Rules of Engagement
Marcia E. Vetrocq

Art in America, June/July 2008, 168-175, 208-209

hortly before the conclusion of Shattered Glass, the 2003 film that recounts the downfall of a hot
young journalist at the New Republic who was found to have fabricated the better part of his
reputation-building features, the magazine’s anguished editor receives an assessment of how the
crisis might have been averted from his assistant. “You know what could have prevented all this,
don’t you?” she asks solemnly. “Pictures. How could you make up characters if everyone you wrote
about had to be photographed?”1
The audience I shared the film with greeted that line with waves of derisive laughter. To even casual
observers of the field of photography, an expression of unqualified faith in the evidentiary value of pictures
would come as a bigger shock than did the details of Stephen Glass’s violations of press ethics. Indeed, the
“mirror with a memory” cracked well before Glass shattered. Since the early 1970s, the documentary
photograph has been subjected to a lengthy—some would argue torturous—interrogation, leading to an
assortment of charges and disclosures about such iconic images as Robert Capa’s 1936 The Falling Soldier
(quite possibly a reenactment) and Robert Doisneau’s osculating couple of 1950 (posed, not impassioned)
in Le Baiser de l’Hôtel de Ville. Pretty much from its infancy—which is to say from the mid-19th-century
Crimean War pictures of Roger Fenton and the Civil War images produced by the Mathew Brady Studio—
photojournalism has been art directed, with backdrops scouted and purposefully framed, and corpses and
firearms repositioned for enhanced narrative or esthetic effect.2 Not even forensic photography was born
innocent. In his 1992 book Evidence, Luc Sante tells of his discovery in New York’s Municipal Archives of 55
police department crime-scene photographs from 1914-18. Though technically primitive, the pictures
nevertheless evince a uniform look or “style,” and a comparison of views of the same locations disclosed
that bodies and objects had been repositioned between shots.3 The climate of trust in which a
photojournalist could submit pictures of the inconceivable with the terse injunction “Believe it”—as did Lee
Miller when she sent her photographs of Buchenwald to Vogue magazine in 1945—seems irretrievable
On the bright side, the long examination of photographic contingency and chicanery has fueled a boom in
picture-making aimed principally at the gallery and museum, where a high premium is placed on
foregrounding the art part of photography. For more than three decades, a large and diverse contingent of
artists (Christian Boltanski, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Jeff Wall, Laurie Simmons, Philip-Lorca
diCorcia, Gregory Crewdson, Gillian Wearing, Walid Raad, Thomas Demand and Andreas Gursky are
among the more famous) have worked to bolster and exploit the new photographic dispensation, which
stipulates that a photograph is not an inherently transparent representation but rather the crafted product of
staging (sometimes) and editing (inevitably), and that a photograph’s “reception” (for, like a text, a picture
has neither intrinsic nor fixed meaning) hinges on the circumstances of its presentation (context, label) and
on the expectations and preconceptions of an audience.
Of course, the triumph of the new orthodoxy didn’t banish straight photography from exhibition. For all the
macrocephalic moppets digitally bred by Loretta Lux, the gauntlet of social embarrassments arranged for
Joshua, Charlie White’s humanoid puppet, and the full array of suburban nightmares concocted by Gregory
Crewdson, we’ve also seen the awkward adolescent bathers forthrightly pictured by Rineke Dijkstra, a
survey of execution chambers across the U.S. compiled by Lucinda Devlin in “The Omega Suites,” and
Edward Burtynsky’s justly spectacular views of the demolitions and excavations for China’s Three Gorges
Dam. But if the photographic document didn’t vanish from view, the audience—like the photographers—did
grow more circumspect and self-conscious, more prepared to scrutinize the influence of format, seriality and
artistic intention: should we castigate or congratulate Devlin for the disarming serenity and handsome
chiaroscuro of her prints, which induce us to linger so comfortably over pictures of holding cells, electric
chairs and gurneys?
Questions about the applicability and the usefulness of lessons learned about photography came to mind
during the last season or so of exhibitions, a period that showed signs of an uptick of interest in pictures that
claim a certain measure of documentary credibility or some photo-based engagement with social and
political reality. (Let’s agree to dispense with ironic quotes around that last word.) No doubt several factors
have been at play. We’ve experienced a succession of critical events—the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and
Washington, D.C., Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib—for which the
circulation of amateur and professional pictures proved fundamental if not crucial to the formation of public
opinion. Probably just as pertinent to a reconsideration of reality-based photography has been a contrary
phenomenon: the emergence in the West of a culture of surveillance and secrecy as one aspect of the
domestic war on terrorism. Fretting over an image glut or staging polished send-ups of the society of the
spectacle can seem beside the point when security cameras are proliferating on the one hand, and, on the
other, the government is taking measures to sharply restrict photographic access (whether in the form of a
ban on photographing the flag-draped military coffins that arrive at Dover Air Force Base or the recent
attempt by the Bloomberg administration to expand the circumstances under which professional and
amateur photographers in New York City must register for permits and insurance).4 When the control of
visual access becomes a flashpoint, the urge to photograph the real acquires the allure of a mission.
An admittedly limited yet still heterogeneous sampling for a deeper look into the matter would include
works by Nina Berman, Thomas Demand, Harrell Fletcher, Clinton Fein, Barry Frydlender, Timothy
Greenfield-Sanders, Jules Spinatsch and Taryn Simon. This is far from a return to faith-based photography.
Rather, what emerges is a kind of “postlapsarian” practice, wised up—perhaps too self-consciously so on
occasion—and shaped in overt and subtle ways by three decades of the critique of truth in pictures. Their
photographs and projects generally share (and exceptions will be noted) an emphasis on research; a
reliance on the support of captions, statements, interviews and explicatory texts; and often, though not
always, a publication that supplies additional images and exposition to clarify and fulfill the artist’s intentions.
There is also much attention paid, in texts and in the project’s very definition, to the means by which the
photographer gained access to the subject or achieved the picture. Sometimes this takes the form of a
confession of staging or manipulation, though it can also allow the photographer to reclaim the role of the
intrepid (and even crusading) seeker of truth. It may be that the quality of photographic transparency, once
presumed dead, has simply shifted from the picture to the picture maker. In such a practice, subjectivity and
truthfulness are no longer at odds, and the acknowledgment of point of view is itself a precondition of
photographic honesty. These, then, are pictures “told” in the first person, as if they embodied the limited but
unshakable conviction voiced by Anthony Swofford at the start of Jarhead, his memoir of the Gulf War:
“What follows is neither true nor false but what I know.”

