views of violence

I'm reading Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag at the mo. It's really good. You should totally get your read on with her. It seems to be one of those theoretical books that will only become more relevant the more numbed we become to increasingly frequent and disturbing images of violence. One frame of reference for her is the below photo taken by Robert Capa during the Spanish Civil War, which was also around the time that photo journalism was entering the media (especially photos of wars). She questions the true 'objectivity' of the camera's lens, pointing out its many potential bias' and discrepancies. These discrepancies, specifically, are what can lead to misconceptions or reinventions of the truth, when applied or backed up by a photo. AKA a photo can say what you want depending on how you shoot it and what headline you stuff it under.

Falling Soldier, Robert Capa

While it may appear on every art/ journalism/ photography/ sociology course reading list, this is not one of those dry theory books that might just confuse the hell out of you and lead nowhere, except into the mind of a crazed loner (I'm thinking of Nietzsche and Sartre mostly - although I do adore some of their ideas!). Sontag, apparently, regards herself primarily as a novelist, rather than a theorist, despite her fame appearing contrary to this. Certainly her style of prose is alluring and beautiful - more in keeping with a novelist than a philosopher. However, her analyses are precise, cutting and very perceptive, and so far I have nodded my head towards the pages at everything I have read there.

A while ago, the Barbican gallery had a war journalism exhibition that displayed, among others, a great deal of Robert Capa's work. It was crazy to think, staring at prints of his D-Day photographs, that as the soldiers ran out of the sea from their boats, pointing their guns at the enemy, he ran in the opposite direction, to get the pictures. What a crazy dude!

The Casting, Omer Fast

Yet, among the other work in the exhibition was a film installation that really changed the way i feel about war journalism forever. It goes one step further than Capa and Sontag, and debates within itself the truth of war journalism in a televised form (although this is also mentioned by Sontag, actually).

It was a piece called
The Casting by artist Omer Fast. It involved a double-sided screen suspended in a black room. On one side is a split screen where a story is enacted by actors who are standing still. The story cuts between two narratives that are narrated by a soldier. The soldier tells the stories of two traumatic days in his life: 1, the day he broke up with his girlfriend and 2, the day he accidentally shot a civilian in Iraq. The narratives are spliced together, yet make sense. It is only until you walk around the screen to see the artist interviewing the soldier in a studio, that you realise how easily you have been taken in. Here the cuts are inelegant and overt in their intent to deceive, the story clearly an invention of the artist, not the soldier. His two stories have become one and taken on an entirely new set of meanings.

This, combined with Sontag and Capa, have made me super skeptical about everything I see on the news or read in the paper. It is an old phrase that we 'shouldn't believe everything we see in the news', but maybe we have become complacent, even with that warming lurking in our heads. Check out this video and keep the skepticism alive, i say. It's an incredible, thought-provoking piece.

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