Side note: I needed iconic photographs in color for this, restricting me to the last 30 years of so of photographic history. In the process of the search I started to realize that, well, there aren't many in the traditional sense - by that I mean a composed photograph by a photographer during a live event. Pre-color is easy: V-Day kisses, flag raisings on Iwo Jima, executions in Saigon, terrified Vietnamese girls, Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston, the Hindenberg, Kent State, the list goes on and on. Universally recognized photographs from the modern era? Afghan Girl obviously, and...??? I think Marlboro Marine's probably a bit of a stretch, maybe the starving girl and vulture from Sudan (though sadly controversy fed its ubiquity as much as content), Ground Zero, perhaps the Exxon Valdez bird (for which, by the way, Exxon has yet to pay restitution for as of earlier this month), or Elian Gonzalez in the closet.
This is not to say there are no universally recognized photos from the modern era, but that most of them don't seem to resemble our traditional cherished photographs. Most are reminders of events rather than a gripping event summarized in one photograph. Many of what I would call universally recognized photographs from the modern era are taken by amateurs in the right place at the right time, astronauts, robots, satellites, security cameras, frame grabs from video cameras, everything except a professional photographer composing a shot. And that's fine, I don't have a problem with it at all as it's just the changing nature of how we distribute information amongst ourselves, but its got me thinking about how our self-perception might be different in the future if our children see our world through the imagery we leave them in their history (e-)books. WWII was Robert Capa at D-Day and Joe Rosenthal at Iwo Jima, Vietnam was Nick Ut at Trang Bang and Eddie Adams in Saigon, Iraq was... off-color amateur shots of Lynndie England? Whats the iconic image from Iraq? Afghanistan? Do we need one? Has the decline of traditional media left us without the resources to adequately pursue these images? Do the conflicts not lend themselves to photographers operating freely? Have they been politicized to the point where they can't be encapsulated in a single frame? Can I end eight consecutive sentences with question marks? Yes.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Posted by Steve Bartel at 9:46 PM