The Hostile Witness
Susan Sontag concluded her final book, Regarding the Pain of Others (2003), with an eloquent three-page
discussion of Jeff Wall’s monumental Dead Troops Talk (a vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol,
near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986), 1992. The mural-size (it’s approximately 71/2 by 131/2 feet) lightbox-
mounted work presents a broad, horizonless view into a rubble-strewn ditch where ashen, bloodied and
broken soldiers engage in a vivid yet impossible colloquy. Sontag’s interest in the digitally generated
composite is not surprising. Her book has been examined most closely for its partial revision of her earlier
doubts about straight photography, but Sontag’s essay considers all kinds of images of conflict and
suffering. (An etching from Goya’s “Disasters of War” is reproduced on the cover.) Moreover, Wall’s intention
has never been merely to stage pictures that rehearse the tricks and lies of photography (nor has he, for that
matter, ever abandoned the documentary image). Rather, he has appropriated the means available to the
filmmaker in order to endow still photography with the imaginative reach, emotional power and moral
ambition once claimed by painting. Hence his title’s sly allusion to Gauguin’s Vision After the Sermon; Jacob
Wrestling with the Angel (1888)—a painting that, in its day, amounted to a position paper on the inadequacy
of realism.
The belief that a higher purpose can be served by abandoning straightforward appearances, in
photography as in painting, is central to Peter Galassi’s discussion of Dead Troops Talk in the catalogue for
Wall’s 2007 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art:
Staged over many months in a large rented studio in the vicinity of Vancouver, the picture plausibly
could have been made in one shot. In pursuit of the utmost realism, however, Wall photographed the
figures individually and in small groups, and patched in their wounds from separate shots of clinically
accurate maquettes.5
Galassi may sound downright post-ironic when he discounts the single shot in favor of the “utmost
realism” afforded by a collage, a fabrication. But flaunting a lie precisely to expose the cracks in the truth has
long been regarded as one option in a progressive photographic practice that pursues honesty without
nostalgia for a lost ideal. Martha Rosler, for example, invoked the politically engaged photomontages of
Dada and Constructivism when she asserted:
If we want to call up hopeful or positive uses of manipulated images, we must choose images in
which manipulation is itself apparent, and not just as a form of artistic reflexivity but as a way to make
a larger point about the truth value of photographs and the illusionistic elements in the surface of (and
even the definition of) ‘reality.’6
The works of Barry Frydlender, Clinton Fein and Thomas Demand may be seen as efforts to fulfill Rosler’s
prescription for photographic staging and manipulation that aims not to dramatize ad nauseam the scandals
and betrayals of the medium but to engage the more pressing question of how what we (can) know depends
on what we (can) see. With Frydlender, the subject of a small survey at MOMA last year, the backstory is
especially piquant: an Israeli photojournalist who had an epiphany about his own complicity in
“manufacturing” news during the first Palestinian intifada, Frydlender abandoned photography in 1989,
returning after a five-year hiatus only when “he recognized that computer composites could acknowledge
their own artificiality—their inherent deceit—by incorporating evidence of the passage of time and thus of the
process that produced them.”7
The photographs at MOMA amounted to a survey of daily life in Israel, the “daily” in that country
comprising experiences both urgent and casual, from a police raid and a peace demonstration to a nearly
10-foot-wide view of a well-stocked convenience store whose tightly packed rows of colorful merchandise
harbor a mischievous allusion to Andreas Gursky’s own digitally enriched retail mural, 99 Cent (1999).
Constructing compositions that aspire to the aforementioned condition of “utmost realism,” Frydlender
seems no less conscious of art history than is Wall. The flâneurs of Manet and Sunday strollers of Seurat
have been reborn as the black-suited Orthodox men and boys in shirtsleeves who enjoy a holiday outing in
Blessing (2005). Cézanne’s card players haunt the small square tables in the friezelike Jaber Coffee Shop
(2003), an East Jerusalem café where Palestinian men scrutinize the hands they’ve been dealt in a hushed,
backlit ambient worthy of Caillebotte.
The fullest realization of Frydlender’s intentions is the large (roughly 5-by-11-foot) panorama of 2005,
Shirat Hayam (“End of Occupation?” Series #2), which purports to show the departure of 20 Israeli families
from coastal land in Gaza that is to be returned to Palestinian control. From an elevated viewpoint, not quite
a bird’s-eye but commanding enough, we survey a gleaming beach, an orderly ring of soldiers or police,
some settlers ambling to and fro, a handful of photographers (a self-referential touch), some insubstantial-
looking shelters, and the placid blue of sea and sky meeting at the horizon. According to the catalogue, the
Hebrew title is a reference to the deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh’s army, and that seems key to
explaining the panorama’s visual grandeur. But the scale of history painting (or Cecil B. DeMille) starts to seem
rather extravagant for what is so plainly an uneventful event. One looks in vain for an act of resistance, for
something approaching even the melodrama of Wall’s An Eviction (1988), a work that becomes a sort of
comparison manqué once you read in the catalogue that the Israeli army used force to dislodge the settlers
after the cameras were gone.
The constructedness of Shirat Hayam may be read in many clues: shadows are inconsistent; the same
trio of women appears twice on the beach. But Frydlender seems intent on supplemental disclosure, judging
not only by the catalogue’s revelations but also by his participation in a recurring feature of New York
magazine called “The Annotated Artwork.” As Frydlender stipulated to the magazine when it featured his
I made this [Shirat Hayam] out of about 50 images taken over the span of an hour from the top of a
watchtower. We were there for three days—the second day, the army left the watchtower and we
took over. . . . It took two months on the computer to complete. The credibility of the image as witness
is damaged. What we’re calling a photograph is not a photograph. I didn’t take the picture—I
constructed it.8
Shirat Hayam is neither a self-reflexive exercise in photographic sleight of hand nor an application of
cinematic effects for the aggrandizement of photography. Frydlender regards the constructed picture as an
image-equivalent of the actual (which is to say fraudulent) historical episode, an episode he describes as
having been staged by the Israeli government, right down to the signs in English furnished for foreign
cameras to record.

