A TASTE OF BLOOD AND HONEY by
Barbara J. Green
B.A., Northwestern University, 1972 M.P.A., University of Colorado Boulder, 1977 J.D., University of Colorado Boulder, 1985
A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Humanities
This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by Barbara J. Green has been approved by
Green, Barbara J. (Master, Humanities)
A Taste of Blood and Honey Thesis directed by Myra Bookman
In 1991, photojournalist Ron Haviv travelled to the Balkans to cover independence movements in the countries that comprised Yugoslavia. What he observed were increasing levels of violence that bore the hallmark of ethnic cleansing of a scale that had not happened in Europe since World War II. His photographs have been collected into the book Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal. My thesis is that the power of Ron Haviv's photographs springs from the way that he captures images of people in relationship to each other and their environment. Because photography crosses disciplinary boundaries, this thesis is informed by the thinking of social and cultural critics, art historians, and war historians who have written about photography. The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty offers accounts of embodiment and perception that are crucial to understanding why Haviv's photographs of people are so exceptional. Part of the power of Ron Haviv's work is that he minimizes many of the inherent limitations of the medium as a means for documenting the reality of war by using techniques such as shots from below and close to the subjects, sharp focus on telling gestures and details, blurring of the boundaries of the frame, and elegant formal composition. More importantly, he dampens the effect of his own interpretive stance to such a degree that people express themselves through his camera directly to the viewer. He is able to do this because of a certain perceptual style of organizing the visual elements of the world through the camera to maximize his engagement with the people he photographs. He has appropriated the camera into his body schema as if it were an organ of perception in the same way the blind man uses the cane as eyes. The result is a collection of photographs of people who connect with us years and miles from the moment the shot was taken.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. INTRODUCTION ................................................ 1
2. BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE WORK OF MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY ........ 11
3. THE LIMITATIONS OF PHOTOGRAPHY AS A MEANS
TO DEPICT REALITY ......................................... 19
The Photograph Always Eliminates More than it Presents 20
Photographs are Two-Dimensional ......................... 21
Photographs Stop Time and Motion......................... 22
Photography is an Act of Violence....................... 23
The Photograph is an Interpretation of Reality by the Photographer and Camera.................................. 24
4. THE SUBJECT MATTER OF BLOOD AND HONEY ...................... 29
The Tradition of War Photography......................... 29
Yugoslavia: The Historical Context of the Conflict...... 37
5. LOOKING CLOSELY AT BLOOD AND HONEY ......................... 44
Human Beings and the Things that Surround Them............ 44
Posing for the Camera .................................... 65
Damaged Bodies, Dying, and Death.......................... 73
The Role of Composition................................... 81
Images of Violence........................................ 92
6. CONCLUSION.................................................. 101
REFERENCES ........................................................... 106
LIST OF FIGURES
1 Col. Doherty, Officers and Men, 13th Light Dragoon, 1855 ............... 31
2 5,000 Cubic Feet Nurse Balloons ........................................ 32
3 Women and Children Crouched in Muddy Canal
Take Cover from Fire................................................. 35
4 Dousing the Flames...................................................... 45
5 Albanian Woman Churns Butter............................................ 49
6 Victorious Serb......................................................... 52
7 Muslim in Bijelina Begs for His Life after Capture
by Arkan's Tigers ................................................... 54
8 Execution of Viet Cong Man ............................................. 55
9 Survivors of Srebrenica ................................................ 59
10 Arkan and His Men....................................................... 67
11 Father and Son.......................................................... 69
12 Muslim and Croatian Prisoners of War.................................... 74
13 Prisoners at Trnopolje Camp ............................................ 76
14 Starved Prisoners at Ebensee Austria.................................... 77
15 Preparing Baby for Burial............................................... 83
16 The Lamentation by Giotto.......................................... 84
17 Wounded Man ....................................................... 88
18 Serbian Military Commando.......................................... 93
19 Brutality.......................................................... 99
In 1991, photojournalist Ron Haviv travelled to the Balkans to cover
independence movements in the countries that comprised Yugoslavia. What he
observed were increasing levels of violence that bore the hallmark of ethnic
cleansing: "Each side was determined to purify the area. Refugees began to
number in the thousands" (Haviv, "Photo Essay"). Haviv stayed through the course
of the war, documenting the violence, and its impact on people going about their
daily lives in the midst of massive killing and destruction. As he explains:
The intent was to bring attention to the situation, to help people reach decisions in order to bring about change. Unfortunately change never really occurred. Today I hope the work stands as part of a document of the war. It is an accusation to those who saw yet stood by and did nothing until thousands had died and millions became refugees. (Haviv, "Photo Essay")
The photographs that he took to document the war in the Balkans form the exhibit
called "Blood and Honey" and are collected in the book entitled Blood and Honey:
A Balkan War Journal. In her review of the exhibit and the book, Karen Vanmeenen
writes: "Haviv has captured the varying emotions--from terror to grief to triumph-
that the conflict in the Balkans has instilled in all sides--from civilian to military to
rebel freedom fighter" (Vanmeenen 37).
"Blood and Honey" was presented in 2002 without captions in the Serbian
city of Novi Sad with a blank sheet of paper next to each photograph so that people could write their personal impressions. Reports say that the papers were filled with vitriolic comments reflecting guilt, intolerance, and chauvinism. A short film, Vivisect, captures the public reaction. Interestingly, the Serb authorities ultimately banned the exhibit because it was perceived as biased against the Serbians. In 2004, "Blood and Honey" was displayed in Dubrovnik's gallery, War Photo Limited, as part of an exhibition of 700 photographs entitled "A Decade of War." The exhibit is now part of the Museum of War Photography in that city. The New York Times reported in June 2004 that foreign visitors to the exhibit by and large were shocked by what they saw, and dismayed at how little they knew about the conflict. The reactions of residents from the region were mixed. Some reportedly refused to go to see the exhibit because the experience for them was still too intense. Photographs from the collection continue to be exhibited around the world today.
Since seeing the exhibit in Dubrovnik, I have wondered why these particular photographs have such an impact, even after repeated viewing. To use a phrase coined by Roland Barthes, I am interested in why these photographs "animate me" ("Camera Lucida" 20). Although the subject matter-the war in the Balkans--is
powerful in and of itself, I believe that the lasting impact of Ron Haviv's photographs in the "Blood and Honey" collection comes from the way that he has captured images of human bodies in relationship to each other and their environment, rather than from images of battle scenes, war machinery, or pageantry. Like many war photographs taken during and after the Vietnam War, those in "Blood and Honey" do not depict military heroism or bravery and they avoid assigning the moral high ground to any side in the conflict. Most of the images are neither bloody nor gruesome, nor are they sentimentalized.
War photographs are apt to be more powerful than other forms of photography because their subject matter is horrific historical events. The "Blood and Honey" photographs are no exception; they cover the first European war since World War II largely motivated by the goal of ethnic cleansing. As discussed in Chapter 4, the war was fought primarily in urbanized areas by paramilitary units instead of uniformed armies associated with governmental powers. The men's lack of formal training and discipline fueled by alcohol unleashed their capacity to kill indiscriminately and mindlessly. To the western world, such barbarism had purportedly been banished forever from European soil once World War II came to a
close. Seen within this historical context, the photographs in "Blood and Honey"
are evidence of man's continuing capacity for cruelty.
Even though the subject matter of war photography is inherently disturbing, the medium of photography has serious limitations as a substitute for a first-hand experience of reality. These limitations are discussed in Chapter 3. For example, photographs are not a transparent window onto the world. They always are static representations of people, carved out of a larger world, mediated by the camera and the photographer to a significant degree. Ron Haviv, however, minimizes the limitations of the medium in a way that reveals the personal experience of the individuals he photographs. He accomplishes this through a combination of techniques such as shots from below and close to the subjects, sharp focus on telling gestures and details, blurring of the boundaries of the frame, and elegant formal composition. Most importantly, Haviv's perceptual style, as that term is used by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, encourages a connection between the viewer and the people in the photographs; through the use of the camera as an extension of his body, Ron Haviv organizes and expresses his perception of the experience of others.
The quest to identify the factors that contribute to the impact of Ron Haviv's
photographs benefits from different critical disciplines because photography "dissolves and reconfigures disciplinary boundaries" (Nichols 43). Photography is torn between expressive language, and a critical language that transverses several discourses (Barthes, "Camera Lucida" 8). Reflecting the multi-faceted nature of photography, and its relative status as a newcomer among cultural artifacts, photography theory and criticism tend to draw on a variety of fields such as history, art history and criticism, literary criticism, semiotics, and philosophy. Concepts from each one of these disciplines will be applied to evaluate the impact of Ron Haviv's images.
For an example, works by Jorge Lewinski and Bernd Huppauf on the evolution of war photography provide a context and point of comparison for "Blood and Honey". Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 and essays in Blood and Honey: A Balkan War Journal have been consulted to establish the historical context of the Balkan conflict set out in Chapter 4. The analysis in Chapter 5 of individual photographs is informed by the thinking of art historian John Szarkowski, who provides a framework for describing the appearance of individual photographs, and insights by the semiotician Roland Barthes into the
impact of photographs and tools for uncovering their connoted messages. Aiding in this analysis are the ideas of Susan Sontag, who has written widely on photography, which explore the relationship between photographs and reality, and raise questions about the impact of war photographs in an age of image saturation. Finally, the work of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty about the human body and perception contributes to an understanding of why we connect with images of people, and how the perceptual experience of the photographer is expressed through the camera.
The photographs in "Blood and Honey" can be looked at as three distinct but interacting layers to be excavated methodically, from the outside in, to uncover the characteristics that contribute to their force. In Chapter 5, selected photographs from "Blood and Honey" are excavated layer by layer to identify the factors that make a particular photograph provoke or move the viewer. The outside layer has two entwined components: the subject matter and subject of the photograph (i.e. the "who, what, and where" of the image) and the formal characteristics of the image. The first layer is a function of essential choices made by the photographer, including choices such as what to photograph, how the image is framed, the vantage point, focus, exposure, and lighting. The effect of the
photographer's choices directly implicates the meaning of the world that ultimately is reproduced by the camera. The next layer of the photograph consists of the connotative content of the images. For example, a statue juxtaposed with the image of a soldier might connote bravery or a link to an historic figure. A certain style of dress might connote an ethnic or religious affiliation. The innermost layer consists of visual clues given by the positions, postures, expressions and so forth of people which reveal their lived experience.
