January 28, 2023

Photojournalism and War

Timothy O'Sullivan A Harvest of Death

“Let him who wishes to know what war is look at this series of illustrations. These wrecks of manhood thrown together in careless heaps or ranged in ghastly rows for burial were alive but yesterday…” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing of the importance of photography in reporting on the Civil War.

The Center for Civil War Photography has more on Mathew Brady and his team of photographers, including Timothy O’Sullivan, who covered America’s Civil War. The Civil War was the birth of modern war journalism and photojournalism.

The Library of Congress is putting on an exhibition “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection.” The exhibition runs from April to August 13 and is part of the Library’s commemoration of the Civil War.

AP/Alexander Roberts/Courtesy of Richard Strasser

Ernie Pyle was the most famous war correspondent of World War Two. He was killed by a Japanese machine gun near the end of the war. The photo of his death was only recently discovered. Here’s an AP account of his death:

“COMMAND POST, IE SHIMA, April 18 (AP) — Ernie Pyle, war correspondent beloved by his co-workers, GIs and generals alike, was killed by a Japanese machine-gun bullet through his left temple this morning …”

The news stunned a nation still mourning the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt six days earlier. Callers besieged newspaper switchboards. “Ernie is mourned by the Army,” said soldier-artist Bill Mauldin, whose droll, irreverent GI cartoons had made him nearly as famous as Pyle.

He was right; even amid heavy fighting, Pyle’s death was a prime topic among the troops.

“If I had not been there to see it, I would have taken with a grain of salt any report that the GI was taking Ernie Pyle’s death `hard,’ but that is the only word that best describes the universal reaction out here,” Army photographer Alexander Roberts wrote to Lee Miller, a friend of Ernie and his first biographer.

But Ernie Pyle was not just any reporter. He was a household name during World War II and for years afterward. From 1941 until his death, Pyle riveted the nation with personal, straight-from-the-heart tales about hometown soldiers in history’s greatest conflict.

In 1944, his columns for Scripps-Howard Newspapers earned a Pulitzer Prize and Hollywood made a movie, Ernie Pyle’s Story of G.I. Joe, starring Burgess Meredith as the slender, balding 44-year-old reporter.”

Hugh Van Es photo of CIA helicopter on Saigon apartment building

Two of the most famous photographs to come out of the Vietnam War are the one above from Hugh Van Es that captures the desperate last flight out of Saigon. A CIA helicopter is on a Saigon apartment building, not the embassy. Below is acclaimed British war photographer Don McCullin’s photo of an American Marine suffering from shellshock in Vietnam.:

Don McCullin's photo of a soldier in shellshock

Don McCullin (who disliked the description war photographer), said this about his career as a war photographer in an interview with the Guardian:

“‘Some times it felt like I was carrying pieces of human flesh back home with me, not negatives. It’s as if you are carrying the suffering of the people you have photographed.’

At the Imperial War Museum, McCullin’s vivid and sometimes shocking testimony is war reportage as it used to be. He would not, he says, want to be a young war photographer in Iraq or Afghanistan. ‘No way. I mean, the idea of agreeing to be embedded? No. It’s an absolute tragedy. We spent years photographing dying soldiers in Vietnam and they are not going to have that anymore. I understand that, but you have to bear witness. You cannot just look away.'”

McCullin talks about his career as a war photographer in this story and video…

The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is regarded as the war that brought photography onto the front lines. Photographs were used like “weapons” in manipulating public opinion. The smaller cameras allowed war photographers to move along the front lines, capturing photos like this famous one from Robert Capa, The Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, 1937.

Robert Capa Death of a Loyalist Soldier 1937

Capa covered five wars, including World War Two and the Normandy Invasion, where he took this photograph:

Robert Capa D Day Landing

The Korean War maybe regarded as the “forgotten war” but not for its war photography. David Douglas Duncan’s book “This Is War!” is a classic. He said this was what war photography meant to him:

“I wanted to show what war did to a man . . . I wanted to tell a story of war, as war has always been for men through the ages. Only their weapons, the terrain, the causes have changed.”

David Douglas Duncan Life



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