07 April, 2006

The Faces of War

I discovered photographer Lucian Read through a commenter at Blackfive's. The post was about the media's inability/unwillingness to provide thorough and balanced war coverage. Read was mentioned as someone capable of showing the truth of war, but in a balanced and non-sensational way.

His photographs are truly stunning (his most famous is that of Brad Kasal being carried out of a building after he was wounded). Read was with the Marines in Fallujah in November 2004, and followed them home the following February, taking photos the entire way. From the mundane--a LCpl leaning on his corpsman in slumber on the plane ride home, to the horrifying--the boot-encased foot of a dead Marine peeking into the frame with streaks of his blood on the floor in the foreground and his buddies crouched along a wall in mid-battle, Read's photos say more about the faces of war than any other contemporary photos or writing I have encountered.

The pinched and remembering expression of the young Marine seeing Southern California for the first time in nine months... I swear you can see every thought and emotion in his face. The body language of Marines in battle gear gathered around a pale-looking younger Marine with a tourniquet on his leg that is blood-red from the knee down...the photo drips with anxiety, but also steadiness, gentle concern, and calm competence.

And there are the lighter captured moments of battlefield humor and stress-reduction... such as some Marines' own radio-controlled "car bomb" and the "First Annual Thundering Third Chariot Races" the Marines held before the 2nd assault on Fallujah. Read does not hesitate to note that the man striding forth in a pictures from the races, holding his sword aloft in triumph, would leave a part of his leg in the city.

Those who say they "support the troops and their mission" and often complain about editorial bias in the photographs usually selected for publication are frequently told that they actually want to "whitewash" or diminish the horror of war by supressing disturbing pictures, that they just can't handle the reality of it or are afraid that if others saw "reality" they would turn against the war. But as Read's photos illustrate, balanced photo-journalism is not about sanitizing or denying the costs and horrors of war. His photos are unflinching (the color of blood is often the brightest thing in his frames), but they have a depth that is rarely found in photos selected merely for their shock/horror value instead of their ability to help tell a complex and honest story. Each photo is far more than a thousand words... if there even exist words to articulate what they contain.

Go see the story Lucian Read tells (after a photo is fully loaded, mouse over it for a detailed caption); you'll learn more about the real faces of war from his photos than anything you'll ever find in what passes for a newspaper these days .