be on a first name basis? or should I call you Mr. Jesus?)
    I don’t think anyone was really angry with you and I hope you don’t think we’re in a rage or anything like that.
    A long time ago, I learned the hard way that sarcasm does not translate well over the internet. Why that is, I do not know, but trust me on this one. Since that painful lesson, I try to give a Sarcasm Alert to warn potential readers. On some forums, those little emoticons come in really handy. Here at the BagNewsNotes I will type in the words Sarcasm Alert if I know beforehand I’m going that way. (Sometimes the Evil Hand of Snark disobeys me, it can be a struggle.)
    And besides, it’s really hard to communicate with someone with a screen name of Jesus the Christ, because, well, what if you really are Jesus? You would be the last person on this earth I would want to pissoff. :)
    Let’s be friends!
    P.S. I liked your crtique of the Punched Up photo. This is a sincere remark.

  • pepys_online

    I am posting anonymously largely due to work circumstances, but I too have enjoyed this post and particularly Mr. Chin’s submission of his originals in comparion with the Times’ final image. Thanks, that was a generous and educational act.
    My analysis of the Times photoshop edit on the chin#2 image is that it had the white point reset based on a value in the pattern of the couch’s white detail, the midpoint moved to brighten the wall area, and the dark point pushed to punch the contrast.
    My opinion of this edit is that it is less effective photgraphically compared to the original, but more effective for web delievery since it links the whiteness of the image into the whitespace of the page.
    In that sense it is entirely typical of all photoediting for print and web publication, and I cant fault the NYT,though I hope Mr. Chin will someday show an entire gallery of his Iraq work. If I missed a link to it forgive me, I had to read fast…..
    Thanks again for this great opportunity!

  • The BAG

    Given that Alan took the time and the consideration to respond to some of my “issues” regarding embedding, I have now carefully read those comments and find (imagine that!) I have a whole bunch more questions (with a few editorial comments thrown in). It’s probably quite a lot to ask Alan to respond to, so I am happy to let the questions remain rhetorical ones — especially if Alan’s status has shifted from “hurry up and wait” to just “hurry up.”
    First, though, in response to the last few comments about the comments, I wanted to say: a) I love that Jesus finds love — and gets the BAG-inspired hang of photointerpretation, and b) I also admire and am somewhat amazed by the gracious and ultimately forgiving state of mind all of you/us will return to in this forum. If the BAG has in any way engendered this attitude, I couldn’t be more proud.
    Here are my questions:
    Why haven’t members of the “other side’s media” embedded with the enemy (and, through the journalist “brotherhood,” then shared notes — and content)?
    How much is the embed system a home grown creation versus how much does it seem to have become a permanent thing based on the evolving nature of war?
    Personally, I’ve been very frustrated reading reports of military actions (such as the recent operations near the Syrian border) where it seems obvious the news account were based on limited oral communication between a military spokesperson and a reporter stationed in Baghdad. (If that is truly the case) I have also been frustrated that the press will report this information without more fully/formally/overtly disclosing to the reader that it is a) coming from the man, and b) coming second hand. To me, it seems that the military is operating with way too free a hand (from the standpoint of press reporting and independent accountability — especially since all the NGO’s seemed to have cleared out also). That said, I just can’t help feeling suspicious when I hear journalists say it’s too dangerous for us not to conform to the embed system. Maybe that’s true, but then shouldn’t there be more of a movement to modify/enlarge/advocate for greater access, freedom and movement within that system?
    What would you say was the ratio of journalists functioning unilaterally versus embedded at the start of the (current) Iraq war, and what would you say the ratio is now?
    How much competition is there with other journalists for the more “go-go” locations or units? Do the journalists “work” the officers to be able to come on with the specific unit, or come back in?
    If you’re working around, rather than with the Combined Press Information Center, is there any way to know in advance if a particular region or unit is going to be involved in something more interesting?
    How long have you been in Iraq on this most recent trip? What do you do when you’re in between embeds? What are you doing right now? What’s next — or what are you trying to cook up right now?

  • Paul Madden

    Great photo, great commentary and great information on several subjects.
    Back to the photo:
    The woman in the photo does not appear to me to be particularly frightened. The baby seems to be relatively calm. Other past Bag Photos show home invasions by US troops and the women and children are terrified.
    This woman appears to be more concerned about getting away from the camera than she does about getting away from the soldier.
    The soldier seems to be at ease also, almost like he is standing still for a tourist photo. But at the same time, he is living in fear, because he cannot reveal his face.
    If the woman is not in a state of terror, is it because home invasions are so commonplace that she understands the process?
    This whole war is very weird, from the lies that started it, to the embeds, to the lack of concern in America about the lies or the tens of thousands of dead Iraqis. It is hard to find where the truth is. It is hard to know who to trust.