very different reckoning of photography’s role .in delivering the truth is offered by Clinton Fein, who
repurposed photographic appropriation to make a series of works based on the pictures of prisoner
abuse at Abu Ghraib that came to public attention in April 2004. A South African-born, San Francisco-
based First Amendment activist,9 Fein hired models to reenact the notorious compositions (detainees piled
in a human pyramid, forced to simulate fellatio, handcuffed to beds and bars in extreme positions),
illuminated the tableaux vivants with penumbral and strangely intimate lighting, and displayed the enlarged
pictures as high-quality chromogenic prints mounted on panel. (The originals and the reenactments can be
compared at
Fein’s counterfeits are not intended to reprise tired debates about originality and authorship. Unlike
Sherrie Levine, who rephotographed Walker Evans’s Depression-era images, or Thomas Ruff, whose
enlargements of Internet images preserve and accentuate the flaws of screen grabs, Fein seized upon
despicable amateur images, which unexpectedly had acquired public notoriety and probative value, and re-
presented them in enhanced, painterly terms. His invocation of old-master painting, far from summoning up
Christian martyrdom as do the Abu Ghraib canvases of Fernando Botero, delivers us to the dark threshold of
inhumanity conjured by Goya.
A free speech watchdog, Fein also observed that when the soldiers’ snapshots were picked up on the
Web and disseminated by establishment news sources, online and in print, the genitals of the nude
prisoners were blurred (as genitals are when the news media reproduce garden-variety pornographic
images). That concession to good taste, Fein contends, served to downplay the sexual sadism and
degradation inherent in the forms of abuse devised for the occasion, qualities he sought to restore to the
situations when he pictured them. He further notes that the original Abu Ghraib pictures were themselves
staged, with body pyramids topped off and thumbs-up signs flashed with an awareness of the camera’s
presence and appetite. Curious about the moral proximity between witnessing and instigating, Fein set out
to see if he might understand (he says that he did) something of the “mindset” of the abuser by assuming the
role of photographer in the reenactment. In the end, and once again in contrast with Botero’s canvases,
Fein’s photographs are about the torturers—the photographers among them—and not about the victims.

omething of Frydlender’s determination to expose the processes of photographic contrivance and Fein’s
determination to reimagine the responsibility of the photographer as a witness came together when two
equally uncharacteristic projects by Thomas Demand, Grotto and the “Yellowcake” series, were paired in
an exhibition in Venice last summer. For both, Demand departed from his established procedure of selecting
a found photograph, eliminating any figures, fabricating a lifesize cardboard-and-paper replica of the mise-
en-scène and photographing the model, which is subsequently destroyed. It’s an exacting yet melancholy
route to a patently processed image, for each generation of representation is at a further remove from some
originary truthfulness.
To create the broodingly romantic photograph Grotto (2006), Demand used a hyperdetailed and massively
material computer-rendered cardboard model of a cave in Mallorca. The model was spared destruction in
order to be exhibited with Demand’s photograph and a rambling, garrulous archive (postcards, tourist
brochures, travel magazines, geology journals) that is all about caves. With the entire apparatus behind
Grotto on view, Demand briefly ceased to grieve over photography’s shortcomings and elisions, shoring up
the photograph with the physical plenitude of model and documentation, and addressing an audience as if it
can handle the problematic truth about pictures.
Something less physical but more substantive is afoot in “Yellowcake” (2007), a series of nine
photographs that are based on Demand’s customary hand-built models. The pictures show the facade and
interior of the embassy of Niger in Rome, a site that figured in the Bush administration’s manufacturing of
evidence that Saddam Hussein had attempted to buy uranium (called “yellowcake”) for weapons of mass
destruction. For the first time in his work, Demand committed to a subject without appropriating a preexisting
photographic source. He visited the embassy, where photography is forbidden, and based the models on
details he committed to memory and on cell phone pictures, which he shot surreptitiously, like a Leica-armed
street photographer or Cold War-era spy.
Instead of reiterating the biases of documentation and our insurmountable remove from what a picture
purports to represent, “Yellowcake” seems to assert the worth of even an incomplete or flawed record, and
to invite us to consider the supplemental value of Demand’s own testimony as an eyewitness. The
impossibility of photographic objectivity and completeness no longer seems scandalous or even dispiriting,
for the truth that is known to be circumscribed is better than no truth at all. Of course, Demand could have
chosen to exhibit his cell phone pictures, though that gesture, besides wreaking havoc with his esthetic,
might have had the effect of glamorizing the subterfuge at the expense of the purpose it served. Then again,
how are we to distinguish the “Yellowcake” series—and Demand’s intentions for it—from other banal office
interiors he has shown? As was made clear by the disinformation that circulated regarding the very
existence of Demand’s cell phone photographs, the “Yellowcake” pictures can’t “testify” without textual

Photo, by the Book
Between January 2001 and June 2003, the Swiss photographer Jules Spinatsch was on the scene for five
meetings of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the G8 summit that convened in Genoa, New York,
Evian/Geneva and Davos. Spinatsch trained his cameras not on the high-profile attendees, the heads of
state, their ministers and advisers, but on the visible signs of the security measures—floodlights, armored
cars, street closures, armed patrols, fortified perimeters—which had been implemented to protect them.
These elaborate precautions were instituted following the “Battle for Seattle,” when tens of thousands of
antiglobalization protestors overwhelmed the police and National Guard to disrupt a November 1999
meeting of the World Trade Organization. Spinatsch published the photographs, with his own commentary
and a pair of encomiums by two other essayists, in the 2005 book Temporary Discomfort Chapter I-V, the
title being an ironic appropriation of the glancingly apologetic phrase used by law enforcement to describe
how the lives of citizens are upended during periods of high threat alert. The book is a graphically eccentric
production, with foldouts and composites, cleanly framed panoramas and views that are cropped or
serendipitous looking, neat white margins for some pictures and full-page bleeds for others, all of which
implies that a falsely uniform vision has not been imposed on the complex whole.
The photographs in Temporary Discomfort offer an assortment of recurrent motifs (gleaming limos and
unsmiling bodyguards) along with specifics of place, like the firs of alpine Davos and the palms of sunny
Genoa. One view of Genoa shows a stretch of the autostrada that follows the Ligurian coast, the highway
eerily deserted under a fair sky. The ornamental palazzo facades that face the sea are partly obscured by
a line of blocky shipping containers stacked above the roadway like improvised ramparts protecting the
heights against a harborside attack. In New York, where the WEF convened in February 2002 in a
gesture of solidarity with the post-9/11 city, Spinatsch shot some standard Gotham nocturnes (haloed
streetlights, rain-slicked asphalt, prismlike skyscraper lobbies) which are not entirely defamiliarized—this
is New York, after all—by the appearance of metal barricades, an NBC satellite unit and a dump truck
positioned like a tank to block the street.
