Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Images, Iconicity and Remembering

It's a photography-related post today.

First off, a quick link to Patrick Farrell's images of the aftermath of the hurricane in Haiti, which have won a Pulitzer prize. A warning, these do contain nudity if that kind of thing bothers you, and much more importantly are witness to scenes of absolute devastation. All the images are heartbreaking, but somehow it's the concentration and suffering, in completely inadequate conditions, of number 13 that really gets me.
Island of Lost Souls (Guardian)

Then I was struck by a post on No Caption Needed, a blog which deals with issues of memory and iconicity. It brought to my attention In Memory Day, "honoring those who died as a result of the Vietnam War, but whose deaths do not fit the Department of Defense criteria for inclusion upon The Wall". No Caption Needed analyses an image of a veteran at the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington. It, and the idea of In Memory Day, raise obvious questions of who we remember on our national 'days' and other significant anniversaries, who 'deserves' to be included in official lists of victims, and so on.

Debates have arisen in Peru about who features in the names around El ojo que llora - with some claiming that 'terrorists' are included and members of the armed forces excluded, and asserting that this was deliberate (see this article for a much more detailed discussion). To go further, was the man who died of a heart attack during the storming of the Japanese embassy a victim of the terrorists who had held him hostage, or, indeed of the armed forces who charged the building? Or neither, an unfortunate accident? Are soldiers killed by Shining Path to be exalted more than ordinary civilians so killed - or less? Or only if proven that they themselves have committed no human rights abuses? Do guerrillas killed in extrajudicial executions or in shootouts deserve mourning also?

Finally, the Argentine Post has pointed out a new book, Che's Afterlife: The Legacy of an Image, which deals with that photograph of Che. Yes, you know the one - the image of Che. Looks interesting, but in fact it's not unique, I already have one my bookshelf a copy of Che Guevara: Revolution and Icon by Trisha Ziff. It's based on an exhibition which I saw at the V&A in London, and it was truly fascinating. Clearly Che will be spinning on his grave at selling all those t-shirts - but the fact is, his image is probably the most extreme example around of an icon becoming divorced from its original subject.

So, there we have it for this evening: images recalling devastation in Haiti, images commemorating almost-forgotten victims of an unpopular war, and one of the most famous images in the world.

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