Beginning with the outside layer, the analysis of individual photographs in Chapter 5 explains how formal elements contribute to the riveting impact of "Blood and Honey." The terms used to define these elements are borrowed from descriptions of drawing and painting such as line, shape, light, color, and mass; terms unique to photography like point of view, contrast, frame, sharpness, focus and scale also are used. Relying on the work of John Szarkowski, the analysis will consider "the thing itself," that is, the problem of the difference between the real world subject and the photograph of the subject; "the detail" which pertains to the way fragments of facts tell a story without the possibility of narrative; "the frame" which is the important formal characteristic that can isolate, combine, and truncate images; "time" which considers implications of isolating and immobilizing a slice of
time; and "vantage point" which explores the impact on meaning of camera location with respect to the image, lens size, and so forth (Szarkowski 6-11).
Moving to the next layer, social and cultural messages, not readily apparent at first glance, emerge as reasons why the images of people strike a chord. As Roland Barthes explains, on the surface level, a photograph denotes something in particular: a soldier, a house, a field. At the same time, the photograph conveys "a connoted message, which is the manner in which the society to a certain extent communicates what it thinks of it" (Barthes, "Rhetoric" 17). Objects and people in photographs connote meaning because of their association with cultural myths and power dynamics. In war photographs, uniforms, flags, and banners are reminders that the State is always watching and controlling behavior. Architecture, streetscapes, and infrastructure can connote a particular social milieu or economic conditions. The clothing, hairstyles, and facial features of people may hint at ethnic origins, socio-economic status, well-being or emotional devastation. The search for the connoted message opens a photograph to many different interpretations, any one of which may contribute to the over-all impact of a photograph.
To consider the innermost layer, the work of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, summarized briefly in Chapter 2, is applied to explain why
the physical postures, expressions, and gestures of people in the photographs call
out to the viewer, and to suggest how Ron Haviv may have been able to create such evocative images under the conditions presented by war. Two overlapping lines of thought aid in the inquiry. The first line consists of Merleau-Ponty's account of the human body as the living process by which a human encounters and makes meaning of the world. The body is the primary means of inter-subjective expression and understanding. In the facial expressions, posture, and gestures of others we recognize modifications of behavior that we immediately understand as the expression of grief or anger or so forth because we are embodied and inter-subjective beings ("Phenomenology of Perception" 415). Haviv's photographs are composed and focused in a way that accentuates these behaviors and thus, the emotions that they embody.
The second line of Merleau-Ponty's thinking involves a nuanced concept of style, not as an aesthetic category, but as a behavioral manner of perceiving and expressing the significance that perception reveals. Merleau-Ponty's thinking about perceptual style and vision offers an interesting explanation for how Ron Haviv is able to create elegantly composed and evocative images under such dire circumstances. From this point of view, Haviv's images of people are an expression
of his personal and habitual way of perceiving others through his camera as an extension of his body. Like the artist and his paintbrush, Haviv adjusts his body and the camera to the demands of what he is trying to express on film.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE WORK OF MAURICE MERLEAU-PONTY
To understand why we are primed to connect to images of human bodies, and how Ron Haviv enhances this connection through his picture taking technique, Maurice Merleau-Ponty's work on the body and perception is particularly instructive in two ways. First, it offers a framework for understanding why we are attuned to the bodily postures, gestures and expressions of others, and second, it provides a theory for the way that Ron Haviv's perceptual style, or sensory-motor behavior, organizes compelling images even under the duress of war.
For Merleau-Ponty, perception is neither knowledge or thought, nor a brute response to stimuli. Perception is a pre-conceptual, bodily intertwining with the world out of which all meaning emerges. "The perceiving mind is an incarnated mind" (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 3). We know that objects have several faces because we could walk around them, and in that sense we are conscious of the world by means of the body (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 94-5). Perception is characterized by a finite perspectival orientation, the contrast between figure and background, and the contrast between focus and horizon. The world, and our thinking about the world, stands out against the
background of perception in the same way that a visible figure in the foreground
stands out against the background of a painting. Merleau-Ponty accepts this perceived world as giving us the primary and truest sense of real before we ever think about it ("Primacy of Perception" xviii).
Important to understanding our connection to others in the world is Merleau-Ponty's concept of body schema through which the parts of the body "collect" themselves in pursuit of the task at hand ("Phenomenology of Perception" 115). We do not experience the body in a determinate position in relation to external coordinates, nor is it just the sum of individual parts. We experience the body and its parts in relation to its tasks. Thus, a staircase has meaning to me because I can climb it. The body "is polarized by its tasks, it exists toward them, it gathers itself up to reach its goal, and 'body schema' is in the end a way of expressing that my body is in the world" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 117). The body is a system of motor projects that contribute to the perception of objects (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 5). To move one's body is to aim at things through it and respond to their call ("Phenomenology of Perception" 161). In other words, objects solicit a bodily response from us and we aquire the bodily skills to interact with them. There is thus a recriprocal or
synergetic relationship between the body and objects in the world.
The same synergistic relationship applies to ourself and others. First and foremost, we live in an intersubjective world. We perceive others as human bodies, interconnected with our own, before we observe them as any particular type of person or character:
Between my consciousness and my body, as I intend it, between this phenomenal body and that of another, as I see it from the outside, there exists an internal relation that makes the other appear as the completion of a system. The other can be evident to me because I am not transparent for myself, and because my subjectivity draws its body in its wake. (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 410)
To a certain extent we can experience another person's experience because we share a common bodily openness onto one and the same world, "a single world where we all participate as anonymous subjects of perception" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 411). As the parts of my body form a system, so too my body and the other's are two sides of the same phenomenon ("Phenomenology of Perception" 412).
From earliest childhood, the body is innately attuned to others and able to aquire bodily and social skills from watching others. This preconceptual connection with the other allows us to experience the other even when language is unavailabe.
It is precisely my body which perceives the body of another, and discovers in that
body a miraculous prolongation of my own intentions, a familiar way of dealing
with the world" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 412). Through
the body schema, we are attuned to find a correspondence between another's
behavior and our own that makes empathy possible:
I perceive the grief or the anger of the other in his conduct, in his face or his hands, without recourse to any "inner" experience of suffering or anger, and because grief and anger are variations of belonging to the world, undivided between the body and consciousness, and equally applicable to the other's conduct, visible in his phenomenal body, as in my own conduct as it is presented to me. (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 415)
It follows that even when viewing a photograph of another person, we might be
able to recognize a familiar way of dealing with the world, and through that
familiarity, experience a connection with the other. Those photographs in which
bodily positions, gestures and expressions are spotlighted will enhance the
possibility of this connection.
The second strain of thought that offers an explanation for the way that Haviv is able to create outstanding photography turns on Merleau-Ponty's notions of style and vision. Merleau-Ponty uses the term style, not to describe a way to categorize or evaluate works of art, but to explain a behaviorial way of organizing
and intrepreting the world through the body. Because all perception occurs through the body, perception always is perspectival; we can never fully experience all aspects of an object or all aspects of another person. Thus, our perception of an object is an interpretation of the world from a particular bodily point of view, and in that sense, "perception already stylizes" (Merleau-Ponty, "Signs" 67). We have a habitual situating of the body in the world in response to things; hands or eyes move in a certain way to yield the touch or the look of an object. Accordingly, everyone expresses a certain background style, or way of being in the world, that sets us apart from others through our bodily comportment and skills such as speech, handwriting, gestures, thought patterns, and so forth.
Sometimes the body is functioning as a basic life-support system, positing a biological world around it. At other times, the body elaborates on these primary actions to move from literal to figurative meaning, as in dancing. Sometimes the meaning aimed at by the body requires the appropriation of an instrument, such as a musical instrument which allows us to project a cultural world. The paint brush becomes part of the body for these artists in the same way that the cane is an extension of the blind man's body as he interprets the world around him: "To get used to a hat, a car or a stick is to be transplanted into them, or conversely, to
incorporate them into the bulk of our own body" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 143). This thinking could also be applied to photography to explain how an accomplished photographer develops habitual, refined skills that allow him to express his perception of the world through the camera.
Those who are skilled in artistic endeavors develop a certain style, that is, habitual, refined motor skills and heightened awareness that express their perception of the world through their chosen medium (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 168-170). Merleau-Ponty does not, however, believe that the meaning expressed in art is generated exclusively by the artist. Rather, the artist is a conduit for expression of the art. In "The Visible and Invisible", Merleau-Ponty explains this relationship by describing how a musician "feels himself and others feel him to be at the service of the sonata; the sonata sings through him" ("Visible and Invisible" 199). Applying this reasoning to photography would mean that the photographer is at the service of his subjects, and the subjects express their experience through him.
In the essay "Eye and Mind", Merleau-Ponty characterizes painting as an expression of vision. In other words, painting is not so much a representation of the world as it is a visual re-creation of the act of vision itself. The body is an
intertwining of vision and movement, and the body also is visible in the world where vision and movement take place. Thus, vision and movement occur on the "map of the visible," and everything that is visible is marked on the internal map of what can be reached or seen, i.e. the "I can" (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 162). Both maps are part of the same world (Merleau-Ponty, "Visible and Invisible" 133). Moreover, the visible and the seer are intertwined because things and the body are "made of the same stuff" (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 164). There is a kind of crossover or series of exchanges between seeing and being seen, touching and being touched, between one hand and the other, and between one eye and the other (164).
Merleau-Ponty goes on to say that things awaken an echo in our body and the body welcomes them. Visible "things have an internal equivalent in me; they arouse in me a carnal formula of their presence" (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 164). The skilled artist makes visible, with his paint and paintbrush, this carnal formula, this vision from the inside. Thus, when looking at a painting, I do not see it, "I see according to, or with it" (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 164). Although Merleau-Ponty does not draw the same conclusion, the same would follow for a photograph. To create a photograph, the skilled photographer like
Ron Haviv would use his body and the camera to make visible his way of seeing the world. When we, as the viewer, look at such a photograph we see the world according to or with the photograph.1
1 In "Eye and Mind" Merleau-Ponty is somewhat dismissive of photography as compared to painting because it freezes motion whereas a painting can depict motion (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 185-86). This distinction does not undercut the argument that photography, like painting, is a representation of a bodily attitude or way of seeing the world.
THE LIMITATIONS OF PHOTOGRAPHY AS A MEANS TO DEPICT REALITY
As a record of devastating historic events, war photography will be effective the more we believe that it realistically represents those events. Yet, photography is inherently limited as a medium to depict reality because photographs capture images of the world in an artificial way. The experience of looking at a photographic image is unlike our visual perceptual experience of the lived world. Moreover, the world that photographs capture has been heavily mediated by the photographer and his camera. Because of the photograph's limitations, it can never be a direct substitute for reality. Much of the strength of Ron Haviv's work is his ability to minimize or overcome these limitations so that the image in the photograph seems realistic because it is not completely alien from our perceptual experience of the world.
