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Two images of the miners' strike, an instant apart: so which is the classic? (theguardian.com)
115 points by prismatic 3 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

There is a brilliant picture illustrating this. I tried to track it down but couldn't find it anywhere. It is actually three "different" pictures. The first is a soldier (I believe it was US soldier) giving a drink of water to a very tired or distressed looking man (I think he looked Middle Eastern). The second was a very tired or distressed looking man (the same one in the same pose) with a soldier (different to the first one) pointing an assault rifle a the unarmed man's head. The third was actually just the full pulled out picture i.e. a soldier giving water to a very tired or distressed looking man while another soldier held an assault rifle to his head. It very powerfully shows that you can be reporting on facts but depending on how you frame it (in this case literally) can completely change the message behind the "facts" that you are reporting on. One picture showed the US army as a generous saviour to this poor man. The other showed the US soldier as a monster that was pointing a rifle at a poor distressed man's head. The third showed that is was actually both or maybe neither. Really wish I could track that one down.

This is the uncropped image: https://i.imgur.com/hR2yEBe.jpg

And these are the versions with different framing: https://www.penser-critique.be/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/ca...

Looking at the full picture, that rifle is very likely not even pointed at the man being given water. I wouldn't be surprised to find that the solder with the weapon is facing away from the whole scene, and not watching the two helping the man on the ground at all.

I think it only looks like the rifle is pointed at the man because it was taken with a telephoto lens that compresses the depth of the image a lot.

The fact that the drink-giver's fingers are on the subject's head gives it away. No way his squad mate is pointing his gun anywhere near his colleague's fingers.

Really interesting to look at this a photographer. In the 'famous' image of the miners' strike a miner (wearing a toy police helmet) is at first glance staring into the face of a serious-looking real policeman opposite him. However, at a second, longer glance, the miner is clearly not actually opposite the policeman - his head is twice the size. The less famous image shows that the miner is actually opposite a line of policeman and the one directly in front of him has a much less intense expression (one has a slight smile / smirk). This is two different shots rather than two different crops of the same shot but the effect is as you describe.

Looking at the picture of the soldiers with the tired/distressed man, there are two soldiers on either side of the distressed man. A third soldier in the foreground is holding a gun. The angle of the image has the end of the gun directly above the man's head but it possible from the real geometry that the gun is only very loosely pointed at the man, and not at the top of his head at all. I'm not suggesting here that my interpretation is correct, but it again shows how ambiguous imagery can be, even when not edited to make a point.

Looking at the links of the photos from other commenters, is the gun actually pointed at man being given water? There's 3 US soldiers in frame, the one holding the guy and the one giving him water are both next to the guy, and the 3rd seems a few feet away, and could easily be holding his gun in a neutral position, pointed at the ground, giving a optical illusion similar to what tourists try to do with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Edit: Looked at it a bit more, the non-water giving adjacent US soldier is not holding the guy (I think his hands are bound behind his back by cuffs/rope/zip ties/whatever).

The man in question appears to be in an Iraqi army uniform, so is likely a POW. I also agree that the rifle muzzle is much closer to the photographer than the man, so much so that the focus is slightly off, and is being held in a neutral-but-ready position (which would make sense of covering POWs).

I wouldn't jump to either conclusion from just this one photograph.

Sharpness can drop off quickly outside the focal plane, depending on the aperture and other camera settings, so the gun barrel being blurry doesn't mean much. Whether it's 6 inches away from the POW or 6 feet away can be difficult to tell, and a photo could be staged to make either option plausible.

Sort of tangential, but this reminds me of The Guardian (the newspaper from the OP)'s TV ad from 1986: https://youtube.com/watch?v=_SsccRkLLzU


Found by entering "soldier gun water photo" in Google.

My Googling skills mustn't be what they used to be.

The famous photo of the Tank man from Tianamen square is shown in the article, and it's the most common view. But, it doesn't convey very well what the person must have seen. Standing up to a handful of tanks must require guts of steel, but standing up to a battalion of tanks is surreal.

The following photo shows this much better: https://imgur.com/a/OkjFI6j

Whoa, I’ve never seen this one thanks!

Pictures are how the press misleads us, in a way where they don't have to acknowledge to us (and often not even to themselves) what they're doing.

Here's some interesting commentary on that: https://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2008/09/mms_chicks_oil_sex_d... https://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2010/07/did_bp_fake_a_pictur...

they merely follow the lead of politicians and political machines everywhere. both strive on strive. To do so requires separating people along ideals and the first step to that is misrepresentation or distortion of a fact and then exploiting that without backing off.

the internet turned a lot of that upside down while enabling more to begin with. however in the end many more eyes on the news means it is possible to get to the truth a lot easier than before

Television "news" used to be really good about providing cinematic images instead of reality. A crowd of protestors on the street but, when the camera pulls back, you find the "crowd" is about 10 people and no one else paying any attention to them.

