I published this essay 5-years ago, and it remains one of the most important things I’ve ever written. I re-read it earlier today, because I continue to witness evidence of its truth. And so I re-present to you today, The Evolving User Paradigm.
In the post below this one, I said that people don’t have a right to use the photo of the Mehdi army militia in the context provided by the meme. I wrote to Scott Nelson, the guy who actually took the photo, and here’s his response.
Thanks for your email. First off, those are definitely women in the photo, and yes, they are a unit of the Mehdi army militia. They are more of a symbolic unit, as the Mehdi army doesn’t really allow women to fight, but for parades and community functions, they are organized in those units. The image should not be used as a comment on Muslim women in general, merely a reflection that they were present as representatives of the larger Mehdi army force, and that they along with the other photos from that show of force march, accurately document that event and give the viewer a factual representation of it as it happened. It can be viewed individually, but as in any situation, it is best viewed along with other images from that same event (both my own and other photographers) in order to give a viewer the widest possible context.
I don’t really have any control of how my images are used or interpreted once they enter the public sphere. As long as I caption it accurately, and honestly, I feel I have done my job as a journalist. Unfortunately, dishonest uses of images such as this do occur, and where the caption might be omitted, or the context misrepresented. But can I control that? Not at all. I generally try not to think about the misuse, but rather the benefits of having provided witness to whatever particular event I have been photographing.
As an example of something that upset me, see this website http://www.bagnewsnotes.com/2007/06/baquba-1/ for a discussion of my work in Bacuba, during the Iraq war, and see all the comments below it where people discuss the possible staging of the photograph. Much of what they “see” or are interpreting in the photograph is just flat out wrong. Some of their misinterpretations seems politically motivated, others based on their understanding of basic military rules (which often are not enforced or ignored in war zones) Many of the people commenting think the photo is staged, because they don’t know or understand the context of the photo and are in disbelief or are deluding themselves regarding the (accurate) caption or the integrity of the New York Times, which I was on assignment for at the time. If you search my name on that website, you’ll find other examples of people generally misinterpreting what they see in some of my images from that same offensive.
It is frustrating, as a photographer, to witness these events, people, and places, and then have individuals bring all of their own emotional, political and cultural baggage to bear in (mis)interpreting of the final image. But I’d like to think that ultimately more people “get it” than don’t.
Hopefully I’ve given you something close to the answer you were seeking…
All the best,
People wonder why I come off as angry, especially a certain crowd on Facebook. Well, let me be blunt. The world is so swimming in the muck of lies and distortion that we’re all drowning in our own bullshit. If you dare, take a look at this. It was posted on Facebook by a prominent Christian author, speaker and radio show host, Dr. Michael Brown. As of this writing, it’s been shared by over 2,100 fans. The comments are a long stream of attaboys, backslapping, and “thank you for the truth” accolades. The problem is it’s all crap.
The problem here is that this isn’t a photo of some random gathering of Muslim women! Who knew, right? I mean, it fits the message so beautifully that I’m surprised Bill Maher hasn’t used it already. I did a Tineye search of that image and discovered that the copyright is owned by a photographer named Scott Nelson, who writes this in his description:
BAGHDAD,IRAQ-APRIL 03: Female members of the al-Mehdi Army march in Military formation during an April 03, 2004 military parade through the streets of the Sadr City neighborhood in east Baghdad, Iraq. The Al-Mehdi Army is a Shia militia aligned with controversial Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, and the parade was meant to be a show of force in tandem with Sadr supporters’ continued protest against the occupation of Iraq by the U.S. lead coalition forces.
Wait, what? Their faces are covered for good reason? This was a Shi’a (Iranian roots) militia marching in a public parade in Baghdad after we took over their country. In his keywords, Nelson used military and war terms and was careful not to use the word “burka,” Muslim women, oppression,or anything else inflammatory. It is in no way representative of women without political rights. It’s a con job and one that is designed to inspire fear.
Yet the picture has been used in the Dr. Michael Brown context 80 times since. His clever poster is just the latest.
And so I ask, where is journalism in any of this? Why is Snopes the only website dedicated to sniffing out these frauds? Culture is being torn apart by lies, and our only worry is who’s going to pay for “journalism” in the future.
Shame on us!
President Obama on Baltimore:
“…if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant — and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they’re important.”
Jeremiah to the unrighteous King Shallum (son of Josiah, a righteous king) in prophesying the end of his reign: “Your father, Josiah, also had plenty to eat and drink. But he was just and right in all his dealings. That is why God blessed him. He gave justice and help to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. Isn’t that what it means to know me?” says the LORD.”
In discussing what’s happening to traditional media — including at the local level — we need to understand how the culture around us is influencing its disruption. It is culture, not technology, that is fueling institutional disruption in the 21st Century, and it’s going to continue for a very long time. The bottom of culture is rising up to challenge the underpinnings of the ruling class, led by a simple tool of the postmodernist, deconstruction.