Check out this blog post by Jim Johnson regarding an article by Chris Hedges on two recent war related photo books, 2nd Tour Hope I don’t Die by Peter Va Agtmael and Afterwar by Lori Grinker. ( orginal source jim colberg Concentious).

Click here and then come back!

I read the Hedges article previous to Jim Johnson’s and the first thing that popped into my head was Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of others. Not only for the reasons Johnson mentions, (“that only those who experience war directly can truly grasp its horrific realities, he departs from her skeptical premise that images of those horrors might convey some understanding or sensitivity and that those effects might be motivating.” ) but for her reference to Georges Bataille and his “death of a hundred cuts image”. The intrinsic link between pain and pleasure, and the disturbing nature of the human condition arbitrating the acceptability of these two seemingly opposing emotions, is surely paramount to this discussion. Unfortunately as Johnson notes, Hedges embarks on a harangue against the government and or the mass media.

Certainly I agree within mainstream media there are elements of nostalgia attached to war but more specifically towards the “warriors” who go to “protect” their nations interests. It is also fair to say that we -as citizens of a democracy- should be privy to all sides of any argument that ultimately affects our lives. The censoring of atrocious imagery from war zones is deigning those citizens the opportunity to visually experience these atrocities (for what ever gain that may be). However as Jim Johnson points out Hedges deconstruction of two photographic books turns into a rant on the devastation of war and how important it is that these book are available to the public to create awareness of such atrocities. With that notion the books surely become nothing less than a documentation of the intensely savage and horrific nature of war. Hedges unwitting foray into the role of Internet freedom fighter, simultaneously devalues the work of both photographers and his own validation. Hedges offers little to separate these books from the many websites that do nothing but collect and display horrific imagery of post conflict encounters.

I suppose a critical point that Hedges as overlooked is the based around the negative aspects of having images such as those in these books widely available. By negative aspects I do not mean the type of negative poppycock the mainstream media would quickly launch into should these horrors reach the hands of a picture editor. Things like “too upsetting for the general public” or “not suitable mass consumption”, would no doubt be order of the day. No, the negative aspects I would be concerned with are linked to desensitization. If I exclude Sontag’s skepticism towards the effects of horrific imagery and focus on how Hedges decrees, “If we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be harder to embrace the myth of war.” This statement is of course true (when removed from the context of the article) the majority of people who were faced with first hand experiences of what war can do would almost certainly be negatively effected by it. However, Hedges is not talking about first hand experiences he is talking about viewing images and viewing images is relative, interpretation of images is diverse based upon the individuals circumstances but importantly viewing images is repetitive. Repetition installs desensitization; the more something is viewed the less impact it holds. If we were bombarded with these types images through the current forms of mass media it would become second nature to us, the value of these images -in whatever form- (for a revolution or awareness) would become lost in a sea of mundanity.

As Johnson points out Hedges has to be admired for convictions yet ultimately, I am left feeling belittled. There is an air of pomposity to Hedges article; he waxes about revolution whilst not offering his readers the foresight of understanding that war is horrific, I am as aware as I will ever be that the atrocities of war for those directly involved with conflict are incomprehensible.