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July 7, 2005

Right After The Bombing



These are the two most striking images I found in the immediate aftermath of the bombings in London.

I don’t mean to disrespect the shock, loss or gravity of this event by being interpretive.  I do feel, however, that images are presented to us and resonate with us that we can use collectively to process, cope with, and better understand what has happened.   

The subway image contains elements I find painfully truthful.  For example, it highlights the profound anonymity of these kinds of disasters — whether talking of victims or perpetrators.  That we are literally in an underworld makes darkness and death that much more palpable.  Also, as I stare at the far light, I can conjure my own slight taste of the anxiety and the stubborn (yet intermittent) paranoia spawned by these events.  I wonder, is this the escape route ("the light at the end of that tunnel") or an oncoming train?

I haven’t put as much thought to the second shot — except to conclude that it is also quite truthful.  These leaders are so imbued by the tragedy they don’t have their "public" faces on.   I am really taken with the sadness of Chirac.  It’s no time to take swipes, but I really feel that Bush doesn’t knows where to take himself.  (In a situation such as this, his normal M.O. is to fly into action — as opposed to feel.)   Also, I’m proud of Tony Blair.  I know he has his weaknesses — we all do.  Still, he steps forward naturally (not just because he’s the host, or his land is the "host victim").  Whereas the others are turned almost completely inward, Blair embraces the shock and pain, but still manages to offer himself near completely.

(image 1: Alexander Chadwick/AP in  image 2: Charlie Bibby/Pool photo in  Both July 7, 2005)

  • jillian

    This is a disconcerting photo for me. It’s just spooky.
    It’s like documenting a time of death.

  • bkny

    the g8 photo doesn’t reflect it but watching the video, bush appeared to me to be trying really, really hard to contain that cowboy smirk of his. and i would note that reporters covering the meeting suddenly started speaking about how the bombings had turned the agenda upside down — instead of poverty reduction in africa to now reflect bush’s emphasis on the wot.

  • Grumpy

    I had to wonder if someone told Manmohan Singh to stand closer to Blair. Y’know, to show that Muslims stand against terror.
    Sikh? What’s that??

  • jawbone

    I had just been looking at Bush in the video of G8 group that photo came from. And I said, to myself but out loud, because it struck me so strongly, “He (Bush) looks like a kid trying to seem like a man,” mentally noting that Chirac was simply there, apparently deeply moved but totally himself, self-contained, while Bush couldn’t seem to keep his eyes from darting from side to side. He seems unable to stand at ease without sprawling all over something.
    I find it discomfitting to watch the leader of my nation. Ugh.

  • Gary

    Bush is trying so hard not to smirk.

  • Two Dishes

    I too find Bush’s expressions astonishingly childish. If I turn the sound down while he gives a speech he often looks like a 9th grader struggling with his cue cards and, in spite of myself I feel enormous pity and compassion for his patheticness.

  • ms kubelik

    First, condolences to all those who lost loved ones and whose loved ones were injured in the attacks in London today.
    Second, as Juan Cole writes, in the end we must turn to analysis. I agree w/those who’ve written that Bush looks childish; he reminds me of the hungover rich kid who’s late again to class yet willing to make an ass out of himself by trying to bluff through the discussion.
    The camera phone held up in the foreground of the first picture emphasizes the surveillance society in which Londoners and we Americans are living within — and how precious little it can do to prevent such attacks, although it may well help the Brits in what Blair rightfully is calling a criminal investigation.
    The technology isn’t what’s going to save us — it’s our shared humanity. If we can just manage to find someone to lead us in expressing it.
    The second picture w/Bush proves yet again that he ain’t the one to do it. The distance between Chirac and Bush is striking — this is not a picture of solidarity, but of division.

  • Kitty

    I have to disagree on the point about Bush needing to fly into action. Rhetorical action, maybe, but not real action. We know what he did right after the attacks on 9/11. It’s a mistake to think he’s a man of action, he’s a man of bluster.
    And it’s astonishing to imagine yourself having the idea in the midst of a disaster to whip out your phone and take some shots. I guess it’s part of the need to see unbelievable events over and over again, this desire to photgraph them, to turn to look into the viewfinder even as something unbelievable is happening.

  • Galloise Blonde

    The way it was cropped on my TV featured Blair central, flanked by Bush and Chirac. I had a momentary vision of Tom & Jerry cartoons, where the little demon and little angel appear on the characters shoulders to impart their counsel. So who did you choose to go with Blair? Do you still think he’s the one in the halo?

