Shooting War: 18 Profiles of Conflict Photographers

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Shooting War: 18 Profiles of Conflict Photographers


Feinstein, Anthony. Shooting War: 18 Profiles of Conflict Photographers. New York, NY: Glitterati Editions, 2018, 256 pp., $50.00 (hardback).

Australian photographer Ashley Gilbertson, on assignment in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004 for the New York Times, heard from a Marine about insurgent gunfire coming from a mosque. If true, such an attack would remove the Geneva Conventions immunity that shielded the mosque as a holy place, safe from retaliation. Gilbertson wanted documentation of the weaponry and dead Iraqis. As an embedded journalist answering to his units captain, he insisted that he go alone inside the mosque, believed to have been neutralized by Marines return fire, to record images proving it had harbored active shooters. The captain ruled otherwise and assigned two Marines to accompany the photographer.

Creeping through the darkened building, Gilbertson felt as if he had been splashed with water. Not so. A hidden gunman put a bullet, point-blank, into the brain of one of the Marines assigned to keep Gilbertson safe.

Not water. Blood.

During the ensuing gunfire exchanges, as a Marine squad retrieved the body, Gilbertson wished he would take a bullet. That would have absolved me of all this responsibility and I could just die, he told psychiatrist and trauma specialist Anthony Feinstein in an interview.

Feelings of guilt and shame are primary symptoms of moral injury, according to the medical literature Feinstein quotes in his book Shooting War: 18 Profiles of Conflict Photographers. Distinct from the mental illness of post-traumatic stress syndrome, which war correspondents suffer to a degree similar to combat participants, moral injury creates a kind of cognitive dissonance in which ones actions do not match ones expectations in a moral universe. You try to do something good, but your actions bring about terrible consequences.

How does one cope with such an onerous burden? And why, given the likelihood of repeatedly witnessing (and recording) the worst acts of human behavior, would one become a war photographer-and keep going back to the front, again and again?

Feinstein is an excellent choice for answering those questions. First, he brings his own military and photographic experience to the table, courtesy of his being forced as a young doctor to serve in the South African army during combat in Namibia in 1982, which the book captures in his own photographs. Second, at the University of Toronto, he began studying the effects of combat coverage on journalists, leading to his seminal work (which I regularly quote in my undergraduate History of American Journalism course), Journalists under Fire: The Psychological Hazards of Covering War. Third, he does more than tell a simple narrative mix of biography and photographic exegesis; his neurological expertise allows him to share with readers, in simple language, what goes on inside the photographers little gray cells as they cope with their work and its long-term impact on their lives.

And finally, Feinstein does all of this with a writing style that is direct, powerful, and sympathetic. …

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