Spinatsch’s one conspicuously spectacular effort (it was acquired by MOMA, with accompanying video,
when selections from Temporary Discomfort were exhibited there in 2006-07) is an inkjet panorama, a grid of
2,176 stills harvested from a surveillance camera, one of three set up by the photographer around the
Congress Center in Davos during the January 2003 WEF meeting. Between 6:35 and 9:30 one morning, the
camera took roughly 13 shots a minute, as its orientation shifted vertically and horizontally by degrees with
every shot. The edges of the panorama’s component cells don’t quite align, and the resulting Cubist effect (for
we read a transit through time and space in the fragmented image) is abetted by the naturally muted colors of
the early morning light. The snow-mantled Congress Center remains defiantly picturesque, and the picture
stands out among Spinatsch’s otherwise dispassionate and often uningratiating pictures.
All of the pictures carry precisely annotated and bureaucratically repetitious titles (Temporary Discomfort,
Chapter III, Corporate Walls, New York, World Economic Forum WEF, February 2002, Zone B, Near Hotel
Astoria, Sector 21/6 is typical), which the book supplements with diagrams and the artist’s detailed accounts
of his movements and equipment. If the photographs are laconic, the text is not, and we’re invited to learn as
much if not more from the words than from the pictures. Here’s Spinatsch on talking his way past the guards
at the Waldorf-Astoria:
With a considerable amount of diplomatic maneuvering, persistence, and ultimately luck, I was the
only photographer permitted access to Zone B with a participant’s badge, which was not charged with
the electronic access code. . . . This illustrates to what degree images are a question of organization
these days. The “decisive moment” often takes place ahead of the actual event.11
Time and again, Spinatsch shares how or why he achieved a particular image. By the time we’ve
absorbed the book, from which pictures of participants and protesters (with the odd exception, as we’ll see)
have been excluded, it’s the photographer who has become the protagonist of Temporary Discomfort. This
is not unintended. In his essay for the book, NATO bureaucrat Jamie Shea praises Spinatsch for restoring
trust in photography with pictures that serve neither a message nor a cause but simply the photographer’s
own idiosyncratic view of the world. On the precise issue of leaving out people and “incidents,” Shea writes:
Spinatsch does not elicit an immediate emotional reaction to his pictures, which is the essence of the
technique of propaganda. . . . The pictures therefore are an introduction to mental analysis rather
than a convenient emotional substitute for it. Spinatsch is really the thinking individual’s
By the time Shea adds that Spinatsch’s project is “the antithesis of the commercial photograph which is
produced on demand,” you have a pretty good summation of what is achieved by Spinatsch’s cultivation of
idiosyncrasy: he distances the work from photojournalism’s discredited objectivity on the one hand, and from
protest photography’s manipulative emotionalism on the other. With the latter disavowal of partisanship,
Spinatsch parts ways with the tradition of Bruce Davidson, Danny Lyon, Gordon Parks and Chris Marker.
More specifically, though, Spinatsch is distinguishing himself from the practitioners of the subgenre of
antiglobalization protest photography, from Allan Sekula, who immersed himself in the Seattle protest,13 and
particularly from Joel Sternfeld, who, like Spinatsch, traveled to Genoa for the July 2001 G8 meeting and
published, in 2003, Treading on Kings: Protesting the G8 in Genoa. Sternfeld’s book features views of a
deserted Genoa that are akin to Spinatsch’s, but its heart is a series of portraits of protesters, which are
accompanied by their personal accounts of what drew them to the cause and the city.14
Compared with Sternfeld’s album of portraits, Spinatsch’s entire book includes just one close-up of a
protester, a lean, bare-chested young man in Genoa, casual as a skateboarder, perched on what seems to
be a panel truck bearing protest slogans. You can hear Spinatsch’s dismissal of Sekula and Sternfeld when
he writes:
What was there to be photographed? Naturally, there had to be an iconic image of an activist of the
type 2001, but then it was necessary to withdraw from the protest in order to not succumb to its
predictably sensationalist temptations. The alternative was a stroll along the red zone, as close as
possible to the actual conference location, the Palazzo Ducale—as close to power as possible.15
It’s a glib remark, and a touch self-congratulatory, too, as Spinatsch portrays himself forgoing seductions to
prowl, to infiltrate, to expose.16 Antiglobalization protesters may be generic and even dispensable, but subversive
photographers are not. As the second essayist, Martin Jaeggi, writes, “its cunning, irony, and sober clarity make
Temporary Discomfort a manifesto against the tradition of historic photojournalism. Spinatsch does not want to
be a hero. He is rather a scout behind the frontlines, a spy in the enemy’s camp.”

f Spinatsch’s texts portray him as an intrepid and wily agent, Taryn Simon’s suggest the purposefulness of the
methodical investigator. Her book An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007) is the fruit of four
years of research and shooting, during which Simon secured permission to photograph locations and events
that are typically off-limits to the public and the camera. An experienced photojournalist, her prior slice of
Americana was The Innocents (2003), a volume of photographs of 44 men and one woman, all wrongly convicted
of violent crimes and subsequently exonerated. If The Innocents tells us something about Simon’s predilection for
the dark story and the righteous cause, her later book’s title alerts us to the fact that the new series is, in part, a
response to Walker Evans’s American Photographs (1938) and Robert Frank’s The Americans (French edition
1958, U.S. edition 1959), landmarks of documentary photography which posited that the national spirit was to be
read in everyday faces and found in ordinary places of work and play. Simon even includes an oblique nod to
Frank, a picture of the broadcast studio of a U.S.-government-run Arabic-language TV station that echoes her
predecessor’s view of an early TV studio in Burbank. But where Frank hit the road to encounter America on Main
Street, Simon is on the trail of an America that is exceptional, administered and furtive.
Published to coincide with the photographs’ debut at New York’s Whitney Museum, Simon’s book features
57 primary pictures, seven of which face a second, supplemental image of the subject, and one of which
consists of a grid comprising six individual portraits. All the plates are horizontal, and each appears above a
descriptive title and a more or less fact-filled explanatory text of some 250 words or more. From the sober gray
covers to its allotment of just 53/4 by 71/2 inches (of a 131/4-by-10-inch page) to each color plate, An American
Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar has been designed to resemble a dossier or ledger.