  • Alan Chin

    That’s a lot of questions, I’ll try to answer them:
    1) Why haven’t members of the “other side’s media” embedded with the enemy (and, through the journalist “brotherhood,” then shared notes — and content)?
    Actually the “other side” has very effective “journalists” within their ranks: they videotape attacks and statements, and post them on their websites, they drop off videotapes to Al-Jazeera and other Arab TV channels, and through these “underground” techniques, get their message out.
    2) How much is the embed system a home grown creation versus how much does it seem to have become a permanent thing based on the evolving nature of war?
    I’m not sure I understand this question. As I tried to describe before, my perspective on embedding is that, you are joining a military unit. Now we have done this from the Crimean War until now. The question is, do they make it workable, or do they make it so hard to deal with that it prevents journalists from working? I think that the jury is out, and depends on the luck of the draw of who you deal with. On balance I think some form of this system is always in place in every army, in every war. I mean, just try embedding with the Uzbek army right now as they shoot their way through Andijan — not likely!
    3) Personally, I’ve been very frustrated reading reports of military actions (such as the recent operations near the Syrian border) where it seems obvious the news account were based on limited oral communication between a military spokesperson and a reporter stationed in Baghdad….. That said, I just can’t help feeling suspicious when I hear journalists say it’s too dangerous for us not to conform to the embed system. Maybe that’s true, but then shouldn’t there be more of a movement to modify/enlarge/advocate for greater access, freedom and movement within that system?
    Several questions in one here, OK, the Syrian border operation was incredibly frustrating for me. The Wash. Post, the LA Times, and the Chicago Trib. were all embedded out there. And for whatever reason, we were not. Regarding danger, that’s very hard to get an exact grip on. But why do you feel suspicious about that? Journalists by nature are risk-takers. Acknowledging the real dangers here came slowly and reluctantly, and only after many kidnappings and killings. If you do something and nothing happens to you, you can laugh at the danger, say that it wasn’t there. But if sometimes does happen then you are already screwed. And it’s not like we “conform” to the embed system. And efforts to improve/enlarge the system all depend on who you deal with. I cannot stress enough how idiosyncratic it all is.
    4) What would you say was the ratio of journalists functioning unilaterally versus embedded at the start of the (current) Iraq war, and what would you say the ratio is now?
    This is very hard to say. What percentage of who? TV, print, photographers, writers? At the beginning, in 2003, there were hundreds of US and Western journalists working unilaterally, now there are a handful. By the same token, there’s only a handful embedded now, too. And the categories are not fixed. I’m writing from a house in Baghdad now; I’m not embedded. But I was last week, for 2 days. Certainly there are very few foreign journalists roaming the streets of Baghdad, maybe two dozen, at most.
    5) How much competition is there with other journalists for the more “go-go” locations or units? Do the journalists “work” the officers to be able to come on with the specific unit, or come back in?
    Sure, if you have a good relationship with a unit or an officer you might prefer them over someone you had a bad experience with. But usually it’s the operation that determines this, and you end up with whoever they send you to. And like I said, I’ve done very few embeds. I’m really the wrong guy to ask about this. Embedding is the exception rather than the rule for me, I’ve been here, what, 70 days and of that I’ve been embedded for maybe 6 or 7 days total.
    6) If you’re working around, rather than with the Combined Press Information Center, is there any way to know in advance if a particular region or unit is going to be involved in something more interesting?
    It’s not that we’re working around CPIC, it’s just that, once you have direct contact with divisions and brigades, which are the operational commands, it’s easy to call them up. No way to know anything in advance but obviously the Sunni majority battlegrounds of Falluja, Ramadi, Baquba, the area south of Baghdad, these are where a lot of attacks occur. Kurdistan and the Shia south are almost entirely free of major violence, barring the occasional car bomb.
    7) How long have you been in Iraq on this most recent trip? What do you do when you’re in between embeds? What are you doing right now? What’s next — or what are you trying to cook up right now?
    I’ve been here since first week of April and will be here until last week of June. Looking at your archive there was another photo of mine featured on this site, “Higher Protection” Apr. 30. Right now, today, I photographed a Sufi religious ceremony (look for story + pics in following days i hope) and for a while I was photographing a lot of suicide car bombings. Those have tapered off the last couple of weeks. Other recent things I worked on that were published include the Chalabi road trip, story on doctors leaving Iraq, and a lot of National Assembly / government stuff.
    To Jesus, you are very well-spoken this time. It is much appreciated. My anger may have seemed humorless but any more of that would have had me doubting my own existence, which I do enough while here in Iraq anyway!
    And to those who missed the link to more Iraq photos of mine, you can go to: Click on the first photo in the “gallery” and it will open a new “slide-show” window.