  • [email protected]

    Yes, I too am astonished with the phone being used to take photos in the midst of this chaotic and frightful situation… I even wonder if the photo we’re looking at was taken the same way… I consult with a company that manufactures such phones and such extreme scenarios never really play into our thoughts and plans…

  • Quentin

    First, the staged picture: my first reaction was, look, Bush and Chirac have found common ground, how nice. Their juxtaposition steals the observer’s attention from the central Blair. I imagined how Blair had asked them to stand on either side, and how they politely agreed despite their shared distaste for each other. Blair the Bridge between the U.S. and mainland Europe, demonstrating his special relationship with each side, a living example of the adage about eating the cake and keeping it too.
    The picture in the underground is startling. My first reaction: would I have had the idea to take a picture in similar circumstances, the self-absorption to remove myself from the incident by objectifying it in a picture?
    By taking such a picture the photographer oddly draws attention to him/herself, recording the physical uniqueness of the individual experience. So Bush, who is so self-centered, self-absorbed that even at a time of such gravity he cannot understand that the whole world doe not revolve around him: smile Georgie, Barbara the Ma, and George the Pa said as they took their umpteenth picture of him. In short, he is immature. Chirac might be a bastard (not for the reasons most U.S. persons might think), but he is self-contained. Bush throws his shit around, as they used to say almost half a century ago.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    the (G8) still-image, without text context, video / soundtrack or any other, knowledge aforethought tell us only that these leaders are gravely serious about something. it would have been more telling, a better “document”, so to speak ~ to actually capture & freeze-frame this image directly from the TeeVee video: as most of us actually experienced it, along with the “news ticker” stream saying something like, 40 dead, 400 wounded in London terror attacks.
    the bombs may have blasted the London Underground, but it happened to me on my television : that’s where WE were “terrorized” n’est-ce pas ?
    which goes to show just how, how f_____ing absurd it is to say something like, “We’re fighting them Over There so that we don’t have to fight them Over Here!
    when, after all ~ whatchoo talkin’, “Over There,” man?
    all this terror be happenin’ right there on mah TeeVee !
    imho, one of the most interesting things about these things is the “shared experience” thing. but i digress… …it really is impossible to “analyze” this image without referring to all those things the we know and that we experienced, that aren’t in this image (so i won’t try).
    now, the video? oh, yes indeed: Bush Fidgets While London Burns
    and on another channel, The President speaks. he says something to the effect: “now, you see these images of death an’ destruction in London on television, and then you see these images of what we’re all tryin’ to do here at the G8 on TeeVee, yadda-yadda …doin’ the Africa thing, yadda-yadda …doin’ the AIDs thing, yadda-yadda …and there’s nothing you know that, like, uh, demonstrates more the difference between yadda-yadda and yadda.”
    He’s like, himself, watching TeeVee, and he still doesn’t get it: Over There, Over Here, Tele-Vision, Terror.
    The Whole World Is Watching
    The Whole World Is Watching.

  • fgug

    First off, my sympathies to all of those families touched by this cowardly attack… but so it goes… the wheels are spinning off the wagon.. Bush and Blair will now take this tragedy, spin it out of control, and have us in Iran by mid-winter ‘06.. mark these words… just as they “needed” 9/11 to justify the Iraq invasion, they needed a “7/7″ to move their policies of destruction forward.. don’t expect this to end any time soon, and if you have a son or daughter in the good ole USA that is nearing the age of 18, expect a draft soon.. is it getting chilly in here?

  • budapest

    EuroNews (or BBC) did a timeline of Blair’s activities as the bombs went off and the aftermath. You see the look on his face change as he goes out for first announce to press, talks with teh other leaders, continuing with meetings, etc., Pensive, thoughtful. NOT dumbfounded and inactive – (The Pet Goat anyone?)
    It was creepy watching Bush, especially compared to all the other G-8ers, as he was the only streaming out SELF-CONSCIENCE!

  • bg

    Yes, all of a sudden that blood and gore 24/7 on ALL our TVs again. NEVER a bloody Iraqi woman, child or coffin of soldier. I have been waiting for this moment, just as it seems all hope is lost for the President to get this war on. . .OF COURSE he can’t keep the smirk away, “Ah tol’ya. We just gotta stay the course in Eye-rack.” His best moment.
    On another note, I don’t know if anyone else out there has ever used their cell phone for a LIGHT. But it works well. Can you see me yet? Really. I did it once. Maybe it is not a photo but a light that person needed.

  • cj

    I do believe I can see Virgil leading the way through the darkness….. The first photo puts our modern lives/mortality into the now global perspective (fear, darkness, unseen threats of random aggression)–regular people suffering the spiritual excesses of our ideologies. We can call this a war on terrorism, jihad, crusade, good versus evil, but in the end innocence (day to day existence) gets slaughtered and the extremists (the glaring lights in the distance?) of all persuasions attract those left behind in the dark.
    The second photo doesn’t tell me too much except that the others are behind Blair (for whatever their reasons). I could ascribe different motivations to their expressions, that would perhaps reflect more of my take on their political positions than any insight into what they are thinking at this point. My own thoughts on this: things will not get better any time soon.

