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,