Curators Elisabeth Sussman and Tina Kukielski worked with Simon to select the 17 pictures that were exhibited
as chromogenic color prints (each 371/4 by 441/2 inches). The more generous size, rich colors and museum
context inevitably spoke of art-objecthood and collecting, but each print was paired with its respective text to
maintain its status as an “annotated photograph,” a format intended as a corrective to the medium’s susceptibility
to estheticization, a problem articulated in the 1970s, as the curators note, by Sekula and Rosler. Further
underscoring the marriage of text and image, Simon’s book rested on a lectern positioned just outside the
entrance to the Whitney gallery.
Simon’s compositions are relatively quiet, even repetitive in structure (they tend to be straight-on or to resolve
along a stable diagonal), and they come across as considered but not staged. The theatrical lighting—here
murky or selective, there fluorescent and deadening—induces an uneasy anticipation. She can make a
windowed jury simulation room look as scary as one of Devlin’s gas chambers. In one confessional instance,
where—to be honest—very little is at stake, Simon goes out of her way to expose the infiltration of her own
enterprise by trickery: her close-up of the fearsome-looking Death Star II model used in the Star Wars film series
faces a picture of the banal fluorescent-lit, plywood-floored storage room in which the model languishes along
with other props and costumes in the Lucasfilm archive.
If An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar critiques the credulity implicit in mid-20th-century street
photography, it also breathes new life into an older photographic tradition, that of bringing the marveling viewer
face-to-face with all that is remote, rare and often shudder inducing. Many of the images—a hibernating bear
and her cubs in a West Virginia national forest, a Lakota ritual performed in Texas—appeal to the same appetite
that once sustained a vast subscriber base for Life magazine and National Geographic. Sometimes Simon
serves up haute trivia or Hollywoodiana, and sometimes things are not so much hidden as stored, like the Nixon
“gifts” warehoused at the National Archives and the freshly inked currency at the Bureau of Engraving and
Printing. On occasion the “hidden and unfamiliar” simply presupposes an urban and even Northeastern
audience, one that doesn’t know much about clear burning, cloud seeding, avalanche control or charismatic
preachers who handle snakes.
Simon courts a particularly ominous mood with topics that involve matters governmental, military, corporate or
medical (an avian quarantine facility, a debris field at a treatment center for infectious medical waste, a training
center that offers three-day workshops in interrogation resistance), while presenting pictures that are superficially
calm, compared to, say, Lewis Baltz’s glowering, marrow-chilling pictures of labs and research facilities from 1989
to ’91. Oddly, though, Simon’s more outré subjects—a woman spread-eagled in a clinic awaiting the surgical
reconstruction of her hymen, an inbred and mentally retarded white tiger named Kenny—hark back to the sort of
sensationalizing anthology epitomized by the 1962 film Mondo Cane, which flogged everything from the liver-
fattening practices of goose farmers to an Yves Klein painting performance with the same breathless tagline: “All
The Scenes You Will See In This Film Are True And Taken Only From Life . . . If Often They Are Shocking It Is
Because There Are Many Astounding, Even Unbelievable Things In This World.”
Something of that bombast is furnished by the essayists who weigh in on Simon’s behalf. In the foreword,
novelist Salman Rushdie declares, “In a historical period in which so many people are making such great efforts
to conceal the truth from the mass of people, an artist like Taryn Simon is an invaluable counter-force.” He
praises Simon for “going to the ambiguous boundaries where dangers—physical, intellectual, even moral—may
await.” When he writes “I am always immensely grateful to people who do impossible things on my behalf and
bring back the picture. It means I don’t have to do it,” you might be inclined to think that Rushdie read—but
missed the sarcasm of—Rosler’s summation of documentary photography: “Documentary testifies, finally, to the
bravery or (dare we name it?) the manipulativeness and savvy of the photographer, who entered a situation of
physical danger, social restrictedness, human decay, or combinations of these and saved us the trouble.”17
On the whole more measured is the book’s principal essay (an excerpt served as the Whitney’s introductory
wall text), which was authored by curators Sussman and Kukielski. Yet even their characterization of the project
skews toward anxiety and despair. They assert that Simon’s pictures show that “the American soil is wrapped up
in a political, cultural, and economic quagmire,” and that an “unwavering sense of doom is the undercurrent of
An American Index.”18 Simon’s own brief texts (which are written with researchers and editors) are restrained in
comparison. Nevertheless, the facts she deploys are plainly intended to weaponize the pictures. A pewter-toned
study of the spherical Dynamo III, which is a Boullée-worthy model of the earth’s core at the University of
Maryland, goes from mysterious to sinister only once we read that it is filled with a highly flammable liquid, and
that scientists use the apparatus to study the catastrophic consequences of the decay of the earth’s magnetic
field. That hymenoplasty patient is neither a trophy wife nor an aging actress, so we read, but a young woman of
Palestinian descent who (in a case of patriarchal oppression?) will be deemed unmarriageable by her family and
community unless her “virginity” is restored by Dr. Bernard Stern (a Jewish name?), whose fee (blood money or
fair recompense for honor recovered?) is $3,500. So much can be insinuated by a just-the-facts-ma’am
While some of the information seems aimed at generating free-floating anxiety or suggesting culpability, other
details meant to explain the pictures seem undercooked. What are we to make of the fact that low-vision students
from the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults have been employed as flower arrangers
at, or that the thick smoke generated by field burning has been “linked to fatal driving
accidents”? Given the high bar set by the likes of Hans Haacke and Mark Lombardi, Simon’s texts seem thin, and
they offer less hard information than a Google jockey would amass in an afternoon. Once you take stock of what
has been left out (surely it’s pertinent that the transatlantic telephone cable which connects the U.S. and the U.K.
is owned by an Indian corporation that can be traced back to the time of British colonialism?), the texts seem as
selective, as partial, as edited and manipulated as photographs. This is no small flaw if words and pictures—on
their own merely “two inadequate systems,” in the durable words of Rosler—are meant to collaborate in service to
the truth.

he portraits and testimonies in Nina Berman’s Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq (2004) introduce us to 20
severely wounded veterans of the Iraq conflict. She sought them out in military hospitals, on bases and at
their homes between October 2003 and April 2004, and her photographs show their scars and prostheses,
and also something of the environments or circumstances in which they were living. It’s a modest book, just 8
inches square, with two pictures, one full page and one small, for each subject. The little picture sits above a
bank of data (the veteran’s name, age, brigade or division, date and place of injury, the date and place of the
photographic shoot) and faces a sentence excerpted from a longer statement that is opposite the main portrait
on the next pair of pages. When some of the pictures were exhibited during the summer of 2007 at Jen Bekman
in New York, the information appeared with edited statements on the gallery walls.