  • fgug

    Keep this thought in mind… this type of terror happens EVERYDAY in Iraq… men and women, boys and girls getting blown to smithereens… THEIR plight gets NO attention… no breaking headlines in the news.. just blood gore and guts that gets un-noticed by the “WEST”…put yourself in the shoes of the people of Iraq that have lost loved ones from the US occupation.. people over in London and in the USA might get a better understanding of why they hate us so much..

  • hack

    Bush’s performance here is only moderately less embarrasing than his befuddlement on 9/11.

  • Annoying Old Guy

    I knew I could count on TheBAG to turn any event in to an excuse for bashing President Bush.

    So Bush, who is so self-centered, self-absorbed that even at a time of such gravity he cannot understand that the whole world doe not revolve around him

    Sounds like the world does revolve around Bush, at least for some commentors here. This exemplifies one of the primary failures of modern progressive thought, its inability to believe anyone except America and its President can be the primary actors in any event.
    P.S. The “far” light, the one to furthest right in the picture, is a near light, just on the other side of the tunnel from the others. Not that you’d let facts get in the way of the semiotics.

  • rkwallen

    I don’t think I could draw any conclusion about Bush using only the G-8 photo. But one thing does differentiate Blair from the other individuals. He is the only person looking directly at the camera (i.e. looking at us.) Reading into this it seems that Blair is acknowledging our fears and anxieties and stepping forward to bear them.
    To Annoying Old Guy: The quote you use came from a comment not theBAG. Yes there are people who will turn any event into an excuse for bashing Bush, just as there are people who will turn any event into an excuse for pointing out what’s wrong with progressive thought. Don’t you think that people whose reactions are predictably uniform are not people we should be annoyed by?

  • Kerstin

    Ah, yes, Annoying Old Guy. Bush is always on the defense, never the offense. He is simply misunderstood, or is it misunderestimated? You say the right light is near but the obvious effect in the photo is that it’s the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, the right light is not the light leading to our salvation. Very subversive analysis from you. ;)
    MonsieurGonzo ~ Your comments about the fundamental disconnect between reality and what’s going on in Bush’s head remind me of that recent statement of his “and the suffering is real.” As opposed to fake suffering, you see.

  • dancinfool

    Y’know, that’s almost the same expression he had on his face during “My Pet Goat.”

  • Earl Mardle

    I blog from an IT angle but that is the one that struck me most, although the warmer one taken at about the same time strikes me as more stygian.
    What struck me however was that, in all of this, there is a generation of people for whom recording and sharing their daily lives is now so ingrained that they do it everywhere, even in total shock after stepping over the dead and wading through their blood and pitched into the underworld gloom.
    What struck me most of all about the subway shot was that it includes the cellphone of a neighbour, also taking a photo, possibly this one
    The revolution will be recorded, by little brother.

  • Earl Mardle

    Strike “struck”.

  • Annoying Old Guy

    Mr. Mardle;
    You might find this interesting, then.
    You might note that I used an exact quotation, where as you made up something I never wrote and attributed it to me. It’s definitely more challenging to deal with what people actually write, but I think you’d find the effort worthwhile.

  • ted mills

    The underground photos struck me immediately with their sense of claustrophobia, and their similarities to mining disasters–of people trapped and trying to get to the surface.
    The quality also suggests, as someone said, surveillance footage, or spy cams, of seeing something most others can’t. Of course, this was what is was, but in a moment of crisis.
    Nobody has yet commented on the second photo’s rather odd cropping–the anamorphic widescreen ratio optimized for 16×9 televisions, as they say. I noticed the air above their heads and the random placement (compared to the endless G8 shots where they’re all lined up like a chorus line). God, how Chimpy must have wanted to push Blair out of the way, after all it’s his war!
    As Tom Englehardt wrote in his column, each bombing gives Bush that shot of adrenaline he loves. No wonder he was twitchy.
    The odd placement of the G8 players suggests the chaos the meeting was thrown into, but also suggesting a future regrouping and strategizing.

  • glenn may

    The photo of the leaders emphasizes how powerless they are to do anything about “terrorism.” They can have all of the trappings of power that they want, but in the end they are just standing around waiting for something else to happen, or for dinner or something.

  • D mac

    Poverty: off the agenda. Debt: off the agenda
    And of course…
    Goldstein strikes in London…
    On with Hate, on with the war, down with Oceania….
    Of course Bush cant keep that idiotic grin off his face, just at the very moment when the G8 was going to HAVE to come up with the goods on poverty and debt ‘Kapow’! Its back to the War on Terror, Damn them, damn them all. And be quite sure off camera every one of them breathed a sigh of relief “Phew, a well needed distraction from all that third world debt crap and back to the real business….”
    Damn them, damn them, damn them all.

  • JJF

    The Bush expression reminds me of the Reagan funeral, when he was the one person who just seemed so uncomforable…unable to feel, really. Bush simply does not know how to handle death. Never lost a parent, never attends a soldier’s funeral. I think death scares him, and he’s aware that it’s something other people know how to be sad about, and he does not.

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