At first blush, a photograph is "real" because it emanates directly from an object that actually existed in the real world. Even though people or objects may actually look different from the way they are portrayed in a photograph, the photograph always references something that actually existed in the real world, or an event that actually happened. According to Roland Barthes, we "can never deny
that the thing [in a photograph] has been here" ("Camera Lucida" 4). As Susan Sontag says: "The picture may distort, but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what is in the picture" ("On Photography" 15). In fact, the belief in a direct correspondence between photographs and reality is so much a part of our culture that photographs frequently are used as documentary evidence in courts of law. Nevertheless, a photograph is not a direct window onto the world. In the end, "a photograph can best be understood not as an answer or an end to inquiry, but as an invitation to look more closely, and to ask questions" (Gourevitch and Morris 148).
The Photograph Always Eliminates More than it Presents At its most basic, the photograph always eliminates more than it presents. Only a tiny piece of the world ends up within the frame. In fact, John Szarkowski writes that the central act of photography is "the act of choosing and eliminating" (Szarkowski 9). The photograph's frame demarcates the visible world between what is in the frame and what will forever remain outside the frame. This act of elimination is essentially an interpretive act (Butler 67). In the "real" world, the frame is not fixed and the edges of vision are not sharply defined; they are indistinct and fluid. When we perceive the world, our perceptual horizon constantly shifts as
we move our body. We always can see beyond the horizon of our perception by
turning our head or moving to a different place. In the same way, our perceptual field is greater that our visual field. For example, we "perceive" things lying behind our back, or that we do not completely grasp. In contrast, the frame of the photograph narrows the perceptual horizon so that all we perceive is that which is directly in front of our eyes.
Photographs are Two-Dimensional
Photographs are limited in their ability to represent the sense of depth inherent in a three-dimensional world. This is because depth is not an external relationship between different objects; it is a function of the body's place in the world. It is only through the body that notions like up or down, depth or flatness make any sense at all. "I live it from the inside, it encompasses me. After all, the world is all around me, not in front of me" (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 59). A photograph, on the other hand, is impenetrable. We will always be standing outside the photograph in a way that we can never stand outside the world we live in. Photographs that show objects and people overlapping or encroaching on each other will appear to have a greater sense of depth than those that depict a single plane.
Photographs Stop Time and Motion
As Andre Bazin puts it, photography "embalms time" (Bazin 8). A single moment is caught on film to be seen over and over again, unchanged. The photograph severs all ties to the past and future that ordinarily provide an important context for understanding the lived world. When considering a photographic image, we are looking retrospectively from our position in the present, toward one isolated moment in the past. In the real world, moments are not preserved in isolation from each other. The meaning of our experience of the present always is informed by memories of the past and anticipation of the future. In contrast, information about what happened directly before or after the moment the photograph was taken typically is not available as a way to set the image within the context of a flow of time.
So too, photography stops motion and isolates an object from preceding or subsequent motions in a way that can result in an image that appears even less "real" than a moving object depicted in a painting. For example, if a horse is photographed while running with two feet off the ground folded under him, he looks like he is leaping in space. Merleau-Ponty suggests that this illusion is created because the photograph has
stopped motion at a point when the horse has no "grip" on space. By appearing to stop time cold, the photograph "lies" because it "keeps open the instants which the onrush of time closes up forthwith; it destroys the over-taking, the overlapping, the 'metamorphis' [Rodin] of time" (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 185-86). Merleau-Ponty goes on to compare this to the painting Epsom Derby by Gericault which shows the horse's way of taking hold of time by showing its grip on the soil beneath him.
While photography can distort reality by stopping time, it also makes us look long at an image that otherwise would be fleeting. "It either reveals too little by capturing only a single instant, or too much by calling attention to details that we ordinarily would see only fleetingly, if at all" (Carman 193). This phenomenon of photography may cause a photograph to focus our attention on otherwise unimportant details to the point that we lose track of the context and "the photograph lies" (Bazin 8).
Photography is an Act of Violence
As the shutter snaps shut, the camera cannot help but commit an act of violence on the people being photographed. The photographer "takes a shot" to "capture" an image. "Not by chance, the photographic art (or acting, who knows?)
has been frequently compared with shooting, and the camera with a gun"
(Metz 214). Human bodies are truncated by the frame, flattened, attenuated or foreshortened, shrunk or made huge. They are silenced, immobilized, and frozen in time. This violence to the human body can mute the inherent expressiveness of human bodies to the point that we are unable to understand anything at all about the lived experience of the people in a photograph. The difference between a powerful photograph and one that fails to move us is the difference between a photograph that brings alive the innate expressiveness of the human body, and one that squelches it.
The Photograph is an Interpretation of Reality by the Photographer and Camera
At best, a photograph, like any visual art, can never be other than an interpretation of reality. A photograph only contains the images in the world that catch the photographer's eye, or that confirm the photographer's point of view, or that convey the photographer's message. The world outside the frame of the photograph is invisible and mute. The photographer-camera dynamic dictates to us what is visible and invisible within the photograph. The photographer's selection of lighting, film quality and speed, distance between objects, camera angle, distance from the lens, and so forth, further controls the images that we see. These choices
result in a reproduction of reality that has been substantially mediated by the photographer and the camera.
To be sure, a photograph always is indexical, tied to its referent in a way that a painting never can be, but the photographer's choices can slacken the ties so much that the image no longer bears any resemblance to the referent. For example, the photographer can take an out-of-focus shot resulting in an unintelligible image or blow-up small details so that they are no longer recognizable. The photographer's choices also can render things freshly visible just as poetic language can reveal a new way of seeing the world. This expressive capacity allows photography to convey the emotional sense of an actual lived experience, even though the photograph is not the same thing as the experience itself.
Where the photographer stands and the lens he selects for the camera establishes the illusion of a spatial relationship between the viewer and the images in the photograph. Depending on camera angle, lens, and the photographer's position, it may appear that we are peering through a peephole, looking through a window, kneeling at the entrance to a room, standing amidst the people within the frame, or gazing from the distance. Photographs that emphasize the distance
between the photographic space and the viewer offer a broader visual horizon, but
may create emotional distance. A photograph where images are centered and their edges are sharply-focused, also may create distance by calling attention to the proscenium" that separates the viewer from the contents of the image. On the other hand, when images are close to the front of the picture plane and their edges are blurred, the separation between the viewer and the world within the photograph is minimized.
The attitude of the photographer also has a substantial impact on the emotional content of photographs because the camera affords an individual the opportunity to externalize his impressions and feelings as an image (Lewinski 14).
As Bernd Huppauf observes, the way in which a photograph is framed through the viewfinders and the photographer's attitudes towards reality are closely related, or even may be identical (Huppauf 14-15). One way that the photographer's attitude toward reality is made manifest is through the "gaze." In a study of war photographs taken by private photographers of the Holocaust, Huppauf concludes that the German photographers had a way of seeing the world that transformed the eye into an instrument for registering movements, and reduced the character of a person to that of a specimen (Huppauf 133). Many of these photographs were
taken from the distance at the edge of the killing sites and from elevated positions that separated the space of the camera from the space of the objects in front of it. In contrast, when a photographer shoots up at people from a close-in, kneeling position, a compassionate attitude is more likely at play. Finally, a photographer's style, his unique embodied way of perceiving, or making meaning from visual images in the world, will be reflected in the photographic images that he produces.
The combination of technique and attitude can hijack our own perceptual experience and dictate forever how we see what we see within an image. From the moment that a photograph has been taken, the viewer's meaning-making capacity becomes ensnared in the web of choices made by the photographer. The viewer is trapped in the photographer's point of view as exposed by the camera. As a result, much of the constitutive dimension that is the hallmark of human perception is no longer in play. According to Merleau-Ponty, consciousness brings to light through attention the unity of the object. By paying attention, what was indeterminate becomes "explicit and articulate" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 35). Contrary to this active role that we play in understanding the lived world through the act of paying attention, the attention already has been "paid" by the photographer before we made meaning of a photographic image. The images
in the photograph do not come to our attention, for example, by walking around
them, turning our head, or selecting a different vantage point. When looking at a photograph, we can only shift our attention from one detail to another within a frozen picture where the horizon has been pre-determined and where the distinction between figure and ground have been pre-selected by the camera's focus. The relationship between figure and ground, and the interplay of colors and light, are fixed rather than fluid and interchangeable as they are when we perceive the lived world. A photographic image is like the face in the moon, or sheep on a distant cliff, previously invisible until they were pointed out to us, but once we recognize the face or the sheep, there is no turning back to any pre-objective experience of the moon and the cliff. The photograph demands "Look at this in this way, only this way, and always this way!"
THE SUBJECT MATTER OF BLOOD AND HONEY The impact of war photography is bound up in the scale and horror of the events that it chronicles. The photographs collected in "Blood and Honey" cover the war that erupted in the former Yugoslavia in 1991 which was the first war fought on European soil that was characterized by ethnic cleansing and massive dislocation of entire populations. War photography by its nature covers horrific events. Yet, as Susan Sontag observes, "harrowing" photographs may haunt us, but without a context they "are not much help if the task is to understand" ("Regarding the Pain of Others" 90). By way of example, Sontag considers Ron Haviv's well-known photograph of a soldier kicking a woman lying on the ground (see figure 18). Standing alone, the photograph may haunt us, but it could eclipse our understanding, and therefore, our ability to grasp or remember the ferocity of what really happened in the Balkans. The context of a war photograph, thus, is an important piece of its effectiveness.
The Tradition of War Photography
The photographs in "Blood and Honey" are part of a western tradition of war photography, beginning with photographs of the Crimean War, that document
war. The collection is situated within the post-Vietnam War, pre-digital time period
that is commonly associated with unflinching close-up shots of the cruelest aspects of war and its impact on civilians. The evolution of war photography tracks with changes both in technology and attitudes about war. In the beginning, war photography focused on predominantly heroic images of soldiers, such as Roger Fenton's courtly portraits of camp life and battle sites during the Crimean War (see figure 1). Because of heavy equipment and the need for a traveling darkroom, no action shots were possible. Fenton also was asked to take photographs that would reassure the public of the continued viability of the British Empire in the face of negative written reports from the Crimean War. As result, Fenton's photographs did nothing to inform the public about the reality of war.
Figure 1. Col. Doherty, Officers and Men, 13th Light Dragoon, 1855
The American Civil War was chronicled in detail by photographers dispatched by Mathew Brady. Heavy equipment still made action shots impossible, but Brady was intent on making a record of the war itself, rather than having an immediate impact on attitudes about the war. Months and sometime years separated the actual events from the photography exhibits (Lewinski 222). But once the public was confronted by pictures of dead bodies strewn on the Antietam battlefield taken by Brady's crews, war photography was changed forever.
Although the public was shocked, the taboo against images of dead bodies was lifted.
