Monday, April 14, 2008

The Cost of War – and of Reporting War

We've long had an interest in the way photography and visual editorials can affect the way the public perceives news and conflict. So we took special interest in the way the press and the public marked this past March's bittersweet anniversary of the Iraq War. Most remembrances and acknowledgments focused on the 3,990 American troops that have been killed, and 29,395 that have been wounded, in the five years since the coalition invasion. But the Reuters news agency's interactive project "Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War" expands on our collective remembrance by reminding us of the terrible cost also born by the press corps. This comprehensive and powerful visual compilation of the past five years of war in Iraq includes interviews, a multimedia gallery of photography, video, and fascinating information graphics that combine to put the conflict in a digestible and poignant context.

"Bearing Witness" represents the work of 16 still photographers and video from Reuters Television photojournalists. Most of these images are accessible through the website's "Timeline," a rich gallery of powerful images and a clearly-presented reconstruction of the milestone events of the war. Of the thousands of photographs shot covering the war in five years, the picture editing to bring this particular set of images together in essay in the timeline gallery is especially compelling, exceptionally strong.

Equally impactful, and much more succinct than the photographic timeline, are the project's information graphics. These series of maps and charts graphically chronicle the toll of the war – on the Iraqi people, the coalition and Iraqi militaries, and the international media.

"Iraq has been the most dangerous war in history for journalists," former Iraq bureau chief for Reuters Andrew Marshall says in the multimedia presentation's opening. "But I think it shows value of what we're doing ... covering the news in hostile places is a worthwhile thing, it can bring about change, it can inform the world, and it is worth us risking our lives." Thus, "Bearing Witness" is a fitting tribute to the photographers, camera persons, reporters, and support staff who work under incredibly difficult conditions in war zones. It also serves as a memorial to the 127 journalists – seven from Reuters – who lost their lives reporting on the war in Iraq.

"Bearing Witness" is something of a surprise, emanating as it does from a news service known more for its financial reporting than its war correspondence. But despite Reuters' relatively small investment in news reporting – less than 10% of the company's income comes from non-financial information and reportage – "Bearing Witness" is a welcome reminder that, through half a decade of war, a team of 100 Reuters correspondents, photographers, cameramen, and support staff have strived to bring the world news from the most dangerous country for the press. Worldwide, Reuters has more than 600 photographers and editors working across the globe and distributes up to 1500 pictures each day covering breaking news, features, entertainment, business and sport.

"Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War," is also the inaugural exhibition for the Idea Generation Gallery in London, running from April 9, 2008 to May 4, 2008. The exhibit stretches throughout two floors of the Gallery, bringing together war photography, video, and information graphics so as to form a narrative concerning the harrowing nature of frontline war journalism. Americans may be familiar with a number of indelible images in the exhibit, but there are other photos included in the show that will be less familiar to an audience habituated to the sanitized version of the Iraq war as presented by mainstream media outlets. FB

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