Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Susan Moeller's "Shooting War" (1989)

Susan Moeller's Shooting War (1989) still ranks as one of the most interesting and comprehensive studies on the history of American war photography.

The best war photography, Moeller demonstrates, bares the essence of war by distilling the chaos of combat into indelible visual icons, like the flag-raising on Iwo Jima or the naked, napalmed young Vietnamese girl. When Teddy Roosevelt led his troops up the San Juan hills, most Americans still believed in war as a glorious adventure, and photographers dutifully memorialized that romantic conceit. Seventy years later, horrific images from Vietnam helped convince millions that war was little more than organized murder.

Pictorial Censorship in World War I

Shooting War is full of first-hand accounts by the finest photographers who risked their lives in pursuit of the elusive "truths" of war. And although the book mainly deals with still photographers it did provide us with a lot of useful background information when we started our research on the American film cameramen of the First World War.

As described by Moeller, in contrast to the anything-goes attitude of the Spanish-American War, World War I saw the establishment of military censorship of information emanating from the battle zone. Where picture captions sent from Cuba in 1898 mentioned specific locations and dates, captions during the Great War invariably settled for such generalities as "Our Heroes at the Front." Subject matter was censored as well. Photographs depicting the dead, the dying, or the wounded were suppressed, purportedly in deference to the feelings of those back home and, more probably, for fear of sparking antiwar sentiments.

Here are some scenes from an interview with Susan Moeller which was broadcasted by C-SPAN when her book was first published.


                               

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