Category Archives: 1 Eyewitnesses

Part 1 – Hebron ‘Press Shirt’ Stabbing

Around the same time that I was researching the Abu Ghraib images on the internet, I saw a photograph in a Sunday newspaper showing what appeared to be a press photographer stabbing an Israeli soldier with a knife. In the same moment another armed soldier appears from around the side of the army vehicle, his weapon aimed at the man in the hi-vis press vest who was about to plunge the knife into his victim.

TheImage
A Palestinian posing as a journalist stabs an Israeli soldier with a knife before being shot dead near the West Bank city of Hebron Oct. 16, 2015. Reuters/Jameel Salhab.

I found the image very disturbing but at the same time I was magnetically drawn to it. The obvious appeal in the first instance was a very base curiosity of wondering whether the victim on the ground survived the attack or whether the armed soldier managed to shoot before the knife completed its trajectory course. It felt almost filmic in its suspense and placed the idea of ‘the decisive moment’ to a much more elevated position of a ‘life and death’ moment.  Secondly, what on earth was a press photographer doing attacking the man on the ground? How had he managed to get as close as he did to the (assumed) soldier – purely by virtue of wearing that press vest?

I went onto read the CBS article ‘Palestinian in “press” shirt shot dead after stabbing soldier‘ which supporting the image, answered many of my questions. The article read:-

“Friday’s stabbing took place on the sidelines of clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian stone-throwers in the West Bank city of Hebron. The attacker blended in with journalists standing a few feet from soldiers who were firing tear gas at the stone-throwers at the time….

At one point, shouts were heard, followed by several gunshots. Troops rushed to the scene of the stabbing, near a military jeep, and administered aid to the injured soldier who was eventually taken away by ambulance. The attacker lay on the ground, clutching a knife in his right hand.”

In terms of documentary or news photography, for me, this image provides very little information and on its own, fails to stand up as a newsworthy image. We have no indication of the nearby clashes between troops/stone-throwers; we didn’t see that there was in fact a group of journalists and the man had managed to hide himself in the group until he acted, we didn’t see, hear or smell the tear-gas or stone-throwing, nor did we hear the shouts and gunshots. There are too many unanswered questions. There is no context offering information on what led up to the event. However, what it did do was encourage me to read about the image and find out more on the Internet, so in some respect it was an incredibly successful image. With free time being the most finite resource for most people, I guess this photograph actually works!

CBS News Article (2015) Palestinian in “press” shirt shot dead after stabbing soldier. At: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/israel-troops-palestinian-man-dead-stabs-soldier/

Part 1 – Exercise 1 – Objectivity

This exercise required you to look at examples of news photography, specifically covering emergencies or disasters and question the objectivity of the images. It suggested looking at Abu Ghraib and the London bombings but also any other similar news events.  I chose first to look again at the Abu Ghraib photographs which I remember well hearing about on the news and I remember my reaction to them then which hasn’t diminished over time. For the purpose of this exercise I have decided to focus on a single image, Picture 17 (Guardian Unlimited, 2004).

May 20: Specialist Sabrina Harman, 26, grins as she poses alongside the corpse of an Iraqi detainee in Abu Ghraib prison. The photograph was obtained by ABC News, which identified the dead man as Manadel al-Jamadi. The broadcaster has evidence that the man was brought to the prison by US navy seals in good health.
May 20: Specialist Sabrina Harman, 26, grins as she poses alongside the corpse of an Iraqi detainee in Abu Ghraib prison. The photograph was obtained by ABC News, which identified the dead man as Manadel al-Jamadi. The broadcaster has evidence that the man was brought to the prison by US navy seals in good health.

 It is telling that even with the act of removing this photograph from the rest of the series it stands alone as a powerful image which probably would have been newsworthy in its own right.

The revulsion you feel looking at this image of a young American woman grinning and posing for a photograph over the corpse of an Iraqi detainee inevitably leaves a viewer with a sense of utter dismay that any human being could sink to this level of sickening behaviour.

The girl is fresh-faced and in any other context e.g. a family photo with her ‘folks’ back home, she would have appeared as ‘wholesome’ young American, but in the juxtaposition of her thumbs up over the corpse staged specifically to capture a ‘memento’ of a death of one of the ‘enemy’, she has chosen to depict herself as a chillingly brutal character, devoid of any natural human compassion or decency.

Of course what we don’t see in the image, and what makes this type of photography not entirely objective is the understanding of the possible circumstances that led the girl to willingly participate in these staged photographs; we don’t see the woman’s work colleagues being blown up by improvised explosive devices; we don’t understand the stress she encounters being away from her family and working in a warzone on a long tour of duty; and we can’t appreciate the psychological pressure to ‘fit in’ and mirror behaviours displayed by work colleagues she has to ultimately rely on day-to-day for her safety.   The viewer can only surmise these ‘extenuating circumstances’ and has no real comprehension of the events surrounding the photograph. However, as viewers we might also still conclude that whatever the real life context, or horrific experiences endured, the knowledge of these would not lead a viewer to condone or forgive her behaviour.

I think this is partly due to the situation in which the images are taken. The soldier appears to be doing this for her own entertainment and it appears to be being carried out in a perfectly safe environment, i.e. there is no background showing any of the ‘war zone’ backdrop to contextualise the awfulness of the images.  Further, the images are posed and therefore pre-meditated. They are not the result of a reaction immediately after an embittered bloody battle where the heat of the moment has given rise to erratic behaviour. Finally, the image is one of a series, each of which defies belief and comprehension in the level of depravity reached. Effectively, it was not a one-off, rather an engrained pattern of terrible behaviour towards enemy soldiers.

As part of my research into these images I discovered that a series of portraits of the victims had been created by fashion photographer Chris Bartlett. His exhibition “Iraqi Detainees: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Ordeals” was his way of bringing some dignity back to the individuals. (Vargas-Cooper, 2014). In the article the photographer was quoted as saying “I wanted to use the camera to restore these peoples’ humanity through beautiful portraiture,”

“He does not remember how long he was in that cell, but he thinks it was a month. Then they took him to Abu Ghraib. ‘First they got me naked, and they tied my hands to the door. My detention lasted six months. I was always naked, always tied to the door, they brought the dogs to us.'”
“He does not remember how long he was in that cell, but he thinks it was a month. Then they took him to Abu Ghraib. ‘First they got me naked, and they tied my hands to the door. My detention lasted six months. I was always naked, always tied to the door, they brought the dogs to us.’”

I was particularly drawn to the image depicted in the article where the photographer has used a shallow depth of field to deliberately hone in and focus on the soldier’s eyes. The sitter seems to be challenging the viewer for a reaction to his treatment. His eyes appear defiant but simultaneously ridden with pain. Maybe he wanted the perpetrators to look at his image directly and for them to feel some remorse. Maybe he just wanted to challenge them to view him as a human being, rather than the degraded toy or prop he was used as in previous images. Maybe he was calling out to the authorities and questioning how they could let this happen? Whatever the sitter’s and photographer’s personal intentions, it is an extremely powerful and memorable image.

Bibliography

Guardian Unlimited Article Index (2004) The Images that Shamed America. At: http://www.theguardian.com/pictures/image/0,8543,-13004919007,00.html

Vargas-Cooper, N (2014) Photo Exhibit Restores Dignity to Victims of U.S. Torture. At: https://theintercept.com/2014/09/18/detainees-portaits/