World War I photographs were rarely close-up shots and they failed to
express the nightmarish realities of trench warfare, even though photographers were assigned to front-line duties and no longer needed to take the dark room with them onto the battle field (Lewinski 67). Editors of newspapers and magazines still preferred illustrations to photographs because photographers had yet to understand the power of photographs to communicate emotions (Lewinski 69-70). In addition, the structurally inhuman scale of World War I was impossible to depict through the medium of photography so photographs of soldiers juxtaposed against mammoth war machinery are common (Huppauf, "Experiences of Modern Warfare" 51-70).
Figure 2. 5,000 Cubic Feet Nurse Balloons.
The Spanish Civil War, the first war where 35 millimeter cameras allowed
photographers to shoot action shots from the midst of the fighting, has been called the last war of heroic imagery (Huppauf, "Experiences of Modern Warfare" 64). Robert Capa's photograph of a man taken at the moment he is being shot is emblematic of the Spanish Civil War. In this war, the enemy was the anonymous fascist barbarian who used cold technology as his means while the moral high ground belonged to the peasants and poets. There were clearly good guys and bad guys in the images of the Spanish Civil War, although the reality is a war that pitted brother against brother. Although some of the photographs were published in magazines and newspapers during the war, many Spanish Civil War photographs never made it past the censors.
World War II photographs run the gamut from heroic, epic shots of jaunty troops at the beginning of the war, to shocking pictures of dead and starving people in death camps at the end of the war. Interestingly, most photographs issued during the war were patriotic or mundane. Not until the war was over were photographs made available to the public that showed the reality of war and the havoc it created (Lewinski 136).
According to Hal Buell who ran the Associated Press photo service for
twenty-three years, the Vietnam War was a turning point for war photographers because there was no censorship, photographers had open access to every aspect of the war, and the purpose of the war was the topic of intense debate. As far as war photographic coverage, there never was and probably will never be another war like it; "Vietnam was the freest war to cover" (Lewinski 197). Because the war was unpopular, and television, magazines, newspapers, and books were ubiquitous, a huge demand developed for photographs that showed the human suffering caused by war. Graphic photos of dead or wounded soldiers were shown nearly every night on television. The Vietnam War created a new "style" of war photography with its own "symbols of the essence of war" dominated by close-up shots of ravaged civilians and dead and dying soldiers (Lewinski 201). During this period, war photography moved from a cautious glance from the distance to a "keen gaze through a microscope" (Lewinski 201). The photographs were intended to have an immediate impact on the world at large. Haviv seems to have enjoyed the same freedom from censorship and access experienced by Vietnam era photographers, so many of his images share the close-up view of human suffering and violence that characterizes photographs from this era.
Figure 3. Women and Children Crouched in Muddy Canal Take Cover from Fire
Most of the well-known Vietnam War photographers had served in the military before they began to chronicle the war. Haviv, on the other hand, was not influenced by any prior knowledge of the region, details of military objectives, or the political interests of the United States. In that sense, Haviv entered the Balkans with a fresh eye, unencumbered by personal or political prejudices. His point of view developed as he experienced the war.
Since Haviv took the "Blood and Honey" photographs, two changes have occurred that have influenced the field of war photography. The first is the United States' involvement in war, and the second is the invention of digital photography. The United States' direct engagement in war since September 11, 2001 has given rise to an increase in censorship. Official photographs of the Iraq War, for example,
were heavily-censored by the United States government and the military. The reality of the war was simply too far from the way it had been presented to the public for the government to let photographs of dead troops or mutilated Iraqi's be published. Support for the war depended upon the notion of "surgical strikes" and minimal "collateral damage." An article appearing on the Salon website in 2005 also suggests that because Iraq photographers were embedded with the troops, they were reluctant to take pictures of dying or dead people with whom they had become friends (Kamiya, "Iraq: The unseen war").
The invention of the digital camera has increased the ease and speed of photography, and allows the nearly instantaneous publication of photographic images edited and controlled by the photographer. The first war to be covered digitally was the war in Afghanistan. When Ron Haviv was photographing the war in the Balkans, he had to figure out a way to get rolls of films to an airport to be sent to editors in New York or Paris. He would not know for days which photographs the editor had selected. With digital photography, photographers can do their own editing on a laptop in the field. The dark side of digital technology is the fear that we will never be able to tell the difference between an image that is "real" and an image that has been altered by the computer. Haviv's Balkan
photographs are not subject to the same degree of skepticism because they were
taken in the pre-digital age.
Yugoslavia: The Historical Context of the Conflict Yugoslavia itself was created after World War I by the cobbling together of lands comprising many different ethnic and religious groups and cultures living on a peninsula in southeastern Europe referred to as the Balkans by the western world. The word Balkan actually is the name of one chain of mountains in Bulgaria, but it came to be used in the 1800s to describe the larger geopolitical region on the peninsula made up of different kingdoms and countries. Because of its geographic location at the cross-roads of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, the peninsula has been the scene of successive waves of immigration and invasions and outside meddling for centuries. The recent seeds of the wars in the former Yugoslavia were sown in the 19th century. In 1814, Serbs revolted against the Ottomans and created the principality of Serbia. In 1875, an uprising against the Ottomans in Herzegovina triggered a war that ended with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1878. The Congress of Berlin, convened at the end of the war, enlarged Serbia and Montenegro, but allowed Austria to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina. Austria annexed Bosnia in 1908, leaving Albania and Kosovo under Ottoman rule. In 1912-
1913 Albanians in Kosovo revolted against their Ottoman rulers and the Serbians
attacked the remaining Ottoman forces in the northern Balkans. By the end of this conflict, Serbia had expanded its territory to include Kosovo and parts of Macedonia. Albania became an independent country, while other Albanians remained in Kosovo as the ruling majority. Conflicting claims between Austria and Serbia over Bosnia and Herzegovina, and unrest among the Albanians in Kosovo, culminated in the assassination of the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serb in Sarajevo, which in turn, triggered World War I and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Following the war, the boundaries of the Balkan territories were redrawn by outside forces without taking into account ethnic or religious differences. King Karadjordjevic created the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929.
During World War II, Yugoslavia was invaded by Germany, which created an independent Croatian state in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Extremist Croats then began their own regime of ethnic cleansing, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Serbs and other non-ethnic Croats. By the time the Germans withdrew, the entire region was economically ruined, and much of the infrastructure had been destroyed. Yugoslavia turned to Communism under Marshall Tito. Tito's state downplayed historical cultural and religious differences and encouraged the post-
war generation to think of themselves as Yugoslavs (Judt 671). At the time of Tito's death in 1980, Yugoslavia comprised six constituent republics within a federal system, and two autonomous regions (the Vojvodina and Kosovo) in Serbia.
Slovenia and Croatia were primarily Catholic while Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia were predominantly Orthodox Serbs with large numbers of Muslims. By the 1990s, however, religion was on the wane in urbanized areas; only in the rural areas did religion and national identity remain tied together (Judt 670).
Although Yugoslavia experienced early economic gains, the economy was near collapse by the late 1980s. At the same time, Slobodan Milosevic was manipulating romanticized notions of a greater Serbia, harkening back to a mythical golden age of Serb domination of the Balkans. By January 1991, Slovenia had proclaimed its independence, and Slovenia and Croatia initiated secession from the federation in June 1991. These independence movements were the impetus for Ron Haviv's trip to the Balkans, but what followed were a series of wars, beginning with an attack on Slovenia by the Yugoslavian army. As explained in Postwar (Judt 671-85), a chain of bloody conflicts was begun, first in Croatia from 1991-1995, Bosnia from 1992-1995, and Kosovo through 1999. The photographs in "Blood and Honey" chronicle these events.
The appalling ferocity and sadism of the Croat and Bosnian wars--the serial abuse, degradation, torture, rape and murder of hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens--that was the work of Serb men, mostly young, aroused to paroxysms of casual hatred and indifference to suffering by propaganda and a leadership from local chieftains whose ultimate direction and power came from Belgrade.
What followed was.. .ordinary people committed quite extraordinary crimes. (Judt 685)
When Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, the Yugoslavian military responded. Guerillas from the minority Serb population of Croatia, backed by the federal government, took control of about one-third of Croatia and drove out members of other ethnic groups. Recently, former prisoners interviewed in Croatia told Balkan Insight that the Yugoslav Army ran a detention camp for Croatian prisoners in Nis from mid-November 1991 to late February 1992. After the Croats and Muslims in Bosnia voted for independence in March 1992, Bosnian Serbs attacked a number of Bosnian towns. After a United Nations Protection Force moved in to protect a cease fire between Serbia and Croatia in 1992, Milosevic moved into Bosnia where he imprisoned Muslims in concentration camps, and laid siege to Sarajevo (Judt 674). In 1993, war broke out between Croats and Muslims in Bosnia and Nationalist Bosnian Croats also began ethnic cleansing against Muslims in Bosnia and Flerzegovina. Serbs drove the remaining Muslims from Bosnia, and thousands of Muslims fled their homes. The Serb-Croat and Serb-Bosnian wars
initially were fought by regular armies, but much of the fighting was conducted by
organized bands of thugs and criminals led by professional felons (Judt 675).
In May 1993, the United Nations declared six towns to be "safe areas," yet the violence continued. NATO did not begin air strikes until April 1994 when it bombed Serbs engaged in an offensive against Muslims in Gorzade, one of the designated safe areas. NATO failed to impose any consequences as the fighting continued. Serbian paramilitary units organized by Ratko Mladic, a former Yugoslavian army officer referred to by Richard Holbrooke as a "charismatic murderer" overran the safe area of Srebrenica in July 1995 and executed over 7,000 Muslim men over the course of four days. Srebrenica is infamous as the worst mass murder in Europe since World War II (Judt 674-78). From there, the Serbs devastated one safe area after another, setting off a chain of attacks and counterattacks. In August, Croatia captured the Krajina region, another safe area, and Serb refugees fled or were killed. After Richard Holbrooke was sent to negotiate a peace treaty, NATO finally began an air strike against Serb targets in Bosnia. Muslim Croats then recaptured territory held by Serb forces, creating thousands of Serbian refugees.
Peace talks that began in November in Dayton, Ohio led to a peace treaty
signed by Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia in Paris in December 1995. The treaty established a government system for Bosnia in which Serbs, Croats and Muslims had some authority. A NATO army imposed order and administered Bosnia. At the same time, Serbs were expelled from Sarajevo by their own militia and forced to resettle predominantly Serb areas. Although the war in Bosnia had ended, fighting and executions ordered by Milosevic continued in Kosovo through 2000. During this time, thousands were killed, and thousands of others were driven from their homes. After a series of mass murders, NATO threatened to move in ground troops, and in June 1999, Serbia signed another peace agreement. Albanian civilians were massacred in Serbian attempts to find members of the Kosovo Liberation Army ("KLA") and 865,000 Albanian refugees fled to Bosnia, Montenegro and parts of Macedonia. During 2000, members of the KLA returned to kill Serbian civilians, and the war expanded into Montenegro and Macedonia where many Albanian refugees lived. Ultimately, Serbia was occupied by a NATO-led force and within a year, the government of Serbia arrested Milosevic and handed him over to the Hague Tribunal.
