Thinking Images v.23: Gaddafi’s death


The extensive pictorial coverage of Gaddafi’s death yesterday takes us back to the question I posed, also in relation to Libya, at the end of August – when should we see the dead?

There I wrote that generally the mainstream media operates in terms the idea of “taste and decency” thereby sanitising the coverage of conflict. In my view, graphic images that serve the story, helping to offer a more complete account, are important. Pictures that are displayed for their own sake, and without which there would be no story, should be avoided.

So how does the world wide publication of images showing Gaddafi’s final moments and aftermath sit with that argument? Clearly, there are moments like Gaddafi’s death when sanitised coverage gives way to an almost frenzied graphic-ness. But I don’t think that voids the earlier analysis of the media’s general tendency with regard to the coverage of death, or the value such coverage can have in reporting all the dimensions of a story.

Critical reflection doesn’t have to be a series of ‘black and white’, either/or propositions. We can also think in terms of both/and, with this being one of those moments. Which means I would argue the on-going coverage of conflict should not be afraid to represent its graphic moments, while also maintaining that if the graphic nature of that coverage becomes its own preoccupation then that is excessive. Today is one of those excessive moments, and I came to that conclusion via some online discussion and sources I have curated in a Storify post below.

While some images of Gadaffi’s death were required somewhere in each media outlet for there to be a comprehensive story, a photograph such as that used by Le Figaro on their front page today is just as effective in setting up that story.

Photo: Le Figaro, front page, 21 October 2011, from The Guardian.

7 Responses to “Thinking Images v.23: Gaddafi’s death”

  1. David Campbell on images of Gaddafi’s death | Progressive Geographies

    […] interesting analysis here. That link will not take you to anything unpleasant, apart from a small image of four newspaper […]

  2. Matt

    As usual, David, a thoughtful piece in the midst of lots of non-thought. Thanks. Here’s a lighter serious take:

  3. paul duerinckx

    David: it was very useful to read this blog entry before appearing on BBC Radio Wales to discuss the use of these images in today’s papers. However, given the rather superficial nature of 3 minutes of airtime on the local radio, I failed to properly discuss the distance that exists between the totemic value of the images of a dead Gaddafi in Libya, north Africa and the middle east, and their dubious news-worthyness in British and some other western press.

  4. David Campbell

    Thanks for feedback Matt and Paul.

    Dan Sabbagh from MediaGuardian also Storify-ed a debate on the use of the images, and it overlaps with some of the comments above. It can be read at:

  5. Saturday 29 October 2011

    […] 3 (IdeasTap)Joerg Colberg: What Happened to the Mid-Career Artist (Conscientious)David Campbell: Thinking Images v.23: Gaddafi’s deathDavid Campbell: Agencies as publishers: a new approach to photojournalism (DC blog)Marco […]

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