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May 22, 2012

Their Own Perimeter: Vets Discard Medals in Week’s Most Poignant Moment. (Photos by Nina Berman from the NATO Summit.)

Although clashes between police and demonstrators led the news from Chicago, the main act Sunday was the massive protest march which saw members of Iraq Veterans Against the War throwing their medals away in a symbolic gesture against the Global War on Terror. At the start of the march which preceded the ceremonies, we see the inordinate distance the police insisted on between photographers and the veterans.

Marching in formation, we see the veterans wearing their medals for the last time. “The drill” has got to feel as dissonant as it is familiar given this ultimate and public demonstration that the military, as a unit, led them down a broken path. Echoing the lead photo with the policeman establishing a boundary, the yellow rope establishes the veterans’ own security perimeter. Given the stifling control established by the City’s corps, the rope forms both a physical and emotional space-within-a-space.

Steven Acheson, a 27 year old former Army Sergeant leads the row second from the right. He’s wearing the shirt and boots he deployed in as well as two medals. He grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, a conservative Christian. He watched 9/11 on TV and then wanted to join. Says Steven: “I was that soldier that really wanted to kill people.”

In this photo, a member of Afghans for Peace stands side-by-side with one of the veteran forming a connection that America’s government and military always imagined was achievable through military means. In the act of memory and grief, reciting his personal motivation for discarding his medals, an additional solace comes from the Afghan woman holding his words for him. There is also a curious geometry to the photo. To the left is Mary Kirkland whose son Derek committed suicide by hanging himself in his barracks at Ft. Lewis after two Iraq deployments. And though there’s no telling what’s going through the mind of the Chicago policewoman, the fact she forms a triangle with the veteran and the Afghan activist just makes it that much harder to understand what security really means anymore.

Finally, this composition, situated about a quarter mile away from the actual NATO meeting, is as complicated as the set of spikes. The police are but digits and lines on a barcode while these veterans engage in a symbolic act to recover their identity. The veterans shed their hardware while the paramilitary police brandish theirs. And while the police surveille, that vigilance is rendered empty and callous, the solemn ritual of the veterans entailing its own submission.

PHOTOGRAPHS by Nina Berman/Noor

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for BagNews here.

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