  • Alan Chin

    one more thing, regarding the fact that the woman in orange might be avoiding my camera as much as anything else:
    yes, this could easily be true. i was wearing a helmet and a flak jacket (without which the US military does not allow us to be with them) and went into the house with the Iraqi soldiers and was out again in less than 5 minutes. So you go in, shoot shoot shoot, on instinct, and leave. i don’t really have time to think about my impact, as opposed to the soldiers’ impact. Although I am not in uniform, and my helmet and flak jacket are a different color from theirs, I imagine that the residents would consider me to be entirely part of the army, and not debate the various ethics and ideas of “embedding” that we are doing on this forum.
    and if that sounds like an excuse, it is. if a group of armed soldiers burst into my home and there was a photographer with them, i might want to avert my face from that lens too. that being said, the nature of the job means that i put aside whatever misgivings i might have about offending someone i photograph, and do the best that i can.
    it is the same if you are a newspaper photographer in a small town assigned to photograph the family of a murder or accident victim. They might not want you to. but you beg and plead, and if that fails, you might stand across the street and grab a photo with a long lens. Not the nicest thing to do. But you do so because it is your assignment and you don’t want to go back to your editor empty-handed.
    there are times when i realize that i don’t need the photo, there’s no need to offend anyone, and i put the camera away. In this case, honestly it was all going so fast that i did not think about it. Looking at my whole take, i took only 4 photos in that house, of that woman and child. This one is the third. In the first two she is not averting her face from the camera, you can see more of her, but no soldier.

  • bob crane

    this is a side comment but;
    do you ever have occasion to ’show’ your photographs. i’d find it very interesting to see the work in person. if so, where? and if the occasion arises, please inform the bag so michael can let us know. (assuming that’s ok with michael)
    i find myself more interested in the procedures and processes in this discussion, the ethical and political issues with the documentarian is quite personal and almost feels intrusive and unfair (there’s an irony there with the discussion above). now i’d really like to see a board like this with one of the nyt/or other publications’ editors, but i doubt if they’d be as candid as you have been on a forum such as this.
    be careful the next few weeks. i think i can speak for most of us in that we’ll be keeping our eyes open for your work and will be viewing them with a more complex dynamic (i know i will).

  • Ian Bell

    Chipping in from the UK: What nobody has commented on but screams
    out at me from the image is “toy soldier”. The mask, pose, and lighting conspire to convey a terracota warrior, likely to topple and shatter at the merest knock; which some might see as an approprate mataphor for the coalition’s Iraqui forces. The child is realistic but the angle and smoothly creased robes of the women suggest a madonna icon propped against the wall of the dollhouse. Perhaps I saw “Team America:World Police” too recently, but the image looks fundementally /unreal/ to me.

  • manxome

    This is coming in late. I haven’t been back to read the thread for a few days.
    You asked, “to manxome: “…Ooh, this one with the mother and child adds a human element.” — that’s about right, actually, on any given day for the daily story. what is so dishonest about that? would you rather that they do not use a photo at all, or pick the one that is the most boring?
    First, I have to apologize for my snarkiness, combined with not being clear about where I was coming from. I appreciate the personal time you have taken to give your valuable perspective.
    I definitely do prefer a human element when humans are involved. Your photo by itself is not dishonest. What I was reacting to was the contrast between the photo and the story. While the photo adds information, it doesn’t reflect the basic content of the story, which is about the bunker that was found. On a more basic level, I was reacting to the first impression, which is made by the image and the headline, “U.S. Uncovers Vast Hide-Out of Iraqi Rebels”. That feels dishonest.
    I got snarky because my next gut feeling was how this could feed into anti-Iraqi sentiments, where someone could see it as supporting their racist assumptions that all Iraqis are suspect.
    It’s complicated. If I had thought more before reacting, I would have seen that it could be taken other ways, as in no citizen is immune to this, it’s not just people with guns fighting that you can detatch yourself from, but people you can identify with.
    I suppose no one can help how any one person would interpret it. The only thing I can think of is for papers to be better at providing context beyond the short caption that ran, or be more mindful of how headlines and photos communicate or miscommunicate what’s happening. The fact is that not everyone reads every story, but many pass by a large chunk of them as they scan. The headline and photo are what grab the eye first. If you’re just passing by, the content of those is what leaves the impression.
    I guess it just frustrates me.

