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<nettime> The Unseen Gulf War - by Peter Turnley
Soenke Zehle on Wed, 29 Jan 2003 20:40:46 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Unseen Gulf War - by Peter Turnley

I wonder what front-page images of carbonized bodies would do to further
quell what seems to be already flagging enthusiasm for the war? It seems
less important to me whether these are 'American' or 'Iraqi' bodies, there's
a strange humanism in these images that accompanies their (sometimes
inadvertent) performance/visualization of national difference... every one
of them a reminder of what war abstractly, 'as such,' as well as
'actually' - if a term that naive can even be invoked in the context of
images of war - looks like.

Maybe use some of that 200 billion USD in the debt-financed war chest and
bribe parts of the Iraqi military into a post-Saddam future



The Unseen Gulf War

BY Peter Turnley
December 2002


As we approach the likelihood of a new Gulf War, I have an idea and it
occurs to me that the Digital Journalist may be the place for it. As we all
know, the military pool system created then was meant to be, and was, a
major impediment for photojournalists in their quest to communicate the
realities of war (This fact does not diminish the great efforts, courage,
and many important images created by many of my colleagues who participated
in these pools.). Aside from that, while you would have a very difficult
time finding an editor of an American publication today that wouldn't
condemn this pool system and its restrictions during the Gulf War, most
publications and television entities more or less bought the program before
the war began (this reality has been far less discussed than the critiques
of the pools themselves).

I refused to participate in the pool system. I was in the Gulf for many
weeks as the build-up of troops took place, and then sat out the "air war",
and flew from Paris to Riyadh as soon as the ground war began. I arrived at
the "mile of death" the morning the day the war stopped. It was very early
in the morning and few other journalists were present. When I arrived at the
scene of this incredible carnage, strewn all over on this mile stretch were
cars and trucks with wheels still turning, radios still playing, and there
were bodies scattered along the road. Many people have asked the question
"how many people died" during the war with Iraq and the question has never
been well answered. That first morning, I saw and photographed a U.S.
Military 'graves detail' bury in large graves many bodies.

I don't recall seeing many television images of the human consequences of
this scene, or for that matter many photographs published. A day later, I
came across another scene on an obscure road further north and to the east
where, in the middle of the desert, I found a convoy of lorries transporting
Iraqi soldiers back to Baghdad, where clearly massive fire power had been
dropped and everyone in sight had been carbonized. Most of the photographs I
made of this scene have never been published anywhere and this has always
troubled me.

As we approach the distinct possibility of another war, a thought comes to
mind. The photographs that I made do not, in themselves, represent any
personal political judgment or point of view with respect to the politics
and the right or wrong of the first Gulf War. What they do represent is a
part of a more accurate picture of what really does happen in war. I feel it
is important and that citizens have the right to see these images. This is
not to communicate my point of view, but so viewers as citizens can be
offered a better opportunity to consider the whole picture and consequences
of that war and any war. I feel that it is part of my role as a
photojournalist to offer the viewer the opportunity to draw from as much
information as possible, and develop his or her own judgment.

This past war and any one looming, have often been treated as something akin
to a 'Nintendo game'. This view conveniently obscures the vivid and often
grotesque realities apparent to those directly involved in war. As a witness
to the results of this past Gulf War, this televised, aerial, and
technological version of the conflict is not what I saw and I'd like to
present some images that I made that represent a more complete picture of
what this conflict looked like.

War is at best a necessary evil, and I am certain that anyone that feels
differently has never experienced or been in it. I have always hoped that
true images of conflict give one the opportunity to witness and reflect more
fully on the full realities of war. After covering many conflicts around the
world in past 20 years and witnessing much human suffering, I feel a
responsibility to try to contribute to making sure with my images that no
one that sees the brutal realities of conflict, ever feels that war is
comfortable and/or convenient.

I would like to propose that we discuss a portfolio of these difficult
images now, as a future war in Iraq grows more likely every passing day. I
look forward to hearing from you.

My best. Peter Turnley

© Peter Turnley
peterturnley {AT} yahoo.com

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