A few months ago, I read Fred Ritchin´s book : “After Photography” of (I wrote a post about it). In that book, Ritchin was interested on the possibilities that digital technology could bring into photojournalism. He set the example of a project he did with photographer; in this project, they put the photos of the second “in context”, meaning that they told the story of how each photo was taken, linked with each other to give more information about the images.
A couple of days ago, I saw Standard Operating Procedure, a magnificent documentary of the filmmaker Errol Morris (which by the way you can see it online), the film is an amazingly well done account of the history of the torture photos of Abu Ghraib. It takes, somehow, Ritchin´s premise about the possibilities of digital photography, since the people who are the main characters in the documentary, are precisely the people who made the photos. While the film is just good enough as a documentary, my point is about the discussion between realism and digital photography. In the 90´s, there were several voices talking about how digital technology will end forever the accurate representation of reality that was one of the main characteristics of photography. Some talked about “post-photography”, and some even said “photography was dead“. Although the debate seem less important in the current agenda on photography, at the same time, the pervasiveness and wide use of photography had opened new paths for “realism”.
Susan Sontag, one of the main contemporary thinkers on photography, wrote a text about these photos that begins with the statement: “Photographs have an insuperable power to determine what we recall of events”, therefore, she continues: Abu Ghraib´s photos were going to be what people will recall of Iraq war. Since: “the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken”, it becomes very relevant the fact that the photos were not shoot by professional photo-journalism but the actual soldiers in charge of the prison that were doing snapshots of their everyday life. Morris documentary takes us to the “context” of how, when, and why those photos were taken. In front of the “dead of realism”, announced by several “thinkers”, the snapshots of the digital era reminds us that reality will probably be still photographed. I’ll keep a quote of the military researcher of the photos: “Photographs are what they are. You can interpret them differently, but what the photograph depicts is what it is”