Sgt Erik Castro and Lt Jordan Johnson (the one woman among the 20) are shown engaged in rehab
exercises. The rest have been photographed by Berman in poses of relative or total immobility and—considering
the many shots of the veterans on beds—implied withdrawal from the world. Pfc Alan Jermaine Lewis, head
lowered as if in despair, extends one of his prosthetic legs across the bed in his Milwaukee home. Spc Sam
Ross is rendered a virtual deer in headlights when Berman silhouettes the blinded veteran, one trouser leg
hitched up to expose his prosthesis, against the night sky and illuminates him unevenly with what reads as the
sketchy light of low beams.
The quote excerpted from Ross’s statement may mock him more than honor him: “It was the best experience
of my life.” Ross is not alone in harboring good feelings about the old life and his decision to serve. All in all, the
veterans express little outrage, although there is bafflement, resentment, resignation and stoicism. The one
exception (“I’m burning on the inside. I’m burning.”) is Cpl Tyson Johnson III, pictured at home in Alabama
backed up against a chain-link fence, who explains that he has to return his National Guard enlistment bonus
($2,999) because he failed to complete his tour.
Berman’s book brims with outrage, even if her subjects don’t. Anger shadows the cover, which shows the face
of Pfc Randell Clunen as a dissolving specter worthy of Francis Bacon. Anger floods the recurring black pages,
and it finds a voice in the afterword written by Tim Origer, a combat Marine wounded in Vietnam and an active
member of the organization Veterans for Peace. Origer’s final sentence, unexpectedly, addresses Berman, and
it sets out her mission in no uncertain terms:
Until literacy again resurfaces in our culture I personally believe it will be necessary to push a mix of text
and images such as yours into the faces of our contemporaries to awaken them from their comfortable
and complacent dreams.19
Origer would have been satisfied with text alone, if that could have sufficed. Berman published no essay of her
own in Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq, but the statement she wrote to accompany the 2007 exhibition explains
the editorializing embedded in the photographs:
Since October 2003, I have been making portraits of American soldiers who were wounded in the Iraq
War. I seek them out in their hometowns, after they have been discharged from military hospitals. I
photograph them alone, mainly in their rooms, which to me feel like little cages. I strip them of patriotic
colors and heroic postures. I see them alienated and dispossessed, left empty handed amid dreams of
glory and escape.
While their physical wounds are profound, it is their psychological condition that is my primary focus.
As many of these soldiers joined the military to escape economic and social hardship, seeing them
back in a domestic setting all alone with no support suggests that their dreams of transformation and
success through military service were painfully naïve.
Meeting so many severely disabled young men and women was deeply disturbing to me. I felt
complicit because they had fought in my name. And I felt the divide of privilege because I did not have to
make a similar sacrifice.
Is there staging, not to mention exploitation, in “stripping” the soldiers of signs of pride? Are the veterans
really “all alone,” or did Berman send the family from the room? Is there condescension in perceiving their
homes (furnished with souvenirs, worn sofas, big-breasted pinups and hanging plants) as “little cages”?
Feeling “complicit,” Berman arranges for us to feel the same. She seems to have taken as a model Simon’s
The Innocents, rendering the veterans, like those wrongly incarcerated, as victims of an unjust system, and
fortifying the portraits (as does Simon’s book) with data and the testimonies of those portrayed. Some of the
connections may even be subliminal. Berman’s portrait of Pfc Lewis seems almost foretold, down to the
plaid comforter, by Simon’s singular image of Hector Gonzalez on the bed in his Brooklyn home (though
Gonzalez, unlike Lewis, engages the camera directly). And the nocturnal portrait of Spc Ross seems
anticipated by Simon’s picture of Charles Irvin Fain (18 years for murder), illuminated from behind by car
headlights at the scene of the crime of which he has been exonerated. But the difference is key: where
Simon permits, even encourages us to consider what human judgment and evidence—photographic or
otherwise—might reliably disclose about the truth, Berman would fan our anger and pity at the expense of
such criticality and the veterans’ individual agency as well.

hile Berman’s photographs were still on view at Bekman, another series of portraits of veterans started
to appear around Manhattan on posters for the HBO documentary Alive Day Memories: Home from
Iraq. (An “alive day” is the date a soldier or Marine sustains, and survives, a traumatic injury.) The
photos were the work of Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who had been on the set in November-December
2006 to photograph the service people interviewed by actor James Gandolfini. The project evolved from an
advertising campaign (which also included enormous blowups in the street-level windows, facing MOMA, of
the public library’s 53rd Street branch, where a free public screening was held) into a suite of 13 archival
digital prints that was exhibited at Steven Kasher in New York (print size 20 by 16 inches) and WG.21
Wetterling in Stockholm (print size 40 by 30 inches).
A “celebrity photographer” in both senses of the term, Greenfield-Sanders is famous for shooting
famous people (actors, politicians, fashion leaders, porn stars, art-world luminaries) in what has become a
trademark format: the subject is shown against a monochrome backdrop, rarely with a prop or attribute.
The negative’s border is often visible at the print’s edges. Artifice declares itself as an enforced paring
down. The portraits of the Iraq War veterans observe the same rules, though in this instance there is an
additional and touching congruence between Greenfield-Sanders’s reductive style and the abstraction of
the human body that is the essence of amputation.
All but two of the subjects wear street clothes and are posed against a black ground. Army SSgt Jay
Wilkerson is shirtless (to show his scarred shoulder), while Marine SSgt John Jones is seated against a
white backdrop that sets off the dark jacket of his dress uniform and the mirror-polished black shoes he
wears on the feet of his prosthetic legs. Cpl Jonathan Bartlett, also a double amputee, stands up and holds a
baseball bat (did he bring it to the set?). First Lt Dawn Halfaker clutches her artificial arm in her good left
hand. The arm’s design was a main topic of her interview with Gandolfini, but if you cruise Greenfield-
Sanders’s website (, you might decide that the picture of Halfaker bears a
fleeting but uncanny resemblance to his portrait of actress Rose McGowan, whose arm bends across her
torso to lift her shirt.
Paradoxically, it’s the very imposition of Greenfield-Sanders’s trademark style that allows the
photographer to get out of our way. We know that his portraits are posed. We know that his particular, direct
mode of address democratically imparts a quotient of glamour to all his subjects: attention must be paid.
