August 7, 2006

The Right to Caption

The Right to Caption

Images don’t speak for themselves, they come with captions. People are fighting over who gets to put the caption on the image… It’s the caption that anchors those free-floating images, and right now, everybody’s trying to anchor the photograph in their side of the war… Now with the Nokia effect, you see a democratization of what the caption is going to be, what [meaning] a blogger will attach.

James Der Derian on Open Source

Last week, we discussed the Optics of this War; thinking towards our upcoming show about the Value of Life, a moment from our show Israel at War came to mind:

Resilience and normalcy has its disadvantages, I have to point out. In a normal society, when you’ve got people who are dead or dismembered or bleeding, you don’t call the international media to come take pictures of them. We’ve had children who’ve been killed and hurt and wounded as well, and because we are a normal society and we respect certain limits of dignity, our children are not all over CNN and all over the US networks… That is a disadvantage… when we try to be resilient, and try to be tough… we come off in the international stages, in the stage of public opinion, as cold and heartless.

Allison Kaplan Sommer on Open Source

This war is in part about producing and controlling images, those of children — wounded, traumatized and dead — in particular. As fast as photojournalists can snap them, bloggers have been latching on to the latest photographs from the Middle East and posting them with captions and references of their own.

A few examples from a very wide sea: Baheyya, an Egyptian blogger, contrasts graphic details of wounded children with the smiling conversations between Arab leaders. A website called electronic intifada chooses a small girl among an army of angry young protesting men to headline an article pleading for help from the Arab world. A Flickr user writes a makeshift thank you letter to Israelis, reacting in this case to a set of photographs. (After a little blog digging, it became clear that this particular reaction was massively reproduced and distributed after the events at Qana.)

In newspapers as well, dead and wounded children are at the top of the page. Monday’s Guardian brought the death of a child to the front page, a decision which is given some new light by news editor Shane Richmond. In the German Der Spiegel, one photograph of a group of children stands out as deeply upsetting, and questionably serendipitous.

Pictures of children in war aren’t new, but it’s become exponentially easier to pick apart and reassemble content from a broad and accessible range of material.

… I wonder why it is so difficult to think a little, to get it into our heads that television news and photojournalism manipulate our thoughts and emotions.

Lisa Goldman, Putting Things in Perspective, On the Face Blog, July 20, 2006

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