Ethics or Aesthetics: The problem with media photography

Who says the lens never lies? As images play an ever stronger part in our engagement with world events, Connie Fisher explores the fine line treaded by photojournalism between communication and exploitation and urges us not to fall victim to the art of manipulation.

 

The photographer of this Israeli airstrike on Beit Lahia, Gaza, in 2009, has managed to turn a disastrous moment of panic into an impressive work of art. © Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images, under Creative Commons licence.

The live news icon on my computer’s home screen scrolls through headline images, to which my immediate reaction is frequently a feeling of discomfort. This is not due to the content of the news articles, but rather to something I feel is integrally problematic with the photos themselves. There are images of lonely, tattered children backed by Syrian refugee camps, which are hauntingly beautiful, and carefully composed shots of women lifting their hands to the sky amid the rubble of the Gaza conflict, which remind one of a work of art. In many of the widely distributed images of world issues, there seems to be an incongruous and unsettling combination of reportage and art.

We can assess photography according to a scale of purpose and context. At one extreme is journalistic photography, which we believe solely intends to accurately represent the reality of a situation. At the other extreme is photography as an art form, creating images of what we might call beauty. This can be created pre-capture through the composition of the photograph, the content of the frame, or the quality of the image, and also in post-capture digital editing.

The difficulty comes when an image doesn’t sit neatly on either side of the scale. We trust the media to provide us with objective images, to act as our eyes in that which we cannot witness first-hand. However, since the very introduction of photography, we have been aware of its ability to manipulate reality, only ever really able to produce one fixed, time-captured viewpoint, never ‘the whole picture’. High-quality modern cameras even have the ability to enhance reality to the point where life looks clearer through a camera, where people look more beautiful. Continue reading

USA, the fallen superpower?

The wane of the US as world superpower has long been prophesied. Warwick University student Karan Thakrar argues that recent world events are bringing this moment ever closer, and that one may be replaced by three.

 

Ever since the end of the Cold War, US dominance as a world superpower has been obvious. Their economic strength and the so-called ‘McDonaldisation‘ of global culture have resulted in the relative destruction of communism as a viable modern ideology. US military capacity is also unusually strong. The US spends $640 billion (£377 billion) on its military alone. Its defence budget is so big, it outspends the defence budgets of all the richest eight countries combined. Add to this a widespread feeling of American exceptionalism – the belief that the US is fundamentally different to other nations – which has contributed to some aggressive foreign policy in the 20th century.

A US soldier in Ameriyah, Iraq, 2007. © US Army/Creative Commons license

But is this declining? While the US has displayed willingness to back itself up with hard power, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in recent times this has not been the case, and as a result its influence on the world stage has diminished. The Obama administration has arguably been lacklustre in its performance on the international stage compared to previous administrations. Take the example of Syria. Obama’s famous ‘red line’ comment over Assad’s use of chemical weapons sparked a reaction from the US, who immediately started planning on bombing strategic sites in Syria. However, after the British Parliament voted against military intervention, followed by France, the US felt it did not have the support to proceed. Continue reading

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: is free trade really the way forward?

For almost a year, the EU and the US have been negotiating what could be the most extensive bilateral trade agreement in history. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) aims at making it easier to trade goods and services across the Atlantic. However, as public awareness – and objections – have increased, a question has arisen: is freer trade what is best for Europeans and Americans? King’s College London International Politics student, Claire Dale, investigates.

 

The UK government promotes the TTIP to an American audience. © Foreign and Commonwealth Office / Creative Commons license

The UK government promotes the TTIP to an American audience. © Foreign and Commonwealth Office / Creative Commons license

The European Commission’s (EC) economic assessment states that the TTIP could increase the size of the EU’s economy by €120 billion and the US’s by €90 billion per year. The EC also claims that the treaty would make ‘a positive contribution to the global economy’, creating jobs and increasing the EU’s economic output by as much as 0.5 per cent by 2027. With already very low tariffs on trade between the US and EU, about 3 per cent on average, this predicted growth would come from reducing other types of barriers to trade, i.e. regulations.

While the EC argues that ‘progress in improving conditions for trade and investment will not be at the expense of our basic [European] values’, there is good reason to fear that the ‘harmonising’ of regulations may lead to a race to the bottom in terms of health and safety, environmental and labour standards. Indeed, the more regulations that are in place in a given country, the higher the operating costs for businesses, which is contrary to the aims and predicted success of the TTIP. Continue reading

Las autodefensas: Mexican heroes or armies ‘out of control’?

During the last two decades, drug organisations have gained tremendous power in Mexico. These groups, combined with the corruption that pervades government structures, have created a vicious environment in which civilians are the most affected. MA International Political Economy student Carlos Arturo Aguilar investigates the recent trend for civil retaliation, and its effects on the balance of power and security.

 

Mexico’s cartels have gone beyond drug trafficking. In many towns they control the inhabitants’ livelihoods by setting taxes for producers, distributors and retailers. They also put tariffs on property depending on the size of house or the number of vehicles a family owns. People fear that the cartel will knock on the door someday asking either for money, women or the life of a family member.

But patience has limits, especially when life is at stake. Since 2013, it has not been rare to find towns patrolled by 4x4s with men and women carrying AK-47s and assault rifles, wearing bulletproof vests and equipped with radio-transmission devices. These people are the self-defence groups (autodefensas). Their objective: to reinstate order and security by driving out the drug organisations. Continue reading

The young and the restless: a critique of security threat analysis

In our second article exploring the ramifications of youthful populations for society, MSC Security Studies student Rosemary Schwitzer explains the damaging effects of the ‘youth bulge’ theory, used to predict social unrest around the world.

 

Newsweek

A cover from Newsweek in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. Photograph of original © Hector Sanchez/Creative Commons license

In October 2001, Newsweek magazine published a report entitled ‘The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?’, calling for analysis of the reasons behind 9/11. Accompanying this article was the image of a young Arab boy grasping a rifle, in addition to others showing Arab youth involved in anti-American protest and violence. Within the article, it was stated that ‘disoriented young [Arab] men’, searching for simplicity within the mix of tradition and modernity of their daily lives, are naturally drawn to fundamentalism.

Whilst this may appear a perfectly innocent article suggesting motives for the terror attacks, it is in reality a dangerous contribution to an already thriving collection of discourses defining youth in certain regions of the world, especially young men, as security threats. Its usage of dichotomising terms such as ‘them’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ works to divide the world into two parts – one considered threatening and the other stable – ignoring the complex reality of our ever more interconnected world. Its alarmist nature serves to incite concern amongst populations in the ‘developed’ world that the ‘dangerous’, ‘undeveloped’ portion will spill over and create widespread insecurity. Continue reading