As a photojournalist I’m always drawn to pieces on the craft and journey of photographers. One article caught my eye, but it was less about the journey of the photographer and more about the journey of the photograph. “The War Photo No One Would Publish” by Torie Rose DeGhett gives a detailed account of the events leading up to and after the picture was taken and why almost no one would touch it.
Combat photojournalist Kenneth Jarecke did not want to shoot the Gulf War, but after seeing the work coming out in the early months, he got on the next flight to Saudi Arabia. In the article he tells the author, “It was one picture after another of a sunset with camels and a tank.”
His recount talks a lot about the logistical challenges of photographing an active military operation. Public Affairs officers chaperoned Jarecke and other journalists, and many photos published were militarily provided from cameras on planes. “The images were taken at an altitude that erased the human presence on the ground,” the articles states.
Just hours before the war officially ended, Jarecke and other press members were able to bend the rules and drive toward Kuwait along what is known as the ‘Highway of Death’. Stopping briefly, he got out of the car near a burned Iraqi vehicle and got the shot. The image of a killed enemy soldier was transmitted to America where not a single publication printed it. The Atlantic piece reads, “[Jarecke] assumed the media would be only too happy to challenge the popular narrative of a clean, uncomplicated war.”
The Associated Press removed it from their photo wire service and Time, who sent Jarecke, passed it over. Eventually two European publications did run the picture. The author interviewed many photo editors about their reasoning, many of whom admitted it was the wrong call. Criticizing the magazine a former Time photo editor says the issues, “were very sanitized” and “basically just propaganda.”
This article is important not just for photojournalists but anyone in the industry. Self-censorship is real and often editors get caught up in the decision making process. There are times when the privacy and respect make other photos more appropriate. However, looking for unpopular narratives is not just a journalistic principle but a freedom of speech principle as well. I highly recommend reading the entire article. It has dozens of bits that exemplify restrictions and editorial inhibitions that I could have written pages about. Also please share any thoughts that come to mind regarding this important issue.