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July 22, 2013

On That Viral Shot of the Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan

The first thing to say is that Mandel Ngan’s image of Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, for as much attention as it drew on Twitter on Thursday, seems to materialize out of thin air. That’s partly because the photo, using height to express the scale of the humanitarian crisis below, is such a quiet one. It’s about witnessing, an intimate exercise that befits a singular focus.

As such, I’m sure the majority of those who saw it had no idea it had anything to do with John Kerry. In fact, Ngan was the pool photographer on Kerry’s flyover and visit to the camp, and without it, the photo wouldn’t have existed. Perhaps it’s not a stretch to also assume the photo was the most constructive thing that came out of the visit. (And I’m not just saying that because this Reuters slideshow incorporating the photo doesn’t even have Kerry in it.)

I’d say that the photo of Kerry on the ground being lectured to and stared down by the Syrian refugees chosen to meet with him is significant too. But then, people already know how compromised that picture is — the U.S. trying not to get too involved while trying not to look too callous. (Kerry reminded the refugees that, although America is not willing to take direct measures in Syria, it is footing a lot of the bill, through relief agencies, for the refugee camps.) Still, politicians come and go whereas images of the cost are more indelible.

(photos: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images/Pool. caption 1: An aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp on July 18, 2013 near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 8 kilometers from the Jordanian-Syrian border. The northern Jordanian Zaatari refugee camp is home to 115,000 Syrians. caption 2: US Secretary of State John Kerry (C-R) and his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh (C) meet with Syrian refugees at the Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq on July 18, 2013. (Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images/Pool)

  • bks3bks

    I think that serious journalists need to take a twitter break. It’s highly overrated and acts as more of an echo chamber than a source of information.

    –bks

  • bks3bks

    I think that serious journalists need to take a twitter break. It’s highly overrated and acts as more of an echo chamber than a source of information.

    –bks

  • Scarabus

    Wow! I’ve long thought that the term “camp” was misleading in this context. But that was mostly because “camp* suggests an overnight or short term stay, while in Africa and the Middle East people have spent their entire lives in these places.

    Now my feelings are reinforced, because “camp” creates an entirely erroneous scale in the mind’s eye.

  • Scarabus

    Wow! I’ve long thought that the term “camp” was misleading in this context. But that was mostly because “camp* suggests an overnight or short term stay, while in Africa and the Middle East people have spent their entire lives in these places.

    Now my feelings are reinforced, because “camp” creates an entirely erroneous scale in the mind’s eye.

  • Bugboy

    There are refugee “camps” scattered across the M.E., “camps” that have been there for a half a century, “camps” that no longer can be defined as “camps”, that are simply cites of people run out of their respective countries.

    And the people that inhabit these “camps” would have the United States do what about it?

  • Bugboy

    There are refugee “camps” scattered across the M.E., “camps” that have been there for a half a century, “camps” that no longer can be defined as “camps”, that are simply cites of people run out of their respective countries.

    And the people that inhabit these “camps” would have the United States do what about it? Meddle some more with the internal affairs of their respective countries? Which is what led to this situation in the first place, in many cases.

  • skip1515

    I appreciate bagnews’ desire to deliver on its goal of helping citizens “become better “readers” and consumers of visual news, messaging and spin”, but one can just as easily view the photo of Kerry at the table and decide that the Syrian refugees are staring at the man to Kerry’s left, who’s talking, as you can say Kerry’s being “stared down”.

    The lesson here is as related to photography as anything else bagnews publishes: photography may capture a moment, but that doesn’t free the picture from having its message spun.

    I’m not defending Kerry or the USA, just pointing out that *everyone* is capable of playing an angle if they choose to.

  • skip1515

    I appreciate bagnews’ desire to deliver on its goal of helping citizens “become better “readers” and consumers of visual news, messaging and spin”, but one can just as easily view the photo of Kerry at the table and decide that the Syrian refugees are staring at the man to Kerry’s left, who’s talking, as you can say Kerry’s being “stared down”.

    The lesson here is as related to photography as anything else bagnews publishes: photography may capture a moment, but that doesn’t free the picture from having its message spun.

    I’m not defending Kerry or the USA, just pointing out that *everyone* is capable of playing an angle if they choose to.

  • Lycaon

    Let’s arm some more terrorists. It went great in Afghanistan.

  • Lycaon

    Let’s arm some more terrorists. It went great in Afghanistan.

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