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June 10, 2012

Medevac Photos Revisited: U.S. Embedding Policy Alive and Well

Tyler Hicks medevac May 2010

Back in January ‘11, I wrote a post about war embedding, noting how three major photo stories shot by three top photojournalists had run within a few weeks of each other, producing almost the same subject matter. In the post (“Big Media Sent 3 Of My Favorite War Photographers to Afghanistan And What They Brought Back Were The Near-Same Medevac Shots”), I asked if this was pure coincidence, or if it was more illustrative of the Pentagon limiting war access while also insuring a steady stream of heroic, uncomplicated war imagery.

Since I’m preparing a talk for the new Photoville festival in Brooklyn on June 23rd on “The State of the News Photo,” (and because I recently emphasized the need to “aim higher” in articulating and defining the moral and political dilemmas photojournalists face), I thought I would take a quick run through Google Images to try and determine how many other medevac photo-stories existed over the past twenty-four months. I’m not saying I found them all (and I didn’t count any of the many, many medevac shots on U.S. military websites shot by military photographers), but I was surprised to turn up at least seventeen stories photographed in Afghanistan over that two year stretch.

At the end of the earlier post, I asked the question: what does it mean that such high-profile redundancy can occur with hardly a notice?  I think the question bears repeated since so many people I know are great visual (and visual news) observers, but I haven’t seen anyone really notice the slow and steady whirr of medevac rescue pics flying around.

The photo above was taken by Tyler Hicks in May 2010.

Army+Medevac+Brendan Sullivan 6 10

This photo by Getty’s Brendan Sullivan was published in June 2010.

Medevac August 31 2010 Reuters Oleg Popov

This was shot by Oleg Popov of Reuters on Aug. 31, 2010.

Medevac  Sept 2 2010 Lin

This is from September 2, 2010 by Brennan Lin of AP.

September 2010 Palu medevac

This is by Louie Palu for the Alexia Foundation via Zuma Press published September 28, 2010.

Army+Medevac Scott Olson

This photo by Getty’s Scott Olson is from September 2010.

Medevac Denton Oct 2010

This was shot by Bryan Denton for Corbis on October 8, 2010

Tyler Hicks Flight Medevac copy

This is the first of those three photos from January 2011, highlighted in the previous post. This image from January 2011 is by Tyler Hicks for The New York Times.

Medevac Palu

Also from January 2011 by Louie Palu for The Toronto Star.

Nachtwey Medevac
Rounding out the initial trio, this photo is from January 2011 shot by James Nachtwey for TIME.

Medevac Kevin Frayer in Afghanistan

This shot is by AP’s Kevin Frayer published by the Denver Post in May 2011.

Anja Niedringhaus Medevac 6 11

This image, from Anja Niedringhaus for AP, was published June 2011.

Medevac RAUCH June 2011
This is from June 20, 2011 by Laura Rauch of Stars and Stripes.

Medevac Jake Tapper ABC Nov 2011
Jake Tapper of ABC photographed this scene on November 5, 2011

Medevak Bektas Nov 2011

This photo by Umit Bektas of Reuters was taken on November 21, 2011.

Medevac Ratner April 2012

This is from April 9, 2012 by Baz Ratner/Reuters.

Medevac May 2012 Mercury News

Finally, this recent shot — from May 16, 2012 — is by Danish Siddiqui of Reuters.

As a last word, there are some points to emphasize.

In highlighting this redundancy, I don’t, in any way, intend to disrespect these photographers, skilled journalists all who risk their lives to put eyes on America’s war in Afghanistan for citizens and news consumers back home. I also acknowledge sincere efforts are made to find and explore different editorial themes within the context of these medevac missions, focusing on the aid and rescue of Afghani civilians, for example, or the painful personal odyssey of an individual solider.  That said, however, what these images document is something terribly wrong with the way the reporting effort is being constrained by the government, the embedding policy compromising the integrity and the larger mandate of each of these skilled photographers to deliver us the war in its essence.  In that regard, what we’re looking at here is actually a snapshot of a policy in which journalists, trained to capture what their instincts tell them the public needs to see are instead doing their vivid best to illustrate a scene on which the government has them trained.


If you can make it out to Dumbo on the 23rd, come hear my talk on the state of the news photo. (I’m speaking back-to-back with a panel moderated by Pete Brook on prison photography, featuring Deborah Luster, Brenda Ann Kenneally, Lori Waselchuk and Yana Payusova so you can enjoy that, too.)

(Note: Last paragraph added 7:57 am PST)

  • bks

    It’s an easy way to show the effects of war withoug risking dysentery by actually visiting the villages which we’re bombing the hell out of each night.   All sorts of detail which appeals to the photographer’s eye: high tech, shadows, skin tones, overall sense of emergency.  That is, it’s the lazy man’s picture.   I’d probably take the same picture myself, because I’m lazy and I don’t want to get dysentery –or end up being medevac’ed myself.

    Say, whatever happened to the Right Wing obsession with the Phony Global War On Terror?

    And when are Greta and her band of publicity-hungry Fox lawyers going to cover the trials at Guantanamo?


  • Peter
  • Jim Johnson


    Another really terrific post. Thanks!

    I’ve advertised it over at my place.

    I hope all is well!

    • Michael Shaw

      Thanks, Jim.

  • Nicholas Cataldo

    All I see is wasting good medical supplies on potential enemies.

    • Jackal-41

      They might be potential enemies yes, but this is what makes us better than them. We will go to the length to save their lives, because who and what they know, could potentially save even more American lives. As a vet, I see your point and, at times, have that same perspective, but the goal is not to kill one extremist, it is to erradicate their warped belief system (not Islam, rather the extremist viewpoint) from the earth. This potentially is a picture of us saving the life of a high ranking enemy to acquire information on his network…but hey, this is just my personal opinion.

  • Jackal-41

    We will go to the length to save their lives, enemy or not because we operate under the laws of the Geneva Convention; but this also works in our benefit because…*

  • Nicholas Cataldo

    the warped beliefs start as a child…there in lies the problem not to mention didn’t 1 of the photographers of these pictures get killed by a Afghan police commander? Seriously lets give it a rest and paint the brush and call a spade a spade. This being nice to the bad guy and hope he will be nice back is fucking insane.

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