  • manxome

    Regarding the comparison of images, I’d like to add to pepys and Alan’s comments.
    There are basic corrections made for clarity and reproduction. I believe the clarity aspect has been covered pretty well.
    On the reproduction side, I don’t know the process at the Times, but it may be likely that photos are edited and captioned and corrected for print before the web side comes in and grabs it for online use. (Why do everything twice?)
    With that in mind, printed photos will not reproduce faithfully to the original unless adjustments are made. Newsprint makes everything look darker because its porosity makes each dot spread, therefore you have to lighten the image to compensate. Images will also look less contrasty and less saturated than the original if not compensated for. Sometimes, in conjunction with what is going on in the pressroom, other adjustments are make to compensate for color shifts.
    And of course, there are adjustments made for improper white balance or color problems with digital cameras. And because the colorspace for CMYK is narrower than the RGB one, funky things can happen to color. One of the most common problems in this area are very vivid, almost reflex blues. CMYK does not like this, and in my experience they will print purple. Looks funny on those sports uniforms!
    Overall, regarding the original and the final version of this photo, the adjustments look normal to me. I find the final a bit too cyan, and that’s about it.

  • Joseph E. Riehl

    Alan brings up an interesting point early in this discussion about the unwillingness of newspapers to print pictures of casualties. A quick search can uncover many on the internet, but not on regular commercial news sites. If Alan is still around, I wonder if he has given thought to publishing some of those pictures on a personal web site, or does he think it would be too inflammatory. War produces some horrifying things, and perhaps if more of us were made to see some of them, we’d be more hesitant to resort to pre-emptive wars in the future.
    Thanks for an interesting and wide ranging discussion.
    Joe Riehl

  • The BAG

    Not to steal Alan’s thunder, but his photo gallery (here) doesn’t hold back in terms of graphic documentation. The shot that really stood for me was the one with the head of the insurgent. It was partly the shock value. But it was also because the photo was so masterfully matter-of-fact. Maybe I’m seeing more (or something different) than what’s there, but Alan found a way to depict something incredibly horrible and, at the same time, still find an innocence — even a sweetness — in the bombers expression. (View with caution.)

  • cj

    I have to say that I am really enjoying the dialogue of this thread. Seems that I have learned more about the techniques of photgraphy, daily life of a photographer in Iraq, and even the current blog craze–snarking (not to mention the integrity of this group). Thanks again to all concerned. Alan’s last post has provided me with even more food for thought. Alan, if you are still in communication, do you get a sense of how the various Iraqi people you have encountered while photographing–embedded and free-ranging, feel about you as a photographer wandering around the country? I’m asking this, because in the 80s while I was travelling around Central America, many people (Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, etc.) that I encountered were practically begging photographers to come and record their stories. As I remember it, although the propaganda war was pretty intense, you rarely heard about US/Western journalists (local journalists were another matter) getting attacked or killed by either side. Thanks again.

  • JS

    To Alan Chin: thanks for risking your life in Iraq to document history while the rest of us sit back comfortably and debate the merits of your photographs. Please stay safe. Embedded or not embedded, the American people would truly be in the dark without photographs such as yours. You risk kidnapping, mortars, car bombs and gunfire to bring us your lense into the situation in Iraq. No matter where any of us stand politically, we should all be in debt to you.

  • I Love Everything

    It’s June 2005 in Iraq
    Fun with one of the PR photos from Rummy’s visit.

  • tompayne

    If I watch any of the TV news channels, I tend to do it with the sound off. Sometimes its very interesting what images they use behind the voice over. I’ve seen several times where the voice-over is pretty much repeating the Pentagon official line, but the image behind the voice over is raw footage from Iraq showing civilian casualites. Sometimes I turn the sound on just to hear what they are saying. So I’ve seen cases where the official voice on TV is saying the line about no civilian casualties, where the pictures behind the voice show civilians pulling injured or dead children from a bombed building.
    I’m never quite sure if this is accidental or deliberate. Did the tv channel just grab some footage to show behind the voice, and didn’t check or didn’t care what the footage was showing? Or has someone noticed that the censors and the editors only really pay attention to the text the voice is reading, and they’ve found they can pass along some good information to viewers who are paying attention to what the images are showing.
    With the NYT, I’m sure they look very closely at the pictures they use. They aren’t in a rush to fill 24 hours of tv news time. So when the NYT shows a picture, I’m sure its very deliberately chosen.
    Which makes the above comment about how this picture used with a story on a different context tends to imply that ALL Iraqi homes are the hidden lairs and arms caches very interesting.
    There’s a lot of subtlety in how we are lied to. Polls of Americans show they believe a lot of flat out wrong things. And then everyone can point out that they are the ones who misled people. But combinations of images and stories like this mismatched pair do create an impression …. and I’m quite sure its deliberate. The impression stays, but the NYT can come back some day and say “well, we never said that all Iraqi homes are arms caches”.

