Dissemination of Images

Over time, the dissemination of war images to the general public has changed. From exhibitions to the Internet, photojournalists have had to adapt to new photographic technologies as well as dissemination technologies, along with censorship

The Civil War was the first widely documented American war due to Matthew Brady and his innovative idea to send photographers out with portable darkrooms. When the field photographers would return to Brady, he would display their photographs in his studios in New York and Washington D.C. (Manning and Wyatt Vol. I 2011). These exhibitions were extremely popular. Visitors waited in long lines to see “The Dead of Antietam” show, which allowed them to see the war for themselves. An anonymous reviewer wrote in the New York Times, “Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality of war” (Henry 2005). It was not until the 1960s that the reality of these photographs was called into question, but that could not change the public reception of the day (Snyder 2014).

With the advancement of photographic printing, newspapers and magazines employed photographers to cover the Spanish-American War. William Dinwiddie provided photographic content for Truth magazine as well as the New York Herald. Harper’s Weekly, Leslie’s Weekly, and Collier’s Weekly also employed photographers and published photographs and artistic renderings alike of conflict. In the days before broadcast journalism and electronic media, newspapers were the primary source for news and attracted large audiences. Photographs of the Spanish-American War could reach readers daily or weekly, depending on subscriptions and photographers’ output (Manning and Wyatt Vol. I 2011).

In addition to publishing photographs in magazines, Truth sold Dinwiddie’s photographs in sets of five for $2.50. Stereoscope and lantern slides of battle images were also produced (Manning and Wyatt Vol.  2011). During the late 1800s, stereographs were a popular mass medium. Stereographs were pairs of photographs of the same scene taken at slightly different angles. When the two photographs were viewed through a stereoscope, the image became three-dimensional. This eefect could create a sense of authenticity and presence for the viewer, especially in the context of war photographs (Mendelson and Kitch 2011).

By World War II, magazines that heavily relied on photojournalism were popular. LIFE magazine hired photographers such as Robert Capa to cover the war. Armed with his credentials and four rolls of 35mm film, Capa took 106 photographs of the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach. However, when in the darkroom, most of the photographs were accidentally destroyed by the developer (Pritchard 2014). One of Capa’s surviving photographs, “The Face in the Surf,” appeared in LIFE thirteen days after it was taken as a testament to the frenzy and violence of D-Day (Tramz 2014).

Contax I

One of the most iconic LIFE covers depicts Marines at Iwo Jima taking cover as a Japanese bunker explodes. Taken by W. Eugene Smith, the photograph makes known to the viewer the danger and violence faced by soldiers and is quite possibly one of the most graphic photographs to be printed on the cover of LIFE (Cosgrove 2013). Another photograph taken at Iwo Jima is more famous than Smith’s cover photo. Joe Rosenthal’s “Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima” is one of the most reproduced photographs in history, including stamps and Lego reproductions. After the publication of the photograph in 1945, Americans heavily invested in war bonds. This newfound financial stability and support, perhaps spurred from the photograph, helped Allied forces to victory. Whether or not the photograph was staged has been debated in recent years. Regardless of its authenticity, the power that “Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima” had over the American people had a rally around the flag effect (Patterson 2015).

The Associated Press sent many photographers to conflict zones during the Vietnam War. The pervasiveness of these images in news media—magazines, newspapers, and broadcast news—did not produce the same rally around the flag effect that photographs like “Raising the Flag at Iwo Jima” did. Photographs like Malcolm Browne’s self-immolation of a Buddhist monk and Horst Faas’ images of American troops brought horrors unlike any other to the American public. Reports by the “most trusted man in America,” Walter Cronkite, corroborated the stories these and other pictures told. The concern for American lives and other moral questions regarding the Vietnam War were brought to the forefront through news media and helped rouse unrest at home (Manning and Wyatt Vol. II 2011).

American Forces Deployed to Vietnam

Cameramen and photographers striving to cover news rather than create propaganda gave rise to the intensely graphic images the public saw during the Vietnam War. News reports sparked protests, such as those at Kent State University, which resulted in the deaths of four students at the hands of US National Guardsmen (Henry 2005). Eddie Adams’ “Saigon Execution,” which depicted General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong, symbolized of the mindless and pervasive violence of the war. However, Adams said of the photograph,

[General Loan] walked by us and said, “They killed many of my men and many of our people”[….] If you’re this man, this general, and you just caught this guy after he killed some of your people…How do you know you wouldn’t have pulled that trigger yourself? You have to put yourself in that situation…It’s a war. (“Saigon Execution”)

Despite the photographer’s perception of the scene, it used to reinforce the anti-war movement. Although Adams had control of the camera, he had no control over its reception and the message exacted from the photograph after its dissemination to American civilians (“Saigon Execution”). Iconic photographs of Vietnam told the story of America’s futile efforts in an unpopular war (Henry 2005). 

Gulf War Ground Offensive Begins Gulf War Ground Offensive Begins

By the time of the Gulf War, photographs had been transmitted at record speeds. Easier access to visual information meant the possibility of a higher quantity of photographs than those taken in Vietnam (Pritchard 2014). In pursuit of a rally around the flag effect, photojournalism was highly censored on a number of different levels (Manning and Wyatt Vol. II 2011). Ken Jarecke’s “Death of an Iraqi Soldier,” a gruesome image in contrast to stately American troops marching toward battle, was not published in the United States until months after the conflict was over (Deghett 2014). David C. Turnley’s photograph of Sgt. Ken Kozakiewicz’s reaction to learning of his friend Pvt. Andy Alaniz’s death is reminiscent of a Vietnam photograph. Bandages and pained expressions depict the destruction of this little-photographed conflict. Turnley’s picture was published in the March 1991 issue of LIFE, also after the official end of the war (Graham 2012). The American public’s inability to access these photographs during the conflict prevented the rise of protest and social unrest as was experienced during the Vietnam War.

New technologies, such as the ever-increasing connectivity of the Internet, have allowed Americans new opportunities for viewing visual information (Henry 2005). The ability to access the content again via computer rather than trying to locate a physical issue of the original publication makes access to this imagery easier. Typing “Luis Sinco Marlboro Marine” into Google results in pages of the original photograph as well as corresponding stories about the photograph, the photographer, the Marlboro Marine himself, and other related subjects from a wide array of online publications. However, the pervasiveness of one image is a symptom of “churnalism,” which can be viewed as a type of censorship. Churnalism provides the illusion of more content, when, in reality, the same story or image is simply repackaged by different sources (Taylor 2014). The shift from paper to digital has affected the amount of and types of images available to the American public during the ongoing War on Terror.

As the photographic landscape changes, so do the modes of dissemination. Whether it be exhibitions of wet-plate photographs or uploads of digital pictures to the Internet, certain war photographs have reached the eyes of American civilians. However, within the system of telling a visual war narrative, this dissemination is not without censure or obstacles.