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July 28, 2005

Cheese and Pancakes




Just what do these incendiary photos have to do with strawberries and whipped cream?

I wanted to share some of the images released late Wednesday (apparently to the dismay of London police) of the unexploded bombs recovered from the July 7th suicide bombers.

These images are groundbreaking because their likes have rarely ever (and never so prominently) been seen.  I encourage you to look at the entire series (here), as every shot seems noteworthy.   I think the way they happen to be presented, however, is as compelling (and also confounding) as the devices themselves.

One reaction I had deals with the fact that five of the seven bomb
images happened to be photographed in the street.  I can fully
understand if investigators had no say in the matter, but presenting
them "on location" this way not only distracts from a simple
consideration of the device itself, it also interjects a story line
that complicates the portrait. 

Seeing these bombs on the road (as opposed to in someone’s hand, or on
a lab counter, lets say) lends the impression that these things have
now found their way into our streets and towns.  And, in spite of
whether (or to what degree)
this is true, these pictures — which would otherwise provide for a
more clinical inspection (leading us to better understand and relate to
these devices) — seem instead to amplify the fear factor.  What a

Without the lane marker (or anything else) for reference,
the top image has its own set of problems.  We can assume that this
is a close-up, but can we be completely sure?  Maybe those disks are
not the size of sandwiches, but of tambourines.  Maybe the background
is not
asphalt, and the bombs are actually the size of end tables (… and
what we assume is broken glass is some weird substance that officials
don’t want us to know or worry about).

I was also fascinated (but, again, concerned) over the x-ray image.
From a purely aesthetic viewpoint, of course it’s fascinating.  What I
especially like is how anthropomorphic it is.  It has a head, and a
neck with an esophagus-like element.  Then there is the body.  Going
with the analogy, the nails might even suggest appropriate female or
male protuberances.

At the same time, I think there is also a lot in this picture that
works against it, undermining the illustrative impact with confusing or
just dumbed down references. 

Because forensics has become so chic, this photo also does more to
excite than illuminate.  With news merging so easily with fantasy these
days (was the guy marching the halls of Congress with John Roberts the
Fred Thompson of Law-and-Order,
or Fred Thompson the former Senator?), maybe this image is nothing more
than fuel for the CSI craze, and the growing popularity of mayhem,
violence and necro-porn. 

If death doesn’t turn someone on, however, maybe a thrill is possible
from the disease angle.  From that view, one might see this image as a
body riddled with deadly growths –like an x-ray that turned up cancer
or tumors.  Of course, maybe this analogy is not even that far afield.
What I mean is, maybe the potential of such bombs floating around
cities like London, Paris or New York accurately represents a form of
cancer.  But then again, is the comparison so black-and-white?  And, do
we actually have a condition that is metastasizing?

Finally, I wanted to mention the words used to describe this top image.  In the ABC caption, the devices are referred to as pancakes.  In yesterday morning’s NYT, the article described them as appearing like "wheels of Camembert."
If I haven’t expressed this before, the way a picture is described in
words can often color the image as much as the contents of the picture
itself.  Pancakes?  My associations are: warmth, home, mother,
whipped cream, strawberries.  But, just how does that fit with broken
glass and twisted steel?

And Camembert

Well, maybe that’s a little less odd.  Of course, the young men that
get involved in these matters also begin to spoil and disintegrate.
And, well … you know what the right-wing has to say about their
terrorism war and things French.

(images: ABC News. London Terror Investigation 7/27/05.  At

  • TheCat

    Quick note:
    When the Twin Towers collapsed, the cascade effect was and is often described as a “pancake” phenomenon or “pancaking,” as I recall.
    So much so that now the word “pancake” connotes for many people “the idea of things being smashed together.”

  • Purple

    Mmmm. Pancakes.

  • John

    A couple of thoughts:
    The objects were found in the trunk of a car, making the placement on the street unsurprising. And the traffic lines are the only size perspective so they helped put the objects in context. We always said “go play in the street” when we wanted to get rid of kids, but our parents taught us to never play in the street, it was dangerous.
    What struck me is the ordinary objects that made these bombs, what look like food containers and common nails, things I have in my kitchen and garage. Another example of the absurdity of declaring “war on terror” – makes me wonder if the Patriot Act would let the feds arrest me since my house – and everybody else’s I imagine – has these same potential bomb materials. I’m no conspiracy theorist, rather shows how the expenditure of billions for useless weapons like the latest incarnation of “Star Wars” so misses the reality of how terrorism works.
    I worked for a number of years in a major radiology research department as a photographer and video producer, and we often were involved in creating images of objects like the radiograph of the one bomb. They were always both surreal and strikingly real, and this one to me showed in another way the very simplicity of these objects of destruction, further reinforcing my second point. On the other hand, many of the radiographs of objects of nature (I particularly remember the one of the shell of a nautilus) were quite beautiful.
    Thanks for the site and insights.

  • AsMediaGoBy

    Another reason why the bottle is on the yellow lane marker is that beacuse the picture has been taken with artificial light (reflected on the cap), the photographer needed to soften the contrast between the subjet and the background so that the picture is more detailed.
    My first impression seeing the two pictures was that the objects where dangerous. Sugar is not ordinary when bottled and both cheese and pancakes don’t come bound by yellow and green tape.

  • Edward Teague

    The curious thing is that these photographs are owned by the metropolitan Police (AKA UK Gubment in some form), they appear in a US publication , then subsequently in UK publications shown as being copyrighted and syndicated by ABC.
    Yet Commander Blair says he’s upset etc., Shirley ownership of images is a well defined, non hazy legal matter – especially when we are dealing with the Gubment of a major US ally and major US media group.
    However it is worth remebering that ABC started the hare running about “Osmium tetroxide” as abomb making material on “info from Met Police etc” (Google Osmium tetroxide) Also go to and do a site Google search for “Chemical delusions Osmium Tetroxide”
    The nail bomb is pure propaganda – no bomber bothers about orienting shrapnel and would not use lightweight nails, better use small objects of high desnity, ball bearings, nuts bolts for greater damage and penetration.
    The paradox (well to me) is that these “bombs” were found in the car boot of the red Fiat belonging to the Jamaican “bomber” who lived in Aylesbury and met his fellow bombers at Luton. Apparently on a “suicide” mission he carries these in the boot of his car and leaves them there???? – shades of Arabic Boeing737 manuals at Boston airport.
    MY own view is the bombers were duped drug mules who were unaware of the cargo they were carrying. The “bombs” were planted.see

  • Edward Teague

    By the way, one pic shows glass jar with metal screw lid. If this was TATP that is a sure fire way of blowing yourself up, even as the one with the Red screw plastic top any pressure on crystals in the screw thread could explode and detonate.
    I would strongly suggest these pics are bogus. Probably MEANT to be bogus, and they can be dismissed because they have not been “officially” released.

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