The war of Images

The Pentagon has a rather insidious phrase to describe the latent power of the image in modern warfare

TV clips and photographs of the Shock and Awe campaign that rained down on Iraq in 2003 were called ‘force multipliers’. The meaning is pretty straight-forward: take a picture that shows the might of the US military (a building being destroyed for example) and ensure its worldwide exposure through various media outlets. Thus the power inherent in the physical attack is multiplied manifold, in print, on TV or online.

As part of the series of exhibitions that made up this year’s Brighton Photo Biennial – entitled Memory of Fire – curator Julian Stallabrass displayed a classic example of the force multiplier: Franco Pagetti’s vii, an epic cacophony of smoke and fire. The image of the destruction of Baghdad was displayed at enormous size in the biennial’s Iraq Through the Lens of Vietnam show.

Of course, force multipliers can work the other way. Alongside Pagetti’s single spectacle of warfare, Stallabrass aligned another wall, showing a series of 70 much smaller images. Taken with digital cameras and cameraphones, the familiar-seeming grins and thumbs-up belied the uncomfortable truths of the wider subject matter: the systematic abuse that took place in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Displayed alongside the framed examples of ‘classic’ photojournalism (by Larry Niven, Tim Page, Philip Jones Griffiths) the snapshots taken at the prison, in all their lo-res amateur awfulness, retain a unique power. In fact, some are now as iconic as any photograph produced during the whole Iraq war.

Perversely, as the pictures were taken by US military personnel (who confessed under oath to their mistreatment of Iraqi detainees) the Abu Ghraib photographs are as much a part of the US state production of images as the army-sanctioned shots of its soldiers playing with Iraqi children, displayed on the reverse of the wall. Both series of images are, Stallabrass revealed, copyright free.

More than simply examining the changing nature of photojournalism, the biennial showed how our engagement with images of conflict has shifted. While a force multiplier does its job as propaganda, the power that a framed black and white photograph has to shock can, now, easily be matched by a jpeg.

bpb.org.uk/2008/


 

More from CR

Killer iPhone Apps

Give an iPhone owner half a chance and they will happily launch into a lengthy demonstration of the latest slew of ‘apps’ that they’ve downloaded for their pocket-sized gadget. Apps are, essentially, packages of software that utilises (hopefully) the best properties of the iPhone’s hardware – ie the multi touch screen, GPS, and the impressively sensitive accelerometer. These properties, combined with a powerful operating system (Unix) and fast internet connection speeds mean that the iPhone is, in short, a creative programmer’s dream come true. Here at CR, we’ve been checking out a wide variety of apps and have compiled a round up of our currentfavourites…

Barrels of Art

In an unusual commission, the Glenfiddich distillery in Scotland approached design studio johnson banks to create a series of artworks illustrating the length of time it takes for their single malt whiskies to mature in the barrel. Following on from a similar initiative last year (where five different designers were each given a barrel to work with), johnson banks looked to the function of each part of the barrel to make a series of sculptures based on the five differently aged Glenfiddich whiskies. The results are on show this week in Glasgow.

Designing a Legible City

Bristol’s City ID is redesigning the way we experience urban areas. Its latest project, for Southampton, hopes to put the UK city firmly back on the map for residents and visitors alike

CS Shanghai: Digital Snowglobes and Sad Lamps

Digit’s Daljit Singh showed two cool R&D projects at the Creative Social in Shanghai: a digital version of the snowglobe that shows the weather in any city in the world and a lamp that reacts to the day’s news…

Senior Creative Designer

Monddi Design Agency

Head of Digital Content

Red Sofa London