Fortunately, some are better about pulling back intentionally to show such things but I still catch it occasionally.

A good example of this was when the hungarian state television reported on a protest. The reporter stood blocks away from the protest itself and reported that there were practically no protesters. In contrast, a non-state owned television's reporter was standing among the protesters, so the difference is astounding: https://thecontrarianhungarian.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/p... [0]

[0] https://thecontrarianhungarian.wordpress.com/2012/01/08/to-t...

On a similar theme, 2 of my favourite photos were taken when I was safariing in Tanzania.

The first, 3 lions clustering over a recent kill, an example of wild, raw Africa.

The 2nd, pulled back, has the 3 lions in the background and about a dozen Jeeps in the foreground, all with heads stuck out the top like me taking photos.

The 2nd one even has someone looking into my lens with a slightly guilty look on their face, as if they knew I was revealing "commercialised" Africa.

A more ironic version is when the journalist taking pictures of the protest are more numerous than the protest

Or when a well-known TV anchor pretends a whole area is flooded, but is actually standing in a ditch.

Please tell me you're not referencing the widely debunked Anderson Cooper conspiracy theory.


Huh? The article does a poor job of answering the question posed in the title (please, author, just tell me which is the "classic"). I've never seen the image in question and just wanted to get that basic fact straight before reading.

The article leads with two side-by-side images. The one on the right, apparently, is the "classic" one. However, it has been cropped, which makes the comparison pointless. The caption is no help either, just giving the photographer's last name but not identifying the "classic."

Was the goal to force the reader solve the riddle for themselves? If so, it ruins the rest of the discussion.

I'm reminded of almost every image you see of Trump interacting with world leaders.

Merkel A:


Merkel B:


Trudeau A:


Trudeau B:


When these are used to manipulate as they so often are, I consider these lies just the same as if they were printed words. Imagine your friend sent you a photo like this with the implication that the people were being aggressive somehow, but it turned out to be an instantaneous facial expression in a completely different moment. Such choice of image is a way for the media to lie with some veneer of deniability, and they do it every chance they get.

It's even worse on Twitter. And don't remind me of the images of the Kavanaugh hearing...

Whoa! That's nuts to see side by side. It's one thing to know the media does this. It's totally different to actually see it of the same event.

Really helps them frame the narrative in their own spin.

These are beautiful examples. Thanks.

Though, seriously the first one looks like a heated debate on what pizzas to order.

Macron: "Can we just order the damn pizzas?"

Merkel: "We're not getting just pepperoni. We're getting something with variety."

Bolton: "I like anchovies."

Trump: "I'm not paying if there's going to be vegetables on it and you can't make me."

Bolton: "I like anchovies."

Abe: "I agree with the yankee. Pepperoni or we're getting tacos."

Bolton: "I like anchovies."

That dude to Abe's right. Really trying for that modeling career.

I like my narrative better.

You need to get into political satire writing :)

Those are very good examples of how choosing from among(what must now with digital cameras tens or hundreds of ) images can result in very different perceptions of what an event truly was.

Meta: can we ever know what "an" event truly was? Or are there as many events as there are people there? This whole thread reminds me of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talking_It_Over) which goes over the same events from three different perspectives. There's a rich tradition of trying to figure this out through art...

Meta: can we ever know what "an" event truly was?

Einstein put an end to that comforting notion a hundred years ago when he showed that simultaneity (and thus causality) are meaningful only to observers in the same inertial reference frame. How often does that apply in politics?

Also reminds me of the widely-circulated photo from the recent G-20 summit, depicting a forlorn Donald Trump watching Putin and bin Salman from the background as they fist-bump each other enthusiastically like old pals.

It was actually an excerpt from a video of Trump bumbling randomly around in the back of the room, sporting his increasingly-common thousand yard stare. There's no indication that he even recognized Putin and MbS, but since digital video is now good enough to supply publication-quality still frames, it was possible to extract a single frame that supported the desired narrative perfectly. Interesting example of a phenomenon we'll definitely be seeing more of.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but also a thousand questions. It's amazing how we can craft an entire narrative for an event from a split second of light exposure.

This is where things went wrong.

It was the job of the journalist to do this, eg, pick the best images that convey what really happened.

Along the way the news and journalist changed. Now they are all politically aligned and do their best to pick the images that best align with their political agendas.

At some point we are going to have to put a stop to bias reporting and force news organizations to either not be called "news" or report un framed - unbiased --- facts.