One of the most famous of the brutal killers, Zelijko Raznatovic, also known
as Arkan, was captured on film by Ron Haviv (figure 10). Raznatovic's paramilitary group, the Tigers, took part in the deadly three-month siege of Vukovar, Croatia in 1991. He is one of the pioneers of the ethnic cleansing that followed in northern and eastern Bosnia. Raznatovic was secretly indicted of war crimes in 1997, and assassinated in a gangland-style shooting in 2000.
LOOKING CLOSELY AT BLOOD AND HONEY Many of the photographs in "Blood and Honey" contain images of human beings. This thesis analyzes thirteen of those photographs that seem most representative of Haviv's work to illustrate the main argument. The analysis addresses photographs depicting the relationship between people and the things around them, photographs of people staring directly at the camera, photographs documenting the impact of war on relationships among people, images of death and dying, photographs in which composition plays an important role, and photographs of people committing acts of violence against civilians.
Human Beings and the Things that Surround Them The reciprocal relationship between human beings and objects is an essential element of the human experience. "Objects are not indifferent or alien, and they do not passively receive our explicit choices. They draw us forward like magnets, without our self-conscious control" (Russon 17). Objects take on significance to us because we apprehend them bodily. We also deposit parts of ourselves in objects as we use them; when familiar objects are threatened or destroyed, the destruction is internalized. Several Haviv photographs attest to the
fact that war alters and distorts the relationship between human beings and the
things that surround them.
Figure 4. Dousing the Flames
Through an effective use of scale, vantage point, and framing, Haviv brings to life the struggle of a man trying to save a burning apartment building (see figure 4). The building is beige stucco of a non-descript style. Owing to the close-up shot, only ten windows of the apartment building, aligned in three tiers, actually are visible. The panes in each of the windows are shattered, or missing altogether.
One window bursts with scarlet flames and black smoke. At the center of the
image, a lone human figure, whose face and body are hidden in shadows, leans out
of the window next door, throwing water from a tiny green bucket toward the inferno. Other than the looming stucco facade, the stream of water shooting from the bucket across the center of the photograph is the dominant visible element.
The building, man, flames, bucket, and water are the only images we see; everything else has been cut off by the frame. Consequently, we know nothing about where and when the photograph was taken, we understand nothing about the man's identity, and we are profoundly aware that he is alone. Only after reading the caption do we understand that this man is a Serb who is attempting to put out a fire set by Serbian arsonists who want to force him to leave the city rather than live under Muslim rule.
The photograph evokes the intensity and futility of the man's experience on several levels. Haviv calls our attention to the man's actions by centering his arm, the bucket, the stream of water, and the flames within the frame. There is no doubt about the enormity of the task he has undertaken. The camera angle and perspective make the man and his bucket appear miniscule in contrast to the mass of the building and the intensity of the fire. Because the photograph was shot from below and to the left of the building, the massive concrete facade fills the frame,
while pitching toward the lower left corner like a ship capsizing in a storm. Unlike the motionless affect of most photographs, here, the destruction appears to spill into the off-frame world. The sense of vertiginous motion and the hint of an off-frame space reflect our perceptual experience in the real world in which movement is a constant, and the boundaries of the perceptual field extend beyond the visual field. The experience of viewing this photograph approximates the way we actually see the world because Haviv has created a sense of motion not typically available in a static photograph.
The photograph also communicates on a connotative level, in part because the man is unidentifiable. The man's face is blurred and his body is partially hidden. No visual indications of his age, ethnicity, national identity or economic class are included in the photograph. He is thus reduced to his behavior in relation to the physical world around him. By framing the image so that the man is isolated from the rest of the world and stripped of his identity, Haviv has loosened the ties between the referent (the living man) and the image of the man. The man then can stand for something beyond this one particular man, in this one particular place. The difference in scale between the man, his tiny bucket, and the massive building connote the futility of the individual in the face of war. The image of the man can
be read to symbolize the more universal theme of man's lonely impotence in the
face of war's destruction.
The photograph of an Albanian woman reproduced in figure 5 juxtaposes the human form with objects and physical destruction to express the emotional experience of devastation. A woman sits amidst a frame-filling pile of rubble and debris on stone steps in front of the remains of a wooden structure. The structure may have been her home. The description of the photograph explains that this woman is in "a mountaintop village of fewer than twenty houses that was destroyed by Serbian forces" (Haviv, "Blood and Honey" 112). Above what once was a door sits a corrugated tin roof. No other structure in the photograph is intact. A few tree tops framed against the sky behind the remains of the buildings, and a tiny clump of grass in the foreground peeking out from under a slab of fallen stone hint at the natural world beyond the scene. The woman is wearing a white headscarf, white vest, and a floral fabric dress in muted colors that blend into the cracked stones, broken beams and shattered pottery that surround her; her figure is at first nearly indistinguishable from the background. Because Haviv chose to take this photograph from a distance, the woman's figure at first appears to be just another object in a larger field of many.
Figure 5. Albanian Woman Churns Butter
The yellow pitcher that sits on a concrete pedestal in the foreground of the photograph is the only brightly colored object in the photograph. It draws the eye toward the woman and invites us to wonder why she is there and what she is doing Upon closer inspection, we see that the woman is churning butter with her right hand. She seems to be engaged in such a familiar task, with such a familiar object, that she does not need to look at what she is doing. Her left hand is raised to her face, and she stares vacantly at nothing, overwhelmed.
John Russon, a Canadian philosopher influenced by the work of Merleau-
Ponty, writes: "Our objects, rather than brain cells, are the 'files' that retain our past" (Russon 41). In that sense, we deposit parts of ourselves in physical objects and thus, they speak to us of ourselves and express who we are. As Merleau-Ponty observes: "[Tjhe spontaneous acts through which man has patterned his life should be deposited, like some sediment, outside himself and lead an anonymous existence as things" ("Phenomenology of Perception" 405). Likewise, at every moment we have a global practical and implicit notion of our relation to our body and things, of our hold on them (Merleau-Ponty, "Primacy of Perception" 5).
In this photograph, the woman is isolated, but at the same time, seems completely immersed in, or interwoven with, a field of broken objects. The only objects that have not been decimated are the yellow pitcher and the butter churn. Everything else that once may have spoken to her, or carried her memories has been damaged. Her relationship to these things has been destroyed. From this perspective, the objects around her are not a mere metaphor or backdrop for the devastation of war. They actually communicate how disorienting her experience is at a bodily level. The intact pitcher and butter churn might be interpreted as symbols for the resilience of domestic life that keeps on going in the face of war's
calamitous destruction. But within the context of this photograph, these tools are
nearly inconsequential in contrast to the scale of the destruction and the resigned posture of the woman. Rather than an indication of some faith in the power of life, the pitcher and the butter churn are more likely the only familiar objects that can express to the woman anything about who she is and her place in the world. Consequently, the over-all effect of this photograph is less one of hope than it is one of despair.
Several photographs depict the very different perspective that the aggressor has on the destruction of buildings and things by reversing the relative scale of the people and objects. For example, in a photograph of a "victorious Serbian paramilitary," Haviv places the lone human figure at the center of the photograph, and shoots from an angle that grossly exaggerates the man's size in relation to the ravaged, out-of-focus apartment block behind him (see figure 6). From Flaviv's vantage point, the paramilitary man is taller than the building. The man grins, peaking at the photographer through half-closed eyes while taking a celebratory swig from an exaggeratedly large bottle that appears to be five stories high.2 The shot is from such close range that we can see the gold liquid sloshing in the bottle.
2 According to reports from several journalists, alcohol fueled much of the brutality.
The woolly texture of the brown military coat is palpable because we can see it so
clearly. As Merleau-Ponty observes, the senses naturally overlap and transgress each other. A strong visual image of texture gives rise to a tactile sensation. "We see the depth, speed, softness and hardness of objectsCezanne says we even see their odour" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 371).
Figure 6. Victorious Serb
The man is so close to the edge of the picture frame that we are invited to participate in the celebration. Yet there is something about the man that is repulsive. For one thing, the close-up shot is so clearly focused that the stubble on the man's face and the oily texture of his matted hair dominate the image. His
hand is filthy. He seems to leer at us. The bottle, almost empty, looms aggressively
out of the photograph into our space; could he be drunk? His demeanor also is utterly inappropriate in contrast to the destruction behind him. Why would anyone celebrate devastation? There is no narrative to rely on to fill in the blanks. But the telling detail--the bottle- amidst a sea of chaotic visual images adds special significance to this image. "If photographs could not be read as stories" claims Szarkowski, "they could be read as symbols" (Szarkowski 8). In fact, the man's attitude, so clearly revealed by the focus on his posture, expression, and up-tilted bottle, symbolize the profound intoxicating impact that the destruction of manmade objects has on the victor.
Another solitary figure fills the foreground of the picture in a harrowing photograph of a man begging for mercy (see figure 7). In this photograph, a man dressed in a light blue jacket with a green lining over a navy v-neck sweater and striped shirt, raises his hands, palms raised toward someone or something beyond the frame. His dark curly hair is neatly brushed.
Figure 7. Muslim in Bijelina Begs for His Life after Capture by Arkan's Tigers.
His clothing and haircut might indicate Bosnia or Cleveland; he looks thoroughly modern and "western" like a young professional dressed for Saturday errands. Behind him in the left distance, a man carrying an automatic weapon walks down what appears to be a suburban street toward the front of the frame. We only know from the caption that he is a Muslim begging for his life. White houses and brick walls form the left boundary of the picture. The houses are partially cut-off by the frame, and seem to lean out toward the left because of the camera angle.
Behind the pleading man are a partially visible arm, shoulder, hand, and torso of a uniformed figure. We see an automatic weapon held in one hand and two or more handguns in the left hand. The guns-black, shiny, and metallic-are in
sharp focus and reflect a white sky. Because of the camera angle, the guns and the
torso holding them seem improbably large compared to the man in the blue jacket. Although the images of the soldier and his guns are dramatic, the eye returns over and over to the gestures and facial expression of the pleading man which calls to mind Eddie Adam's famous photograph of a man taken right before he was executed in Vietnam (see figure 8).
