Three Photos, Three Wars

The Death of A Loyalist Militiaman

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This picture of the Loyalist Militiaman is a photo taken by Robert Capa for the French magazine Vu. Although it is taken during the height of the Spanish Civil War, the photo is not about the Civil War itself. The vacant spaces make up the majority of the picture. The main focus is on the man-one Federico Borreli Garcia-but his identity or those of his executioners matter a little in this deeply impersonal photo . He is fighting against the forces he neither control nor see-a war that is so removed from his everyday life, and one that is so removed for the viewers too. 

The picture is not about the war’s destructiveness-the face of the falling soldier is almost relieved. Even the ravaged countryside of Spain is not showing in the picture. The picture is not about the physical warfare-amazingly absent from the picture are mortars, armies or other accessories of war. The picture is about the void it creates, the catharsis it provides from life and especially its mysterious presence (or lack thereof). War is vilified in the picture, not through visual blood or gore, but through its absence and the silent and subtle nob to man’s nature to fear the Great Unknown.

The Execution of A Vietcong Guerilla

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There were a lot of pictures taken during the Vietnam War-those of burning monks, fallen soldiers and whirling helicopters. But this picture by Eddie Adams is the one that defined the conflict and changed history. In the sharp contrast with Capa’s Falling Solider, personalities and identities did matter a lot in this picture. Amazingly, the picture that polarized the American public and shown the personal nature of the Vietnam War did not involved any Americans. It was the gunshot heard all over the world.

It is almost dehumanizing to personally witness the execution, no matter what the victim had done. It mattered a little that the person about to be executed was a Viet Cong Guerrilla responsible for killing twelve only that fateful morning. America–a nation that still supports death penalty by overwhelming numbers (for various reasons)–was shocked to its core.  In the picture, its framing, its lighting and its depth mattered little. For instance, picture was cropped again and again just to display the general and his victim. However, the act, ‘the thing itself’ spoke directly–the general is the personification of America’s hidden hand and her dirty involvement in the Vietnam Quagmire. Within two months, President Johnson would be announcing his desire not to pursue a second time. 

Exposing of A Gestapo Informer

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Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the greatest photographers of our time. He himself was a German prisoner-of-war and successfully escaped to France only on his third attempt. His photograph from inside Dessau exposed the society’s collective anguish in the aftermath of a war. It was a deeply personal photograph for him, and he ensured that it is a personal photograph for every viewer. 

In a camp of displaced persons waiting for repatriation, a Gestapo informer who had pretended to be a refugee is discovered and exposed by a camp inmate. The faces are the most striking part of this photo. On them are the judge’s aplomb, the denouncer’s rage, the Gestapo informer’s resignation, and faces of apathy and anger that frame the picture. The picture draws the audience into that anguished circle of the wronged. Had Cartier-Bresson been a painter, these would have been the allegories of Rage and Shame standing before Justice with a Greek chorus in the background. And we are that Greek Chorus. The intimate circle ensured that we share not only Agony, but also Shame and Responsibilities in the Aftermath of a War.

 

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