Whether we see a full figure or a close-up of the face, each veteran is imposing in the frame, a standard
device of portraiture that conveys an air of self-possession. They all look cool. We look a little longer. Did
they fight in a different war than Berman’s veterans? Or does a documentary that honors survival require
the selection of more resilient subjects?
There’s no official book to contextualize the “Alive Day Memories” portraits, no commissioned essay or
artist’s statement to lay out the conceptual program the photographs are intended to serve. When the
series was shown in Stockholm, a catalogue reproduced the pictures with the requisite information about
injuries, a tendentious essay by the dealer and some postdocumentary updates from the HBO website
( by the 10 veterans whose interviews made it into the film.20 In his very brief
statement in the catalogue, Greenfield-Sanders simply describes the HBO assignment and his
determination, upon meeting the veterans on the set, “to hide my immediate and strong emotional
response to their condition.”21 The best, which is to say the most provocative, contextualization of the
portraits just may be the one provided by the HBO website, which not only hosts the veterans’ blogs but
also offers links to their personal pages and shows each Greenfield-Sanders image in the company of
family pictures, school portraits and snapshots from Iraq. Not only is the authority of any one picture
challenged, but the authority of any one photographer is, too.

The Tortured Medium
So, just how much do we still want to believe in pictures? Sometimes a sense of historical revelation
combined with the apparent righteousness of a photographic project can be enough to relieve us of the
burden of total vigilance. Take, for example, the soberly appreciative reception that has greeted “The
American War,” a traveling exhibition of photographs shot by Harrell Fletcher in June 2005 inside Ho Chi
Minh City’s War Remnants Museum. That modest institution displays photographs and texts which are
intended to document the grievous damage inflicted by the U.S. military on the citizens and the landscape
of Vietnam, damage that reaches to the present day in the form of that nation’s high rate of birth defects
and toxic environment.
The pictures on display in Ho Chi Minh City (which have been harvested from many sources,
including American news magazines) and their descriptive labels were photographed by Fletcher on a
walk-through with an ordinary digital camera. To see “The American War” is to see an exhibition of
photographs of an exhibition of photographs of photographs. It’s a triple-filtered situation worthy of
Demand. While the rough immediacy of Fletcher’s spectator shots has been praised for underscoring
the role played by point of view (American, Vietnamese and Fletcher’s own) in compiling a
photographic narrative, there has been no speculation about the museum that is the subject of his
pictures, no querying of the editing and organization of its displays, the vetting of its photographs, or
the accuracy (descriptive, interpretive, statistical) of the captions. Jerry Saltz, for example, praised
Fletcher’s “The American War” for being “devoid of the furtive fictiveness of Walid Raad’s Lebanese
Civil War projects” without asking whether the same could be said of the War Remnants Museum
itself.22 Because the Vietnamese people have been sinned against, should we assume that their
institutions deploy photographs and information accurately and truthfully?
In October 2007, I visited the Contemporary Art Center of Atlanta to see Fletcher’s “The American War,”
and found that it was being shown with Nubar Alexanian’s “S.O.P.,” an exhibition of black-and-white
photographs taken on the set of Errol Morris’s new documentary on the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib,
Standard Operating Procedure.23 Morris’s film (see “War Movies,” this issue) includes interviews with
military personnel who appear in and took the infamous prison pictures as well as suggestively stylized
(cropped, blurred, nightmarish) reenactments of some of those incidents. Alexanian’s production
photographs include portraits of the principals interviewed as well as pictures of the reenactments, which
were based on both the torture photographs (Fein’s source) and the first-person accounts freshly recorded
by Morris. The photographs are included in a book titled Nonfiction: Photographs by Nubar Alexanian from
the Film Sets of Errol Morris. A statement on the Atlanta CAC blog describes the pairing of “The American
War” and “S.O.P.” as intended to provoke conversation about the wars then and now, but it also provokes
some thoughts about the meaning of “nonfiction” photography, Fletcher’s and Alexanian’s.
Not surprisingly, the truth value of pictures was on the mind of Errol Morris as he steered through an
analysis of the Abu Ghraib photographs for Standard Operating Procedure (a documentary he has called a
“nonfiction horror movie”). Along the way, he’s been writing essays on photographic veracity and posting
them online (in the form of a blog hosted by the New York Times).24 Morris’s writings, though perhaps more
conversational, possess the structure and momentum of his formidable documentaries: thorough, even
dogged, disinclined to grandstand and fiercely principled, he takes an issue down to zero and then orders
the facts he has confirmed or unearthed, never losing sight of the moral dimension of the outcome.
The running test case in Morris’s essays is the question of whether (as Sontag and others have
contended) Roger Fenton staged his most celebrated photograph from the Crimean War, Valley of the
Shadow of Death (1855), one of a pair that shows the same site with certain disparities. Experts in many
disciplines (photochemistry, military history, forensics reconstruction) weigh in with curators. Morris even
travels to the Crimea to locate the place where Fenton positioned his camera. It’s an engrossing tale, at the
end of which science and sharp (unprejudiced) eyes join forces to resolve the sequencing of Fenton’s two
pictures. But no one can say with any authority who intervened between the two shots, much less why. The
rambling yet elegant investigation eventually takes him back to what artists (and Sontag, for that matter)
knew 30 years ago: “photographs are neither true nor false in and of themselves. They are only true or
false with respect to statements that we make about them or the questions that we might ask of them.”
Morris’s neat summation has all the mundane logic of a truism. But it also has the ring of truth.

1. The film was based on Buzz Bissinger’s feature “Shattered Glass,” Vanity Fair, September 1998, pp. 176-90.
2. The controversy surrounding Capa’s Death of a Loyalist Militiaman, Cerro Muriano, Córdoba Front, Spain, September
5, 1936, which has been abetted by the fact that the negative has been presumed forever lost, was minutely laid out in a
prominent didactic installation in the recent exhibition “This Is War! Robert Capa at Work” at New York’s International
Center of Photography [Sept. 26, 2007-Jan. 6, 2008]. As the New York Times reported on Jan. 27, 2008, the discovery
in the 1990s of thousands of Capa’s negatives and their transfer to ICP last December may resolve the dispute.
3. Luc Sante, Evidence, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992.
4. In June 2004, the Senate voted to uphold a ban, instituted in March 2003, on photographing flag-draped coffins
arriving at Dover AFB. That ban had been challenged when more than 300 such images were posted online at
5. Peter Galassi, “Unorthodox,” Jeff Wall, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 44. If Wall’s title evokes Gauguin,
his method recalls Géricault’s research for the Raft of the Medusa.