Figure 8. Execution of Viet Cong Man
In spite of the similarities between the events recorded in each photograph, the Adams photograph seems emotionally less intense, largely because the distance between Adams and the prisoner is greater than the distance between Haviv and the pleading man. Because of this greater distance, Adam's frame takes in more of the background street scene which draws the eye away, at least momentarily, from
the horrible shooting. Also, the soldier's gun and the Viet Cong prisoner share the
center of the Adam's photograph so that the act of shooting the prisoner rises to the same level of importance as the prisoner's terrifying experience. In contrast, little distracts the eye from the man's expression and gestures centered and magnified in Haviv's photograph. The extreme close-up view magnifies the details of the Muslim man's face and hands so that his facial expression dominates the frame; we could trace the lines on the palms of his outstretched hands. His teeth are clenched and his lips are parted as If he were sobbing. He squints and raises his eyebrows while he furrows his brow. Terror, pain, and fear are mingled in his expression. We can almost hear the man's anguished cry because as Merleau-Ponty suggests, the physiognomy of the face is made up of movements which become sounds, not by organs such as the eyes, mouth, or ears ("Visible and Invisible" 130-56). His emotions are bursting through the surface of his body. From this vantage point, the intimacy is almost unbearable.
The angle and depth of field selected by Ron Haviv also distort the scale of the figures in relation to each other and the background which opens onto a field of possible connotations. The out-sized weapons and uniformed figure directly behind the man connote overwhelming power. At their larger-than-life scale, they are
monstrous and impersonal. The facelessness of the soldiers symbolizes the impossibility of communication between them and the man. The brick wall on the right, and the soldier patrolling on the left, block the pleading man from any possible escape, except toward the viewer. The overall gestalt of this photograph is hopelessness and terror. Susan Sontag argues that "it seems normal to turn away from images that simply make us feel bad ("Regarding the Pain of Others" 203), yet the man in this photograph demands our attention because it is nothing but the raw pain of another pleading for help.
Finally, the intensity of Haviv's photograph stems from the look exchanged between Haviv and the Muslim man. As Ron Haviv explained during an interview with Charlie Rose, the man was begging Haviv to do something to help him, but Haviv was powerless to intervene under the circumstances (Haviv, "Interview with Ron Haviv"). Because the camera serves as an extension of Haviv's eyes, and the pleading man is looking at Haviv, he also seems to be looking directly into our eyes when we look at the photograph. We, as the seer, are now "seen" by the man in the photograph. His gaze upon me brings me directly into his world because "he who looks must not himself be foreign to the world that he looks at (Merleau-Ponty, "Visible and Invisible", 134). The effect of being seen by the man thus
reinforces our connection with him and forces us to consider how our inaction might appear in his eyes.
Merleau-Ponty explains that we are intersubjective beings who share a common world as cohabitating bodies. The social world is "a permanent field or dimension of existence" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 421). We share an innate responsiveness to those around us; even babies spontaneously mimic facial gestures ("Phenomenology of Perception" 410). We can experience the emotional state of another without recourse to language because we perceive the other, not as a closed off mind, but as behavior.
One of Haviv's photographs simultaneously stimulates our capacity to respond to others and portrays a group of people for whom the basic reciprocal interpersonal dynamics seems to have broken down (see figure 9).
Figure 9. Survivors of Srebrenica
At first glance, the subject matter is not easy to understand because the image is visually disorienting. Splotches of bright fuchsia, red, yellow, blue, and brown dominate the field. Although there is a pyramid-like composition to the mass of colors and form, the over-all effect of the photograph is chaotic because there is no center to the composition to anchor attention. The eye darts from left to right, top to bottom. The image is agitating even before the subject matter is understood.
The human figures, at first, are indistinguishable from the background, in the same way that foreground figures in a Matisse painting blend into the background pattern of wallpaper or draperies. Gradually, individual human figures emerge from
the chaos of colors and patterns. Most of the people are women and children. Two
men stand empty-handed on the periphery of the group. The photograph is taken from within the group of people, looking up at them, as if through the eyes of a child. Because of the camera angle, each woman's body blocks a full view of the people behind her which makes it impossible to determine how many people there are. There might be layer upon layer of people, hidden behind each one. The frame itself cuts off bodies so we do not know whether there are tens, or hundreds, of people outside the frame. The framing thus implies a world experienced by these people that lies outside this particular place and a past and future that exist beyond this moment in time. In this way, Haviv visually shares his experience of these people as an open question rather than a fixed situation.
Who are these people? No manmade or natural objects define the time or place of the photographs. No streetscape or landscape reveals when or where the picture was taken. Only a small strip of blue sky, the harshly lit faces, and deep shadows, indicate that the photograph was taken outside, during a bright, sunny day. A man standing at the back of the group wears a white tee shirt which would have been worn in the 20th century or just yesterday. He could be of any national or ethnic background in the western world. A second man's beret could be from
the 19th century, or contemporary rural France or Spain. The women's dresses and headscarves hint that they share some ethnic or religious ties, and that they probably are Muslim, but nothing about their clothing is determinative.
There are no uniformed figures or military vehicles, flags, or structures to explain where these people are from, or to demarcate power dynamics among them. No one is in charge. Any clues about their homeland or political allegiance have been framed out of the photograph so that stereotyping the people as representatives of the "right" side or "wrong" side of the conflict is not possible. They simply are individual human beings who have been isolated from everything that might have identified them or defined them. Our response is unadulterated by racial or political pre-conceptions or prejudices of our own.
Haviv has framed the photograph so that the gestures of the women and children are the center of attention. A woman in the middle of the cluster raises her hand to her face, her eyes are closed. To her right, another woman clasps the sides of her face in her hands. In the right foreground, a woman who looks gigantic because she is so close to the camera repeats the gesture. The repeated gesture signals that the women are experiencing the same emotion. In Merleau-Ponty's account of our experience of others, human gestures and facial expressions take on
enormous significance because we respond to them at a pre-conscious level through an innate sense of empathy: "Anger, shame, hate and love are not psychic facts hidden at the bottom of another's consciousness: they ... exist on this face or in those gestures, not hidden behind them" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 52-53).
Another window opens onto the depth of their experience through the physical relationship of each person to the other. None of the people is looking at, or seems aware of, either the camera or each other. People gaze in different directions, to points outside the frame, rather than looking at each other. Women's bodies touch each other only because they are so tightly packed together. The women do not reach out to, gesture to, or hold one another. Children are nestled in among the women, but no one is attending to them. A blond boy, maybe three years old, stares into the distance, looking at or looking for something, or someone. His face is sunburned and shadowed. Two other blond-haired boys peek out of the huddle created by the women. Behind them, a crying woman holds a crying baby to her chest, but she is not focused on the baby at all. The men are physically separate from the group of women and children, standing in the background of the group.
The camera angle reduces their size so that they appear much smaller than the women as if to underscore that they are helpless.
Each person is isolated from every other person. No one appears to be speaking; maybe their emotions are unspeakable. The gestures repeated across the crowd intimate that the women are feeling the same thing, yet they remain isolated from each other in spite of their common experience. Without being told, we can understand immediately that something so dreadful has happened to these people that they are turned inward in their despair and suffering rather than reaching out to comfort each other. The interpersonal connection that Merleau-Ponty describes as the fundamental structure of the human condition has been ruptured. The caption tells us that they are "survivors of the Serb attack on Srebrenica after the fall of the United Nations Safe Area Summer 1995."3
One of the characteristics of a photograph that differentiates it from the lived world is its immobility. In reality, nothing ever is static. But in the photograph of these survivors, the frozen human gestures actually create a sense of movement that brings the people to life. According to Merleau-Ponty's account of the human
3 The Srebrenican massacre is the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II. In July 1995, more than 7,000 Bosnian men and boys were killed in ethnic cleansing and thousands of people were raped.
body, each human gesture is made up of a whole series of preliminary motions, and
always is movement toward something else: "Attention to life is the awareness we experience of 'nascent movements' in our bodies" (Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology of Perception" 90-91). When these nascent movements are captured by the camera at different stages across a group of people, a sense of living emotional states emerges.
In an interesting piece on the performance artist Bill Viola, Carrie Noland explains how nascent gestures relate to the expression of emotions. When Bill Viola filmed actors moving from sorrow, pain, anger, fear and so forth, he identified facial gestures and transitory phases between the emotions. These in-between facial gesticulations are "enchained movements, and the ambiguous pauses between enchained movements that the body makes as it moves toward the expression of a violent emotion" (Noland 8). The moving body cannot be captured by any technology "in an entirely non-oriented state for the reason that it is always in the process of moving toward socially meaningful gestures in intersubjective milieu" (Noland 16). The people in Haviv's photograph have been caught in the midst of moving from and toward gestures. Because each gesture is a different stage of nascent movement, a living and complex field of emotional states is in play.
Posing for the Camera
Arguably, the power of a war photograph is proportional to the extent that it is seen to objectively depict events that really happened. Photographs that perfectly frame the subject, or those in which the subject stares directly at the camera, are less-likely to be seen as real because they appear to be posed and thus, call attention to the photographer's role in presenting the image. Nevertheless,
Ron Haviv's photograph of Zelijko Raznatovic, a.k.a. Arkan, in which Arkan looks directly into the camera from the center of a perfectly composed grouping of masked soldiers, is no less powerful than photographs of people apparently unaware of the camera (see figure 10). The photograph of Arkan and his band of men is arresting because they clearly are posing for Haviv.
The composition of the photograph is classically symmetrical. A group of a dozen or more uniformed men are massed in uneven rows, forming a pyramid shape. Some of the men are crouching, others are standing. Those in the back are silhouetted against a swath of light grey sky. As in many other Haviv photographs, the people almost completely fill the frame, making it impossible to know how many there are. All of the men wear loden green jumpsuits, and except for Arkan, their faces are hidden behind black knit masks with holes for eyes and mouths.
Each man carries a type of semi-automatic weapon. A massive gun barrel or cannon emerges like a menacing phallus from the center of the group of men.
From the back left corner of the photograph, a man waves a red, blue, and white striped flag. Against the dark background of green and black, Arkan stands out at the very bottom center of the frame. Owing to the shallow depth of field, Arkan looks much larger than the other men, and they appear piled up behind him. Arkan grips a semi-automatic weapon in his right hand. He is young, clean-shaven, and wears a beret over closely-cropped hair. He is almost smiling at the camera. He holds a baby tiger by the scruff of the neck in his left hand. The tiger bats helplessly at the air with its paws.
Figure 10. Arkan and His Men
Arkan's direct stare into the camera, and the stances of his men, signal that they are posing to control the image that will be projected on film. The photograph has the imperative character associated with myth that "seeks me out to acknowledge the body of intentions which have motivated it and arranged it here as the signal of an individual history..." (Barthes, "Mythologies" 125). The men's posing and posturing is so obviously an effort to establish their heroism that the opposite is more likely true. As Barthes would say "I have the converse notion:
that whoever looks you straight in the eye is mad" ("Camera Lucida" 113). By letting the men pose and mug for the camera, Haviv encouraged the men to think that they were in control of the image that the world would see. Instead, he captured a truth about Arkan and his men that they never intended to reveal. Obviously, the baby tiger, helplessly flailing, has not been liberated; it is being tortured by a bully. The camera has revealed what Sontag would call an "anti-hero" ("On Photography" 29). That people might not understand how they are perceived by others is not surprising since "people only have intermittent observation of themselves" (Merleau-Ponty, "Nature" 176). What is surprising is the extent of the gap between the image that people think they project, and the one they actually project. When seen within the context of the rest of the exhibit, the photograph stands out because it is so different from the objective reporting that typically characterizes Haviv's work. Within the historical context, this image is all the more appalling because we know that Arkan was a brutal murderer responsible for thousands of deaths.