I don't need to hear the reporters, or anybody from the news organizations opinion on the matter. I just what the raw information.

I disagree with the idea that: 1)journalists were ever not politically aligned; 2) that it is possible to have unbiased reporting.

I think it is more honest to admit that we are all highly political... especially the people that claim that they are not, or that a particular question is not political. In fact the latter is one of my bug-bears about HN culture. Frequently it is claimed that discussing politics is divisive and/or uninformative. I consider this to be a veiled (possibly unconscious) desire to claim that there are objective realities about non-physical/mensurable observations.

All is politics.

The most honest journalism is that which admits its bias and makes its best explicit case for how well its model fits the world.

Sure, you could say it is all politics, and it would be hard to separate out any biases and political views form these organizations.

But I think most can read between the lines. These things are on a scale, say from 0 to 9. At some point in the past - bias and political charged reporting and news was was closer to say a 3. But today our news organizations have cranked it up to a 11.

I can't speak to other places. But within the U.S. the "mainstream" media really has not changed. Here I am talking about organizations such as ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR News, The new Your Times, and the like. All of which are fairly conscientious about separating out their biases (no one is perfect, but they all make concerted efforts).

However, Fox News was then created because conservative groups did not like the coverage (it did not agree with their biases). They called the rest of the media "left wing" or "liberal" and so re-framed Centrists as Leftists. Their success prompted a couple of organizations to veer a bit to the Left (e.g.: MSNBC), but that has not taken nearly as much of the viewership as it has on the Right.

And then more recently you have the rise of conspiracy sites like The Drudge Report or Alex Jones/Info Wars that have started to dominate Republican politics. There certainly are similar sites on the Left side of the spectrum (there are always fringe sites), but they don't have the heft or following withing mainstream Democratic politics that has happened in Republican circles.

So we still have the good news organizations, but now we have some really bad ones, and they are screaming the the good ones are bad. It is sad that people are believing this.

> but they don't have the heft or following withing mainstream Democratic politics that has happened in Republican circles.

That's because the Democratic establishment is scared shirtless of the party being taken over by actual leftists... While the Republican establishment doesn't mind their party being taken over by the fringe right. Business will continue as usual, for them.

So, one side pretends their populist arm doesn't exist (And keeps losing elections, because it has nothing to offer it), while the other side is happy to embrace it.

The DNC looks like they still have not got the message. The only question really is whether the left can take over the party machinery or would be better off third partying.


Honestly, from my perspective those seem like highly biased sources which completely fail to give a fair shake to either the right or the left. They are IMO neo-liberal capitalist propaganda makers. The most egregious examples of this are in coverage of e.g. the completely fake news which provided a fig-leaf for invading and destroying Iraq, or earlier the Vietnam war.

Hermann and Chomsky covered how this works w.r.t. the Vietnam war, and if anyone wants to know why conspiracies seem plausible, it is because of the distrust which the "official" outlets have earned by these methods of media manipulation.

Just wanting the raw information is a nice idea but it's not a realistic one, as even the choice of what data you are presented with introduces potential for bias, and if you aren't presented with specific parts of full data then you're left with the raw information of everything that happens in the world and nowhere near enough bandwidth to even consume most of it, yet alone understand it all.

Afaink, the original journalism was political. If I am wrong, I would really like to know when was the time reporting was unpolitical or without agenda.

So I suppose these prove that photography is art? (down to our interpretation, provoke an emotional response).

So that leads on to other questions.

Why hasn't photography developed the same delineation between 'documentary' and 'art', that film seems to have developed?

These images seem quite stylised,and emotive in a way that tv news isn't (even those pictures of African kids with flies in their eyes).

Even in text theres stylistic differences between 'news' and 'novel'.

To put it in perhaps a clearer way. I could see these hanging in an art gallery. I wouldn't expect a newspaper to win a literature award, or a news item to win a film award. And yes there are many exceptions to both those examples :)

Photography has developed a very defined delineation between "documentary" and "art". For reference, compare the work of Dorothea Lange versus Robert Mapplethorpe.

Lange's body of work definitely consists of many works of "art" but I think it all fits nicely into the category of documentary and photojournalism. Mapplethorpe on the other hand produced many pieces of "art" but rarely did it fall into the category of documentary. There are some artists, perhaps, Diane Arbus, who made art out of documenting marginalized peoples.

The point being, photography has developed a delineation between documentary and art, but there's also quite a bit of overlap. That overlap exists in film as well. There are a variety of documentary films that would also be considered works of art.

"Lange's body of work definitely consists of many works of "art" but I think it all fits nicely into the category of documentary and photojournalism"

That kind of proves my point?

