Not a Pretty Picture

Looking this war in the face proves difficult when the press itself won't even put in an appearance


An Iraqi civilian, struck in the head by shrapnel from an aerial bombing, collapses, and an army medic rushes over to help.
photo: David Leeson/The Dallas Morning News
I don't hold much esteem for the usual crime-and-catastrophe formula on most late-news shows, but I have even less for contentions that withholding information from the public is good for them. Because we are a country of diverse culture groupings, there will always be differences of view, about war photographs and stories, over matters of taste and "shock" issues. But, while the reporter or photographer must consider these impact and shock issues his primary mission has to be one of getting the story right. And getting it right means not omitting anything important out of timidity or squeamishness. When I would return from a war scene, I always felt I had to write the story first for myself and then for the reader. The goal was to come as close as possible to make the reader smell, feel, see, and touch what I had witnessed that day. "Pay attention," was my mental message to the reader. "People are dying. This is important."

A generation later, the photographer David Leeson, whom I talked with on the phone, has similar passions.

He said: "I understand the criticisms about blood and gore. I don't seek that. When I approach a body on the ground after a battle, I'm determined to give dignity to that person's life and photograph him with respect. But sometimes, as with my pictures of child victims, the greatest dignity and respect you can give them is to show the horror they have suffered, the absolutely gruesome horror." Leeson went on: "War is madness. Often when I was in it, I would think of my work as dedicated to stopping it. But I know that's unrealistic. When I considered the readers who would see my photos, I felt I was saying to them: 'If I hurt inside, I want you to hurt too. If something brings me to tears, I want to bring you to tears too.' "

Baghdad E.R. doctors examine a child who was fatally wounded in an aerial bombing attack.
photo: David Leeson/The Dallas Morning News
Baghdad E.R. doctors examine a child who was fatally wounded in an aerial bombing attack.

I don't see any place for "restraint" in this picture.

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