CLIO mr brice - page 34

Capturing Conflict:
In early September, a photo emerged
which sent shockwaves around the
world. The image was of a three
year old child, Alan Kurdi, his body
washed up on a Turkish beach. His
family was fleeing the brutal conflict
in Syria with the hope of starting a
new life in Canada.
Opinions on the migrant crisis
swiftly shifted, with the photo
highlighting with undeniable
urgency the constant dangers
facing those fleeing the Syrian
conflict. Donations to the charity
‘Migrant Offshore Aid’ increased
dramatically and a petition calling
on the government to do more
to help asylum seekers surged
pass the 100,000 mark. Days
later, David Cameron vowed to
take in ‘thousands’ more refugees
and pledged a further £100m in
humanitarian aid.
When tragic photographs such as
these emerge, questions regarding
conflict photography (this differing
from war photography, in capturing
not just the effects of conflicts on
soldiers in war, but also civilians
caught up in struggles) rearise. How
and when did conflict photography
emerge? How has it shaped our
views on conflicts in the last
century? And what power does it
Pre-dating photography, the
medium of painting was naturally
used to record conflicts. One
notable example is Francis Goya’s
famous ‘The Third of May, 1808’,
with wide-eyed Spanish resistance
fighters being confronted at gun-
point by Napoleonic troops. Whilst
the painting communicates the
terror and vulnerability felt by
those in the conflict, it lacks the
immediacy which photographs
convey. The rawness of emotions
and sense of urgency in a conflict
cannot be staged and only serve
to heighten the power and impact
photos have.
The history of photography began in
the 1830s, with the ‘daguerreotype
process’ using the sensitivity of
silver-iodine to light to create an
image on a metal plate. Although
other methods quickly surpassed
the original technique, the problem
remained that the photographic
process continued to require long
exposure with stationary subjects
to result in successful images-not
ideal for capturing the inevitably
frantic movements of those in
conflicts. As a result, images from
wars in the 19th century are
predominantly of the more inactive
elements of war-landscapes before
and after being ravaged by war,
military strongholds, photographs
of posing soldiers, or even dead
ones. Nineteenth century conflict
photography did not contain the
images of those actively caught up
in conflicts which we may recognise
However, by the early 20th century,
photography was no longer limited
by the need for the photo’s subjects
to be stationary. Instead, images
could be taken and recorded almost
instantaneously. This development
paved the way for conflict
photography to move into another
realm, of capturing the mobile
element of war. This is reflected
in photos taken during WW1, of
soldiers charging, almost certainly
to their deaths, ‘over the top’ of the
trenches into lines of enemy fire (1),
or of an artillery explosion spraying
up mounds of earth, with a German
soldier hurling himself down to
avoid being hit by shrapnel.
Fig 1. Over
the top of the
By Isobel Conlon
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