6. See “Image Simulations, Computer Manipulations: Some Considerations,” reprinted in Martha Rosler, Decoys and
Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975-2001, Cambridge, Mass., and London, MIT, 2004, pp. 278-79. Rosler reports that
the essay was first crafted in 1988 and underwent several revisions in the intervening years.
7. Peter Galassi, “Afterword,” Barry Frydlender: Place and Time, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 2007, n.p.
8. Rachel Wolff, “The Annotated Artwork,” New York Magazine, July 30, 2007, pp. 72-73.
9. Information about Fein’s advocacy efforts as well as his art can be found on his website, He is
also the force behind the website
10. Of course, text can obscure as well as elucidate. When “Yellowcake” was shown at Venice’s Fondazione Cini [June
7-July 7, 2007] the Fondazione Prada, which sponsored the exhibition, issued a press release stating that Demand
worked entirely from memory and without any photographic sources. The exhibition catalogue, however, mentions the
cell phone pictures. (See Alex Farquharson, “The Paper Trail,” Processo Grottesco/Yellowcake, Milan, Progetto Prada
Arte, 2007, p. 64.) When “Yellowcake” was shown in New York at 303 gallery [Nov. 3-Dec. 22, 2007], the press release
(still online, as I write) attributed the compositions to Demand’s memory alone. In response to my January e-mail inquiry,
the gallery affirmed that cell phone images were used as well.
11. Jules Spinatsch, Temporary Discomfort Chapter I-V, Baden, Lars Müller, 2005, n.p.
12. Jamie Shea, “Sorry, But We Did Refugees Last Week,” in Temporary Discomfort, n.p.
13. Sekula’s Seattle pictures are presented as 81 projected color slides in the time-based Waiting for Tear Gas [white
globe to black] (1999-2000) and appear in the book, authored with Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Claire, Five
Days that Shook the World: The Battle for Seattle and Beyond, London and New York, Verso, 2001. For Sekula, unlike
Spinatsch, the way to the “truth” was through personal involvement and a rejection of high-tech equipment, but he is
akin to Spinatsch in his cultivation of indirection vis-à-vis the main event. Describing his own alternative to the empty
conventions of photojournalism, Sekula wrote, “The working idea was to move with the flow of protest, from dawn to
three a.m. if need be, taking in the lulls, the waiting and the margins of events. The rule of thumb for this sort of anti-
photojournalism: no flash, no telephoto zoom lens, no gas mask, no auto-focus, no press pass and no pressure to grab
at all costs the one defining image of dramatic violence. Later, working at the light table, and reading the increasingly
stereotypical descriptions of the new face of protest, I realized all the more that a simple descriptive physiognomy was
warranted. The alliance on the streets was indeed stranger, more varied and inspired” (p. 122).
14. Stefania Galante, Alexander Stille, Joel Sternfeld, Treading on Kings, Göttingen, Steidl, 2002. The volume also
features a photograph of the family of Carlo Giuliani, a protester who was killed by the police, and a reflection on that
death by Stille, who points out that the question of the use of excessive police force in the shooting of Giuliani hinges on
the evaluation of a photograph showing the young activist brandishing a fire extinguisher: was it taken minutes before
his death or does it show him at the very instant of threatening the police and thus eliciting their fire?
15. Spinatsch, n.p.
16. Elsewhere, Spinatsch is more self-deprecating, as when he describes his failed attempt to coordinate the feeds from
three surveillance cameras, but his bravado is undiminished when he explains the reason for using those devices: “I
now wanted to work on par with the security forces and to subversively turn their technology against themselves. Just
like in a high-tech war I wanted to create images without being physically present by using remote-controlled cameras.”
It’s interesting to contrast Spinatsch’s characterization of his campaign as a sort of DIY project with the work of Trevor
Paglen, who uses highly sophisticated telescopes and calculations (he calls the technique “Limit-Telephotography”) to
pinpoint and photograph top-secret U.S. military installations [see review, A.i.A., Mar. ’07].
17. “In, Around, and Afterthoughts (On Documentary Photography),” reprinted in Martha Rosler, Decoys and
Disruptions: Selected Writings, 1975-2001, p. 180.
18. The curators’ gloomy view found expression in a peculiar bias of the selection of 17 pictures for the Whitney’s small
gallery: there seemed to have been a determination to sharply downplay the human presence in the series. Simon’s
book includes Klansmen, Orthodox Jews, military personnel, Girl Scouts whose mothers are in prison, an entomologist,
the co-founder of a Sikh-run private security company and more. The show, by contrast, confined the human presence
to a mannequinlike surgical patient, two wraithlike reflections in the glass of a mock jury room and a cancer sufferer,
who is shown in his wheelchair after having procured his life-ending prescription under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.
Because the events, spectacles and facilities in the pictures chosen for the Whitney feature no technicians,
professionals or active parties of any kind, the exhibition played to the paranoid conviction that nameless and faceless
forces are at work across the land.
19. Tim Origer, “Afterword,” in Nina Berman, Purple Hearts: Back from Iraq, London, Trolley, 2004, n.p. Verlyn
Klinkenborg introduces Purple Hearts with an acid meditation on the cheapening of the word “hero” after 9/11.
20. In “Portraits of War,” his catalogue essay, dealer Björn Wetterling condemns American aggression and Swedish
arms manufacturers, and reports that two “prestigious” New York galleries declined to show the photographs. The
absence from the catalogue of personal updates from the veterans not included in the film (and therefore lacking an
HBO blog statement) creates an ominous impression. See Timothy Greenfield-Sanders Alive Day Memories: Home from
Iraq, Stockholm, WG.21 Wetterling Gallery, 2007.
21. In a Sept. 27, 2007, article in the New York Times, Greenfield-Sanders simply endorsed the documentary for its
effort to provide visibility: “I think we need to see this. We don’t see the dead coming back in coffins. We’re sheltered
from the injured. We just don’t see it. It’s all been brilliantly hidden from view. So this documentary is very important in
letting us see these people, let us know who they are, and make us ask if this war is worth it.”
22. Jerry Saltz, Village Voice, May 25, 2006, archived at
23. The photographs are included in Nubar Alexanian, Nonfiction: Photographs by Nubar Alexanian from the Film Sets
of Errol Morris, Gloucester, Walker Creek Press, 2008.
24. The postings are at