Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Captured Lives: The Power of a Photograph | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I was taken aback when I saw the picture.

On the front page of the newspaper was a picture of an American soldier standing at the corner of a house in Baghdad while it was raided.

A heavily pregnant Iraqi woman carrying a naked baby girl in her arms appeared in the picture. Beside her were two other children, a naked toddler girl and a half-naked little boy who was crying and appeared to be pushing the American soldier away with his hands.

Although I was disturbed by the image and it’s reflection of the absurdity of war, I still continued to study it closely. Some pictures demand that you go beyond what is depicted on the surface. It was a poor family that was caught off-guard by the raid and the soldier had apparently failed to reassure the frightened, miserable children. Skinny and dusty, what upset me the most was their nakedness.

Were they too poor to afford clothes? Or, more optimistically, did the raid catch the mother off guard while she was caring for her children? Was the soldier seeking to console the family or did his military demeanor and foreign language scare the bare little children even more? And why had he cornered the mother and her children like that? A picture like this one raises more questions and thoughts than it offers answers.

Just two days later, another picture was published of a Palestinian man who was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. The man’s body lay covered on his bed while his widow wept nearby. Their child, perhaps three years old, was sound asleep next to his father.

Had the mother intended to put her son in the same bed as his father? How could the child sleep so peacefully next to his father’s body that was being prepared for burial? And upon waking, had the child realized that his father wasn’t sleeping ¬– but was dead?

The pictures of the Baghdad raid and of Ramallah’s slain man and his child are not easy to get over. They cause a distress that we are incapable of understanding and cannot take for granted. It is as though these images reinforce the importance and role that press photographs play in terms of their ability to capture moments while offering us space for introspection — contrary to images on television, which are numerous and fleeting, their impact often gone once they have disappeared.

If revealed on the screen, these same scenes would elicit thoughts and emotions but they would be short-lived, whereas a photograph captures a scene that gains momentum in our consciousness.

The difference is vast. Talk of the power of television and its victory over the press is meaningless.

A photograph is more meaningful because it can freeze moments from the past into the present. Television is time but it is not substantial, whereas a photograph is material and matter is more powerful than time.