  • Bob Darnell

    I’m a scientist, new to BAG, just wanted to say that I think this thread, especially Alan Chin’s jumping in, is terrific. The existence of the thread, the links to Alan’s pictures, the thinking behind the surface. What a difference from a few years ago! A genuine give and take, with a chance to go under the orange veneer. My hat is off to the (generally) intelligent level of the discussion, to BAG, and to Alan Chin. A great new bookmark!

  • Edward Teague

    Isn’t the WWW wonderful ? All this debate from God knows where in the world, by sensible, bright people and here the photographer, about one picture, BAGman what a wonderful job.
    Since I started looking in a few months ago I look at press pics in a new way – as I spent many years writing advertising copy I have a way of looking at the words which is not too different.
    Keep up the good work.

  • bob

    high anxiety
    it seems like the whole point of terrorism is to produce images like this.
    detonating, for example, a suicide truck bomb kills some and hair trigger responses at a checkpoint kill some more.
    what is the purpose of the “resisting the occupation” in iraq?
    it’s a tautology. it’s like saying we are at war because we are at war.
    the “occupation” if you want to call it that is war not the cause of war.
    what is the cause?
    i think you are showing images of a society at a prepolitical stage of development. it could just as easily be somalia or the congo. you will find the exact same expressions there.
    where there is no peaceful means of resolving competing interests, where there is no formulation of national interest. no “collective security” on a national level.
    i think these pictures are a good reflection of the 19th century world system that we are now living in.

  • fotonique
  • Mike Shepherd

    One thing is for sure, and that is that we are not bringing peace and stability to these countries. We bring only death and destruction while we eyeball the next target.
    There are countries all over the world that need help…and instead of helping them, we bomb them.
    The war was wrong, the “facts” were non existant. The world tried to stop the madness before it started, but someone wasn’t listening.
    Whatever your view of the photo or why it was used for the story, is really quite pointless in my mind. The most basic of facts is that it is real. Despite how the actual photo came to be, it is effectively a snapshot of a real moment in time for someone in Iraq…and I’m sure many more have it much worse.
    We need to look at these people with more humanity and respect. We need to stop dropping bombs on folks. We need to take care of the less fortunate instead of killing them.
    I am confident that Americans will eventually do the right thing. A good “leader” knows when to listen.
    Head over to and cast your vote for real world peace!

  • Sarah

    Grr… why am i just finding all of this now? Looks like I missed the party. If I block out everything I just spent the last hour or so reading, I can go back to my original interpretation of this picture, from a mother’s perspective.
    If I was truly in fear for my life, I would be shielding my baby (who as someone else pointed out, would probably have picked up on my own fear and been more afraid also) against the wall, with his head ducked down rather than peering over either shoulder. I see in her stance and face more a picture of submission to those in the room that clearly have the upper hand. As a mother, this would probably be the most clear-thinking and/or instinctual response to having my home searched, especially if I truly didn’t have anything to hide (or at least trusted that nothing would be found.)
    I also think she looks as though she thinks the photo is being taken of the soldier, and is attempting to be clear of the shot without really being able to move freely from where she is standing. She does have a solid hold on the baby, and a closed stance, overall. For good reason it appears that she does not altogether trust either the soldier or the photographer, but has at least a thread of a belief that it will soon pass.
    The stance of that particular soldier is not overly threatening either. You could try making him into a poster child for all that is evil in this war (ahem… lytom) but using this particular image that way seems at least as dishonest as anything else that has been suggested here. Frankly, there are Katrina photos of our own soldiers looking far more menacing toward our own citizens, whose only potential crime was attempting to survive.
    I’d love to see the other photos that are just her and her child. Whether shielding insurgents or not, she’s a real person doing what she feels she must, no doubt with her own child in mind. This war is sooooo not a video game. I hope similar pictures are being found and introduced into our high school history and government classes. Wonder if googling would show any of Alan’s photographs being used in educational materials…

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