Figure 11. Father and Son
The photograph of a fantastically attired older man and teenage boy posing for the camera also exposes more than the subjects probably intended to reveal (see figure 11). The two figures are shot from close-up range so that their torsos and faces take up most of the center of the photograph. They lean against a red car in front of a demolished brick structure. The building's windows and part of its roof are missing. The caption explains that this is a photograph of a "Serbian father and son posing in newly captured territory." The father, who stares directly at the camera, sports a long black beard speckled with grey. His over-sized mustache
flares out across ruddy, apple cheeks. The man's lips are compressed in a half smile. His features give him the jolly look of a younger Santa Claus before his hair turned white, until of course, you notice his gun. The son stands close against the father on his left side. His nose and pink lips are more pronounced than his father's. His pink cheeks are narrow and his clean-shaven chin is pointed. His hair is longish and dark. The son's right eyebrow is arched giving him a slightly quizzical expression as he looks off into the distance. He drapes his left arm across his father's shoulder in a gesture of casual intimacy. The father's right arm reaches behind the back of his son. This father and son are comfortable with each other. They could be posing for a family snapshot to commemorate a special occasion.
The strangest thing about the pair is their clothing. Although the father is carrying a weapon, there is nothing about their attire that would indicate the purpose of this father-son outing. The father wears a high black hat marked with an indistinguishable, metallic insignia or coat of arms, cocked to one side. The hat vaguely resembles a Russian Cossack's hat interpreted through the eyes of Dr. Seuss. The man's double-breasted black leather coat is belted below an ample belly. The lapels of the coat are open to reveal a round, silver pendant hanging on a silver chain around his neck. The pendant has the shape and luster of religious
medal. In his left hand, the father carries a semi-automatic weapon connected to a
shoulder strap. The son wears a navy down vest with a large grey fox fur collar over
a navy blue sweater or shirt. He wears a black top hat of the type worn by
magicians or Vaudeville tap dancers. These two are costumed for some strange
theatrical production. Around the boy's neck hangs an expensive-looking
35 millimeter camera, perhaps to document an outing with Dad, perhaps to
chronicle the aftermath of violence and bloodshed.
In the world of photography theory and criticism, the family snapshot is
seen as a degraded medium used to document family rituals. Rosalind Krauss
writes in her essay "A Note on Photography and the Simulacral":
The camera is hauled out to document family reunions and vacations or trips. Its place is within the ritualized cult of domesticity, and it is trained on those moments that are sacred within that cult: weddings, christenings, anniversaries, and so forth. (Krauss 173)
Krauss asserts that although the camera is treated as a tool to passively document
the family, in reality the camera is "part of the theater that the family constructs to
convince itself that it is together and whole" (174). This narrow social function
results in a degraded form: "Frontality and centering, with their banishing of all
signs of temporality or contingency, are the normal forms" (174). Krauss observes
that in most family photographs, the "environment is purely symbolic, with all
individual or circumstantial features relegated to the background" (175). From this
perspective, the photograph of father and son is doubly disturbing. Haviv has taken this photograph as if it were a family snap shot, catching the father and son in a frontal, centered mode. But unlike the typical family snapshot, the photographer of this scene is not a family member. The photographer is a stranger who has been invited to document this moment of familial togetherness which adds to the photograph an overtone of narcissism and exhibitionism.
Nor is the background a purely symbolic marker used to signal location like the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty. The background is a war-zone. Against this background, their happy expressions, nonchalant air, and ridiculous hats render the boy and the man callous, or ignorant, or both. So too, the camera hanging from the boy's neck confirms the pair's desire to document the family experience. Not only did they pose for Ron Haviv, but they have been or will be taking their own photographs. Yet the reality is far from what typically constitutes the Kodak moment. The format that Haviv chose for this photograph in combination with the camera within the photograph signal the sad truth that families in war time, at least those on the side of the aggressor, still use photographs as an agent to convince
themselves of their "normalcy" and togetherness even as they represent absurdity itself.
Damaged Bodies, Dying, and Death
Writers frequently assert that western culture is fascinated with images of damaged bodies and death. The first war photographs of dead soldiers were taken by the Brady team after the battle of Antietam in the American Civil War.
Bernd Huppauf writes that images of brutality and disfigurement can be traced back to ancient European origins. They always are part of a larger context; "they are meaningful within established visual and ideological codes" such as the martyrdom of the Christian tradition, or systems of justice which impose corporeal punishment on the body (Huppauf 19). A photograph of a dead body drives home the reality of death, but as long as the body is recognizable, the body also reminds us that this was a human being: "That was someone who was loved, cherished, caressed" (Mann, "What Remains").
One of two photographs of the Trnopolje Camps is an extreme close-up shot of damaged bodies (see figure 12). The picture is taken from behind a group of young men who are sitting, arms resting on their knees, waiting. They are
pathetically thin. As in many of Haviv's photographs, the frame is over-flowing with
people, making it impossible to determine how many there are.
Figure 12. Muslim and Croatian Prisoners of War
The men closest to the camera are not wearing shirts. Their vertebrae, shoulder blades, and ribs are exposed like ridges on a desert landscape. Their necks are
clean-shaven and vulnerable which makes the men (boys?) look even younger than
they probably are. In a second photograph of prisoners, two men, wearing no shirts, face away from the camera, framing either side of the photograph (see figure 13). They are slightly out of focus, shot from extremely close range. Their torsos are visible from the waist up. Their necks are sunburned, and the man on the left has a shaved head. Their shoulder blades and vertebrae stand out. Perhaps they have removed their shirts today because it is too hot for much clothing, or perhaps they have no shirts. Directly between the two men at the center of the photograph and sharply in focus, two other men face the camera. They might be looking at the photographer; they do not appear to be speaking to each other.
Their facial expressions are difficult to read because they are squinting into the sun, but the condition of their bodies speaks clearly: the younger of the two men, on the left, has his hands in the pockets of his pants, but he is so thin that his pants have slid almost completely from his hips so that they barely cover his genitals.
Each rib pokes out toward the surface of his skin. The meaning of this photograph is dictated by the emaciated condition of the people's bodies. Merleau-Ponty writes that the body is "the root of symbolism" ("Nature" xix). These prisoners' bodies could be said to symbolize starvation itself.
Figure 13. Prisoners at Trnopolje Camp
The photographs are painful to look at because the men's bodies are emaciated, but also because they bring to mind pictures of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps and a host of associated connotations and responses for anyone who has seen those pictures (see figure 14): "Haviv's pictures also recall haunting memories and images of past horrors. The skeletal Muslim prisoners he photographed in a Serb concentration camp in 1992 are reminiscent of the survivors of Auschwitz" (Sudetic 16). Susan Sontag posits that "photographs echo photographs: it was inevitable that the photographs of emaciated Bosnian
prisoners at Omarska, the Serb death camp created in northern Bosnia in 1992,
would recall the photographs taken in the Nazi death camps in 1945" ("Regarding the Pain of Others" 84).
Figure 14. Starved Prisoners in Ebensee, Austria
The visual parallel between these people and Auschwitz survivors exposes the truth that the Balkan conflict was no war of independence. The Serbs, like the Nazi, were engaged in ethnic cleansing. This truth is so striking that "Blood and Honey" met with violent responses when it went on tour in Serbia in 2002 where it was perceived as an anti-Serb view of the war. A recent photography exhibit "Faces of
Sorrow: Agony in the Former Yugoslavia," at the United States Holocaust Memorial
Museum drew criticism from Serbian-American groups because of the symbolic linking of Bosnian Serb atrocities with those of the Nazis.
Even as Haviv's prisoner photographs remind us of photographs taken of Nazi concentration camps, they have been taken from a completely different point of view, both literally and figuratively, which creates a very different effect. For example, the photographer of the Ebensee prisoners is standing at a point directly in front of the men, rather than from among the men. The Ebensee prisoners are centered within the frame, standing in rows, and their faces are visible, with some peeking around others to make sure that they are part of the portrait all of which make it obvious that this photograph is posed. In contrast, the Muslim and Croatian prisoners all have their backs to the camera (see figure 12). The two prisoners at Trnopolje who face the camera seem disinterested in the camera rather than anxious to be seen, and the men around them are completely unaware of the camera (see figure 13). Although the men's bodies are equally emaciated in both photographs, the Ebensee men's torsos are not fully-exposed like they are in the Haviv photographs. Most obviously, Haviv used colored film while the Ebensee photographer used high-contrast black and white film. Because of these
differences, Ebensee prisoners come across like a portrait of starving men, seen
from behind a camera, from a spatial and temporal distance that keeps the viewer safely distant from the suffering men. The Bosnian prisoners, on the other hand, are more immediately present to us as embodied human beings.
Bernd Huppauf's essay on a collection of "extermination" photographs taken by amateur German photographers during World War II provides a context and comparative framework for considering Haviv's point of view and its impact on his prisoner of war photographs. In the essay, Huppauf describes the transformation of the photographer's "gaze" from ideologically oriented to "emptied" over the course of the history of war photography. The images in the German collection are examples of the emptied gaze. The images sever the web of connections with the world outside the frame, resulting in images that might be studied as objects under a microscope. This clinically neutral approach to capturing images of human bodies results from "emptying the gaze [which] is identical with emptying the image" of all links to cultural ideals or human experience (Huppauf 37). When photographs are the product of the emptied gaze, "they require an equally emptied gaze for viewing them, unaffected by language or time" (Huppauf 40). The amateur photographers objectified their subjects by establishing
a significant emotional and physical space between the photographer and their
subjects at the moment the photograph was taken: "The impossibility of dialogue between the persons depicted in these photos and the person looking at them was anticipated by the photographer..." (Huppauf 38). As Merleau-Ponty explains, "the objectification of each by the other's gaze.. .takes the place of possible communication" ("Phenomenology of Perception" 16).