Yes Mapplethorpe's work is definitely 'art', Langes work isn't definitely 'documentary', to the point that if you saw a picture in isolation, I'm not sure you could reliably say which it was /supposed/ to be.

I'm aware the line between 'art' and 'documentary' are very slippery. Thus the inverted commas, and thus (I would argue) the need for clear delineation.

As I said in my prior post, there are plenty of exceptions, but I'm not sure you can get much past generalisations without defining art. And I've yet to see a definition of art without exceptions, to the definition.

Edit: To expand further. Think of films like District 9 or Blair Witch Project. Both are shot in a 'documentary' style, but both are 'art'. But both are A. Notable for being in the opposing style (they're exceptions that prove the rule). B. Understood that they aren't really real (they aren't seeking to mislead).

You don't really get that in photography, although the limitation of the medium doesn't really allow you to do that set up.

I wasn't trying to prove opposition. I was simply providing examples of where there's a clear delineation between documentary and art, and how they can overlap and share aspects and details.

However I don't agree with your statement: "Langes work isn't definitely 'documentary', to the point that if you saw a picture in isolation, I'm not sure you could reliably say which it was /supposed/ to be."

Looking at her work, knowing that she's documenting real people and understanding that the "art" in her work doesn't inherently come from the subject, which is what defines her work. It's not supposed to be anything. She took a photo, using her best judgement in that split second, to create an everlasting image. That's the art. I am not going to a gallery to see her work so I can say, ah yes, this is what art is supposed to be. I'm going to see what she saw, and how she documented it, which due to her form and style, is the artwork.

Defining art and the words used to define it, open up an immense rabbit hole that I don't particularly find interesting or worth getting into.

The films you mention I think are terrible examples. District 9 barely falls into a documentary style. Think about a true documentary, something like La Soufrière (Herzog) which becomes a work of "art" due to the laborious efforts of our film maker to show us people who've accepted their incoming demise at the hands of a Volcano on the verge of eruption. The film is considered a piece of art due to nature of the documentary which explores confronting death through the eyes of real people and their real situations.

Also Blair Witch did in fact attempt to mislead people with it's initial marketing campaign and release. It was an incredible marketing campaign that made it one of the most successful Independent films ever.

Actually, photography does allow people to create fictitious stories and narratives, designed to look like documentary and other styles. Look at Cindy Sherman. She spent years, and hundreds of photographs creating fictional versions of herself, in tons of styles.

Edit: The core of what I'm ultimately trying to convey, is that art, can be anything. Any style or genre descriptor your throw at something, can still be a work of art. It's the craft, and thought, and construction of something that makes it a piece of art, whether it's a photograph, an carpentry project, or a line of code.

"Looking at her work, knowing that she's documenting real people " That requires context outside of the work though? (how do you know it is documentary?) Your example of Mapplethorpe wouldn't require that clarification.

The point I was trying to get to (badly) in my original post was that images like Lange's wouldn't look out of place in either a newspaper or an art gallery. That's a problem because you don't know if its supposed to be 'real' or not. A film like district 9 despite blurring the boundaries is clearly 'art', in film there is a division between 'art' and 'documentary' which the film plays with, but it can do that because it clearly isn't real.

"The core of what I'm ultimately trying to convey, is that art, can be anything" Agreed, that's where it gets messy. 'documentary' should try to inform though? 'Art' may try to inform, or may not, so its important to know the difference.

Manipulation and outright lying with the help of photographs is common. A recent example I came across were the (by now routine) claims of independent day events in Poland marred by fascism in Poland. The Western or Western-owned media (80% of Polish media is German-owned) will throw up an image of a tightly cropped image of a few shouting people holding flags of meaning unknown to the Western eye and make frankly slanderous claims in the article. Knowing people who actually attended the festivities can help, and by their accounts there was no such presence and such questions have only provoked quizzical looks. Further investigation revealed that there indeed was a group of protestors, but that it was very small, was present somewhere on the periphery for a very brief period of time, and were not fascists but nationalists (i.e., those who believe in the sovereignty of the nation state, etc, though I realize that fascism and nationalism have been tirelessly conflated by globalists either out of ignorance or malice). In a word, this was nothing but a routine and frankly unnoticeable presence of a group of people most people probably don't even know exist. But now you have people unjustly believing Poland is an emerging fascist state which gives globalists leverage.

Basically, while fake news is a problem, we should not be too eager to believe the corporate and official media that present a simple, comfortable, easy to believe, self-serving narrative to us.

How do you know that there were only a few nationalists, and no fascists present at the celebration? Does your news source of choice not have an agenda?

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