Tuesday September 23, 2014

Reality in front of the Lens

By Kiersten Remster '17

Our modern interpretation of the meaning of photography is a question that is not consistent with historical photo documentation.

When we muster up the courage to “take a Selfie” we want to capture who we are, what we stand for, or to show others what awesome thing we happen to be doing at the moment. We want to relay this scene of what we are experiencing to others, in order to invite our viewers into the scene. The pictures we take are generally factual; we want to invite others into experiencing what our day or weekend was like.

During World War I on the Egypt-Palestine front, the purpose of photography was not to relay what was actually happening at the time. Instead, the photographs were entirely campaigned and staged.

Dr. Issam Nassar, a professor of history at Illinois State University who specializes in the history of the Middle East and photography, recently visited University of Dayton to share his interests in this controversial photography.

During the period of the war, this region had a triumvirate consisting of three Pashas: Tala’at, Enver, and Jamal Pasha. The three rulers –primarily Jamal in this case- were interested in the use of photography to capture the war through clever manipulations. Nassar pointed out that “photography was used to document everything; photographs were and still are historical documents.”

War photography was not new in 1914. It was used to document battles, soldiers’ lives, and even manipulated as propaganda to rally support from citizens back home. But, this was not the intent of Jamal Pasha. Jamal strategized in the staging of photographs, yet these photos were not even used to showcase the “glory” of his soldiers on the frontlines.

Looking at the perspective of the photos, it is noticeable that the position as to where the photographer was standing at the moment it was taken. One particular photograph of soldiers lined up, armed, and aimed at the enemy reveals the perspective that the photographer stood in front of these men -who clearly were not actually fighting or near the enemy at the moment-otherwise, the photographer would not have been standing in plain sight to snap the photo. Thus, the photo is not authentic; it was staged and forged. Jamal hired several photographers for this war in order to reflect his power as the Pasha. It was a utilitarian tactic to glorify his leadership.

What is most interesting about these photos is that one would envision the Pasha utilizing these as a propaganda campaign, but instead, the photographs were placed in an envelope to only be viewed by the ruler. It was a war for the Pasha, not the people. War photography was simply an attempt to build Jamal’s future as a supreme ruler.

Jamal was creating an image outside of the image. He was certainly forging a different war from the actual bloodbath that was brutally crushing his nation.

The concept of war photography on the Egypt-Palestine front was incredibly eye opening to hear about from Dr. Nassar. He emphasized the importance that “photographs show us what happens in front of the camera; but they lie. There is a lot left outside the frame that in this case was completely opposite to what was happening.”

His conclusions beg us to question the very media and pictures that appear in our everyday lives and the countless photoshops, edits, or staging that could occur before we are presented with a possible reality.

Kiersten Remster is a sophomore Art History and German student at University of Dayton. She is the new student arts writer at ArtStreet and is very excited to be a part of the ArtStreet family. Kiersten has been a competitive swimmer her whole life and is continuing her swimming career through the Dayton Master's program. She is also serving on the Academic Affairs Committee this year as vice president and is looking forward to working with faculty in order to improve Dayton's academic curriculum.

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