Haviv, on the other hand, without abandoning the neutral gaze expected of a photojournalist, does not turn the bodies of the Bosnian men into sterile scientific objects. The camera seems to linger on them to open the possibility of a dialogue between the prisoners in the photographs and the person looking at them. The close-up shots of vertebrae, ribs, hips, and shaved heads, taken from a low angle amidst the prisoners, both activate our innate sense of interconnectedness with the bodies of others, and serve as an expression of Haviv's distinctive way of perceiving the world. Through Haviv's perception, these emaciated bodies are at once beautiful and tragic. Ron Haviv has placed himself and his camera among the men leaving no distance, physical or emotional, between himself and their suffering bodies. Haviv's style opens a connection between the viewer and the experience of these men.
Moreover, by framing the image so that figures are partially cut off, Haviv
shows that they are human beings imbedded within a real world that goes beyond the limits of the frame. Once again, Haviv does not pretend that the scene within frame is all there is. Life continues outside the four corners of the photograph in the same way that our perception of the "real world" goes beyond the limits of our visual field. In that sense, Haviv relinquishes control over what we see; he invites us to consider on our own what might exist beyond the edge of what he has captured within the frame and to make our own meaning from what we see.
The Role of Composition
Ron Haviv's photographs are often noted for their beautiful composition. Whether a photograph of damaged bodies should be "beautiful" is open to debate, and Ron Haviv's work is hard core photojournalism, not art photography. In fact, war photographers are criticized if their work is aesthetically pleasing because the aesthetics of the image might draw attention away from the subject matter by emphasizing the artistry of the photographer. The contrast between the beauty of the image and the horror of the subject matter also can heighten the self-consciousness of the picture taking process. But sometimes, a beautifully-composed image allows us to look at an image that we otherwise would not want
to consider by forming a connection between the image and a viewer. The connection may be purely aesthetic, or the connection may relate to an archetype or universal image symbolized by the composition. Like any work of art, a photograph may attract or repel us because it is visually arresting, or aesthetically jarring, regardless of its subject matter or subjects. Formal elements like color, shapes, line, texture and so forth may arrest the eye before we are able to make sense of the content of the image. The formal characteristics of a photograph may also speak symbolically. For example, the juxtaposition of formal elements or color and tonal variations may call to mind universal themes, like innocence or grief, to which we are equipped to respond emotionally because they are familiar.
One of the "Blood and Honey" images depicts two people preparing a dead baby for burial. The formal rhythm of the design and the contrast in tonal values cohere like the elements in classical painting. In fact, the composition of the photograph calls to mind the Lamentation by Giotto, and carries with it the same somber mood (see figure 16).
Figure 15. Preparing Baby for Burial
Like the Giotto, the Haviv photograph has a low center of gravity and a narrow depth of field that direct the eye toward a figure lying on the ground in the lower portion of the frame. In the Giotto, the figure is Jesus; in the photograph, the figure is a baby.
Figure 16. The Lamentation by Giotto
In both works, the central figure is bathed in light, while the background is blurred and difficult to distinguish. The stark white sheet where the baby lies stands out against the muted, out-of-focus background drawing the eye to the baby. In the Giotto, light colored fabric against the dark indistinct background calls attention to Jesus. The picture space in both the Haviv photograph and the painting is framed by people who hunch or lean in toward the central figure from the right and left edges of the scene. On the right side of the photograph, a pair of black shoes and shins peak from beneath heavy woolen pants. A torso bends toward the center
figure. From the left, a kneeling, bearded man who wears a green wool sweater
and rust-colored wool head wrap leans over the baby. He bows his head, perhaps to attend more closely to the figure, perhaps in prayer, perhaps in grief, in the same way that the people in the Giotto bow into the center of the scene. A strong diagonal line is predominant in both works. A sweatered arm slashes diagonally across the frame of the photograph from the upper left corner down toward the baby. The diagonal lines formed by the bending torso on the left, and the arm on the right, intersect over the baby in the photograph. In the painting, a road or hillside descends diagonally from the same corner drawing the eye toward Jesus at the focal point of the painting. The visual connection to Christian iconography created by this photograph taps into a cultural reservoir of familiar feelings of sorrow and grief even before we understand exactly what we are witnessing.
As is true for so many of his photographs, Haviv took this photograph from close range at a very low angle; perhaps Haviv is kneeling. From this angle, the viewer is as close as possible to crossing the boundary between our world and the world of the photograph. The vantage point invites us to examine the intimate details of the scene. We see, for example, that the baby's head is oversized in comparison to the rest of her tiny body. Her toes are the size of little buttons. The
bearded man grasps the baby around her rib-cage; his hand is almost as big as the
baby's entire body. The baby's upper arm is not much bigger than the man's index finger. The figure on the right hand side of the frame tilts a tin can filled with water to bathe the baby's body. The water spills onto the baby. Her mouth is open like a bird about to drink the water, but we know, even without referring to the caption, that the baby is dead. The two adults in the photograph are preparing the baby to be buried. The caption tells us that "Kosovar Albanians who fled their homes prepare to bury a five-week old baby who died of exposure in the mountains of Kosovo" (Haviv, "Blood and Honey" 127).
Sally Mann has written about and photographed dead bodies. In "What Remains", she explores at what point a human being becomes a body, and ultimately, transforms into "remains." She does this through photographs of human bodies going through the natural process of decomposition. In the "real world," the baby's body in Haviv's photograph has decomposed long ago. For those who knew her, the image of the baby's death probably has melded with other images of the living baby during her short life. But in this photograph, the baby's dead body will remain frozen, in sharp focus, for as long as the photographic image remains as a reminder that the baby never became an adult. "Images of suffering
children have long been used to personify injustice, in part because children signify vulnerability, dependence and innocence" (Thorne 261). In the face of this innocence, we want to do something, but we are relegated to the role of an impotent on-looker unable to do anything to save this baby, or prevent the death of other children in wars around the world. All that we can do is look away, dissolve in tears, or turn the page: "One is vulnerable to disturbing events in the form of photographic images in a way that one is not to the real thing. That vulnerability is part of that distinctive passivity of someone who is a spectator twice over, spectator of events already shaped, first by the participants and second by the image maker" (Barthes, "Camera Lucida" 168-69). It is perhaps this forced passivity in the face of suffering that makes looking at this photograph excruciating.
Christian iconography also is echoed by a photograph of a wounded man being lifted from his bed (see figure 17). The background is dark without any visible forms other than a luminescent glow from light reflected on a window. The lower foreground of the frame is filled with the edge of the bed. The photograph looks as if it were taken from a kneeling position on the floor.
Figure 17. Wounded Man
The depth of field is so shallow that the geographic space between the photograph and viewer is reduced to a minimum. Four people stand around the bed. A woman grasps the medal bars at the head of the bed while to her left, another man holds onto the bed frame. These two people stare with concern at the wounded man. A second man in the center of the frame holds the body of a naked man who is grimacing horribly in pain. The contrast between the facial expressions of the wounded man and those of his caretakers accentuates his suffering. The wounded man has one arm around the neck of a man who is lifting him like a baby. Both of the wounded man's arms are in casts and his lower body is
bandaged. A fourth man, partially cut-off by the right edge of the frame, is helping
to lift the wounded man's body. He, too, looks on with intense focus. The wounded man is so damaged that merely lifting him onto the bed takes total concentration and substantial physical effort.
Like other Haviv photographs of damaged or dying bodies, the composition of this photograph is classical in the way that the elements unite to form circles and triangles. As is characteristic of many Renaissance paintings, the figures stand in a semi-circle; the viewer is placed across from the figures along the other arc of a circle, bringing the viewer into the scene. In the photograph, the wounded man's body forms a strong diagonal line from the lower right corner to the center of the frame reminiscent of Jesus' pose in paintings of the Pieta. The white color of the bandages and the attendants' clothes in the photograph echo the bright or light colors commonly used for the people who attend to Jesus. Their expressions of sorrow and concern also are similarly intense. The dark or indistinct background emphasizes the isolation of the figures in the foreground of the photograph as it does in many paintings of the Pieta. The visual references to the Pieta stir up emotional responses, and convey a sense of timelessness to the suffering which transcends the temporal limits of the photographic image. The photograph of the
wounded man at once becomes evidence of a particular event, and a reference to
The evocative nature of Haviv's photographs and their elegant composition come, in part, from Haviv's ability to really "see" the details in the viewfinder that are important and to create a visual coherence that works when the image is transferred to a two-dimensional plane. We know that his beautifully-composed pieces are candid photographs taken in a war zone, so his ability to see and create visual coherence has to derive from Haviv's unique and instinctive way of organizing the visual images in the world around him, or what Merleau-Ponty would describe as his perceptual style. According to Merleau-Ponty, all use of the body is primordial expression imbued with an individual style. Visual arts such as painting or sculpture are a more highly developed form of the same perceptual behavior through which the world is constituted for man prior to any explicit or reflexive thought ("Primary of Perception" 162). The paint brush and paint, for example, express the body's perceptual experience like a physical gesture or word. The artist's way of perceiving and expressing the visual world is simply an amplification or refinement of the primitive expression inherent in all perceptual behavior; the artist cultivates the body schema at the root of perception, i.e. the distinctive
character of bodily comportment, walking, standing, gesturing, and so forth, by developing higher level skills that become second nature. As part of this process, an artist may have a certain way of seeing the world that ordinary people miss. The artist sees distinctions, details, and relationships within the visual field that may go unnoticed by those who do not make a living by looking at the world. At the same time, the painter's ability to use the body to express his perception of the world becomes more and more refined once the basic skill of applying the paint becomes second nature.
Ron Haviv's ability to take beautifully-composed photographs amidst the chaos of war must stem from a finally-honed way of interrogating the world with his eyes; adjusting his body to get the best view; responding to the bodily comportment, facial expressions, and gestures of others; and then manipulating the camera to get a grip on what he sees. Haviv's physical approach to his photography such as standing close to his subjects, shooting from below, and focusing on telling details represents his own peculiar and highly-skilled style of bodily engagement with the world. Under the exigencies of war, Ron Haviv simply would not have had the opportunity to stop to consider the best angles that would call to mind a Giotto painting or the Pieta. It follows that his ability to approach and capture the visual
world from a certain angle and perspective, and then express it through the camera
has become second nature.
Images of Violence
The images of violence in Ron Haviv's collection were intended to provoke a
response. Haviv hoped that his photographs would stir the world to react before
the violence raged from Slovenia through Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Sadly, when
the rest of the world finally responded, it was too little too late. He reports that
[my]pictures of the first ethnic cleansing and executions in Bosnia were published, but none of the politicians reacted. Although I knew that photographs couldn't change the world by themselves, I felt that the international community had truly failed. Eventually, the world did intervene, but only half-heartedly, and it often did more harm than good. (Haviv 183)
The images of violence, however, are an on-going indictment of those who committed violent acts, and those who refused to act to prevent them. Some of the photographs in "Blood and Honey" were used as evidence in the International Tribunal on War Crimes at The Hague to document the atrocities that were committed. Proof of their on-going impact is found at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which includes Haviv photographs as part of the genocide prevention project.