War photography promotes action, not glamourization

War photography often gets a bad rap because it stems from suffering—but passing it off as exploitation discounts the powerful impact images.

Photos shape our perceptions of events and allow people to experience things they otherwise couldn’t.

Starting in World Wars I and II, photos began to depict the harsh realities of war, showing demolished landscapes, knee-deep mud, and wounded men. These images helped debunk the glamorized notion of war and sacrifice. Similarly, during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, technological advancements allowed photographers to capture more intimate, first-hand shots on the battlefield.  As a result, the world was faced with horrific images of war, torn-apart towns and child soldiers.

While horrific, these images served a purpose. They fueled anti-war protests around America because they highlighted what was seen as senseless violence and unparalleled hardship caused by war.

Far-removed from conflict zones, war can feel like an abstract concept to most. It can be easy to let social issues fade into the background when they’re not directly affecting you. But photos re-focus the idea of war around the individuals involved, whether combatants or innocent bystanders. 

The aim of war photography isn’t to profit from pain but to share it in the hope that exposing suffering will spur action.

In 2016, on the same day British Prime Minister David Cameron refused to consider accepting more Syrian refugees into England, an image of a perished three-year-old Syrian refugee on a beach surfaced in the mainstream media. The boy and his family had been trying to reach Europe from Turkey, and the photo triggered widespread anger toward the idea that governments could idly sit by and watch young children die.  

The image prompted people all over the world to pressure their governments to give refuge to disadvantaged individuals. It showcased the harsh reality of resettlement prevention—namely, people trying to reach safety though dying because of it.

When considering refugees or war, it’s easy to get lost in the greater politics of the situation, but photos often reveal what’s at the heart of these issues: people.

Some deem these types of images too violent for mainstream news. But that’s not the fault of photographers. If searching for less violence in photos, we should consider advocating for less violence in the world around us.

At the end of the day, images of war and suffering speak for themselves. They shouldn’t be silenced.

Tessa is The Journal’s Assistant Photo Editor. She’s a second-year English major.

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