Thursday, July 9, 2009

While looking at war photography, I could not help but notice Vietnam. Probably the first war in human history that has been dramatically changed by photography and film. Once the cruel images came to the United States, protests and scandal scrutinized the war.
One photo in particular grabbed my attention. The photo on the left shows: "police chief General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner, Nguyễn Văn Lém, on a Saigon street, on February 1, 1968, during the opening stages of the Tet Offensive" ( It is a powerful photo that captures the brutality and atrocity of war by presenting how even execution is done in such a animalistic manner. However, I have to question this photo and all of war photography because while the camera captures the physical reality (objects that are real to the sense such as touch, smell and vision), the photographs could be staged for specific purposes. "Capturing the moment" is most difficult aspect of a photographer's job, then how do we know that what he has captured is not staged or fake. This brings me to the issue of what is real in war and what war exactly is. We all have our idea of war, but is there a definitive answer to the question: What is war?
On Nguyen Ngoc Loan and his famous photograph, Adams wrote in Time:

The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. ... What the photograph didn't say was, 'What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?

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