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June 13, 2011

Two Versions of the Same Syria – Turkey Border Photo. Does It Make a Difference?

Lately, I’ve noticed instances where the newswires have distributed crops of the same photo, the variations coming by the same photographer. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with this, and I’m assuming it’s also a standard practice that I just hadn’t noticed before.

The practice caught my eye after I posted that almost theatrical photo from Dover the other day after which a few of you drew my attention to this much longer view producing a completely different vibe.

Anyway, I really didn’t think much more about it until this weekend when I came across another example. This time, I felt the two versions deserved a little more consideration especially as I saw each published prominently at various large news sites. What we’re looking at above are two variants of a shot by AP photographer Burhan Ozbilici. (You can click on each to study it larger.)

Here’s the caption for the first version above:

Turkish soldiers stand as a group of Syrians wait inside Syria for authorization to enter Turkey near the Turkish village of Guvecci in Hatay province, Thursday, June 9, 2011. Turkey said Wednesday it would open the border to Syrians fleeing violence.

Now here’s the caption for the second version just below it:

A Turkish soldier stands by as a group of Syrians wait inside Syria for the authorization to enter Turkey near the Turkish village of Guvecci in Hatay province, Turkey, which borders Syria, Thursday, June 9, 2011. Hundreds of Syrians fled to Turkey on Thursday as elite Syrian troops moved to encircle a restive town ahead of a possible assault, sharply escalating the upheaval that threatens the 40-year regime led by President Bashar Assad.

I know that the issue of captions, and variations in captions, has come up numerous times as an issue here, especially in our online Salon discussions. To the extent the variation in captions is relevant to the difference in the pictures, I’m also interested to hear what you think about the words.

Primarily, though, I’m interested in whether the two versions, the cropped version versus the full-size, really effects the meaning of the photo and alters the visual news consumer’s perception of the situation on the Syrian – Turkish border.

Some questions:

>> How much does the presence of the second soldier (and the presence of the fifth civilian far right)change the sense of the situation, if at all?

>> How does the closer look at, and greater emphasis on the two boys and the two young men behind them, change the sense of the situation, if at all?

>> How much does the longer view, the less personal quality and the decreased density of the foliage relative to the expanse of barb wire change the sense of the situation, if at all?

>> And most importantly, how do the versions function relative to the news on the ground, particularly a.) Turkey’s open acceptance of 3,000 refugees so far (estimated to increase to 10,000), and b.) Prime Minister Erdogan’s declarations that: he had lost patience with Syria; Turkey’s relationship with Syria was over; and that Syria “didn’t have a lot of time”?

  • Rident

    It’s not the missing soldier and civilian on the right that change the feel of the photo. It’s the missing feet of the left soldier. The original stance says relaxed, almost looks like he’s tapping out a tune. The second could be misconstrued as ’soldier awaiting firing orders’.

  • robert e

    The inclusion of a second soldier who is at ease changes the mood dramatically, and he balances the visual dominance of the first soldier. The wider shot keeps us at a remove, equalizing to some extent the players–at this distance, the frame acts as proscenium. Also, the boy’s posture seems more relaxed when we can see his stance.

    In the second shot, the lone soldier looks like he is aiming his gun at the two men, and we are at a more intimate distance (inside the stage), encouraging us to read (or read into) faces and expressions. Without the second soldier for balance, the apparent sizes of soldier and refugees is more significant, amplified by the fact that the boys are smaller anyway. The boy’s stance is now out of frame and his posture ambiguous.

    This reminds me of a doctored photo that appeared on I believe an LA Times front page, the alteration making a US soldier look like he was threatening Iraqi civilians with his gun.

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