April 18, 2008
Standard Operating Procedure
You look at a photograph, and you think you have a veridical piece of reality. And you see these famous photographs, these infamous photographs, that came out of Abu Ghraib, and you think, “This is despicable, blah, blah, blah,” and you look no further. I believe that no one did look much further.
I think that the photographs served as a cover-up as well as an exposé. That is one of the things that’s truly fascinating about them. They gull you into thinking that you know everything there is to know. This is the bad stuff—look at it; here’s the ocular proof; here’s the image.
— Quotes from Errol Morris. Interview with Michael Meyer in Columbia Journalism Review
What is stunning about Errol Morris’s generative idea for his latest film, “Standard Operating Procedure,” is the observation that everyone looked at the Abu Ghraib photos (and reacted in the extreme), but nobody really “looked into” them — not to the extent one would typically attempt to ask and answer what is actually going on in them, why, how, and in what sequence or specific context.
In attempting to layer and infuse the images with dimensionality, the film pursues many approaches, including in-depth interviews and filmed re-enactments. Regarding the latter, photographer Nubar Alexanian’s photos of those reenactments are being touted to help impart more of a sense of knowing which viewers can then bring back to the original photographs.
In setting up such a cheap, soft-porn quality liaison between the “bad apples” (ignoring an overweight prisoner hanging on the blood-streaked, plywood background), I’m wondering if you feel this single image — offering such a cinematic and dramatically paradoxical contrast — lends more reality and context to the horrors themselves?
Recovering Reality: Errol Morris on Abu Ghraib (Morris – Meyer interview/CJR)
Standard Operating Procedure website
Sony SOR website – This site not only includes the trailer, but is also an extension of the film in literally applying context to the original images. (Sony Classics)
Exposure: The woman behind the camera at Abu Ghraib (a specific look at Sabrina Harman by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris – The New Yorker)
Nubar Alexanian photos from set of SOR (Takepart.com)
(image © Nubar Alexanian)