Close Reading Images:Going Deep into Two Dimensions
Recently, some of his Marine buddies have been calling Miller up, crying drunk, and remembering their war experiences. Just like Papaw Joe Lee used to do when Miller was a boy. "Theres a lot of Vietnam vets ... they dont heal unIl 30, 40 years down the road," Miller said. "People boMle it up, become angry, easily temperamental, and hell, before you know it, these are the people who are snapping on you." Jessica interrupted. "Youre already like that," she said. She recalled her own ﬁrst glimpse of the Marlboro Man ‐‐ an image seen through tears of relief that he was alive, and misery at how worn he looked. "Some people thought it was sexy, and we thought, Oh, my God, hes in the middle of a war, close to death. We just couldnt understand how some people could look at it like that," she said. "But I guess for some people it was glory, like patrioIsm."
• Photographs are not actually objective• They come from individual perspectives• They often perform specific jobs• They contribute to familiar narratives• They often make arguments• They work both directly and indirectly
• What job does it do?• What argument does it seem to make?• Why are we seeing it?• What story is it telling?• How do different viewers interpret the image?
Consider its elements:• Close focus on the face• Face painted, dirty, bleeding• Cigarette hanging loosely, almost casually• Smoke billowing around and in front of the Marine’s face• Eyes squinting, looking “over our shoulders”: reads of alertness, “hard edge,” almost reminiscent of James Dean• Little to no background or terrain, except desert gray• Face framed by the helmet and the strap
Consider its context:• After a day of bloody fighting during the battle for Fallujah• At that point, this battle had claimed more American lives than any other campaign in the Iraq war• The battle for Fallujah was fought door-to-door, in the streets and in the houses, instead of from the air or from a distance.• The Iraq War was beginning to become less “popular” back in the US, but still held support among a majority of Americans.
Consider its elements:• Once more: focus on the face, but in profile, with hand loosely up• Face is clean—and looks radically different. Rounder, softer, much less strong.• Cigarette is still here, but it feels very different here: the hold, the ash—even the length—all seem less at ease.• Eyes look away, now downward: feels like regret, like loss.• We see part of the USMC tattoo—but it’s upside down and partially obscured.
Consider its context:• 2007: near the end of the Bush administration. The war is much less popular, and more than half of the American public are now in favor of withdrawal.• It had become hard to identify, clearly, why the US was still fighting in Iraq: many used the word “quagmire” to describe the war.• The article was talking about the difficult conditions soldiers returned to in the US, and of the toll that the war had taken on them.
To wrap up:• Photos feel objecIve—they feel like the truth• At the very same .me, they tell stories and support arguments.• Both photos were wholly and completely true.• Both supported radically diﬀerent stories and arguments—about the Iraq War, about heroism, about us—even about smoking.