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February 12, 2012

War Photography Scrum: Kozyrev, McManus and BBC’s Wordless World Press Commentary

Perhaps the cleverest commentary on the World Press Photo awards, and particularly, Yuri Kozyrev’s artful, hyperkinetic and widely-admired shot of Libyan fighters in Ras Lanuf, was made by the BBC in its World Press winners photo gallery. If simply seduced by the physical parallels (I see this dance choreography-like photo editing a lot in the Charlotte Observer’s Daily Edit), the BBC presents Yuri’s first prize in Spot News and Ray McManus’ second prize in Sports Singles back-to-back, #2 and #3 in their photo gallery, immediately following the top prize winner.

Without uttering a word, the juxtaposition puts in motion two of the most significant critiques I’ve had of war photography over the past ten years, which are: 1.) the dangers of characterizing war as sport — or entertainment; and 2.) the danger of putting aesthetics on an equal (or greater) footing with journalism at a point-in-time in which stylish treatment of conflict can be all too rewarding.

(photo 1: Yuri Kozyrev caption: On Revolution Road: 11 March 2011. Rebels in Ras Lanuf, Libya. For weeks, rebels held out against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi with the hope that the world would come to their aid. Defiance faded as the dictator’s planes and tanks began to retake what had been dubbed Free Libya. photo 2: Roy McManus caption: Scrum Half: Action from a rugby match between Old Belvedere and Blackrock played in heavy rain in Dublin, Ireland.)

  • Michael

    No doubt the Libya photo is an extraordinary capture of a moment that *could* be called dancelike. Switching to the purely graphic perception of colors and shapes in 3D/2D space, this is a sure winner. But we can also switch back easily to read this as an emotional moment in ongoing action, and reading it that way the body language shows alarm, emergency, and fear (noting the slightly hunched run of the figures in the foreground, as though keeping down will make them a less likely target). This photo looks like a matter of life or death.

    On the graphic reading, the rugby photo is reasonably similar to the Libya capture, so the transition from the one to the other is (trivially) an interesting contrast. But on the reading of emotion it is very different. A serious moment, yes, but one of temporary stasis, not movement. Serious play, but certainly not a matter of life or death. So if the juxtaposition was a carefully intended ironic one, the message of the two together only accentuates the terror of the first.

    Or put this another way: the graphic beauty of the first photo gets a foot in the door, so to speak. But that second glance, the reading of emotions, leaves aesthetic considerations far behind.

  • Anonymous


     1.) the dangers of characterizing war as sport — or entertainment; 

    Hollywood and movies have morphed hand-to-hand combat into a form of dance. Sometimes quite strikingly for me — eg Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Kll Bill. Actually got me to appreciate some of the more abstract dance forms.

    • Ralfast

       Well, that comes from a long tradition of martial ARTS. There is a long tradition of martial arts in theater (Japan, Hong Kong among other places) which finally reached Western shores through the HK movie industry. The movies you mention merely reflect that trend.

  • bks

    Where are the pictures of this story from Reuters, today:

    “NATO-led forces in Afghanistan
    said on Monday they found the bodies of dead children after a coalition
    air strike that has enraged the Afghan government, and said their
    deaths may have been linked to an anti-insurgent operation in the area.”I thought the maxim was: “If it bleeds, it leads.”    –bks

    • bks

      Could the Bag News overlords please add a “preview” capability to the comments?
      Sorry about the formatting, that’s not the way it looked when I put it in the little box.

          –bks

  • Anonymous

    Register with disqus (button at top of comments) and they give you an edit command after you’ve posted a comment. Can be very useful. Plus they let you put up a nifty picture if you’d like!

    ‘Course there’s a potential privacy issue in there. But your web adventures are being tracked without the Disqus connection.

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