Images of war

How has atrocity, conflict and war been pictured? What are the effects of particular images? How can we develop alternative visual accounts of violence? We need to appreciate that atrocity, conflict and war is an event that does not exist without visualisation, and visualisation has increasingly become a part of atrocity, conflict and war. From Vietnam, to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo, Sudan, Libya, Gaza, and the war on terror, I’ve been reading images in context, analysing the stereotypes they sometimes repeat, the implications of embedded reporting, the role of new imaging practices and technologies, and the power of visual stories to move people. I have three major projects on Bosnia, famine, and the securitisation of HIV-AIDS (all below), as well as these posts and articles:



Imaging the Real, Struggling for Meaning [9/11],” Infopeace, 6 October 2001, Information Technology, War and Peace Project, The Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University.

Atrocity, Memory, Photography: Imaging the Concentration Camps of Bosnia – The Case of ITN versus Living Marxism, Part I,” Journal of Human Rights 1:1 (2002), p. 1-33.

Atrocity, Memory, Photography: Imaging the Concentration Camps of Bosnia – The Case of ITN versus Living Marxism, Part II,” Journal of Human Rights 1:2 (2002), pp. 143-72.

Representing Contemporary War,” Ethics and International Affairs 17 (2) 2003, pp. 99-108.

Cultural Governance and Pictorial Resistance: Reflections on the Imaging of War,” Review of International Studies 29 Special Issue (2003), pp. 57-73.

Horrific Blindness: Images of Death in Contemporary Media,” Journal of Cultural Research 8:1 (2004), 55-74.

Geopolitics and Visual Culture: Sighting the Darfur Conflict 2003-05,” Political Geography 26: 4 (2007), 357-382.

Securitization, Militarization and Visual Culture in the Worlds of post-9/11,” a special issue of Security Dialogue 38 (2) 2007, co-edited with Michael J. Shapiro.

Tele-vision: Satellite Images and Security,” Source 56 (Autumn 2008), 16-23.

Constructed Visibility: Photographing the Catastrophe of Gaza,” draft paper, June 2009.

How has photojournalism framed the war in Afghanistan?“, in John Burke and Simon Norfolk, BURKE + NORFOLK: Photographs from the War in Afghanistan (Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2011).

The Iconography of Famine

The myth of compassion fatigue

(with Roland Bleiker and Emma Hutchinson) “The Visual Dehumanisation of Refugees,” Australian Journal of Political Science 48 (2013), 398-416.

(with Roland Bleiker and Emma Hutchinson) “Visual Cultures of Inhospitality,” Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice 26 (2014), 192-200.

(with Roland Bleiker and Emma Hutchinson) “Imaging Catastrophe: The Politics of Representing Humanitarian Crises,” in Negotiating Relief: The Politics of Humanitarian Space, edited by Michele Acuto (London: Hurst and Company, 2014).


Campbell 06Among the many images of atrocity that emerged from the Bosnian War, the picture of Fikret Alic and others imprisoned at the Trnopolje camp in the Prijedor region stands out. Taken from a 1992 British television report that detailed the role of camps such as Omarska and Trnopolje in the ethnic cleansing strategy of the Bosnian Serb authorities, the image of Alic became the focal point of a controversy about how the Bosnian camps were represented, and the political impact and purpose of those representations. Resulting in a legal clash between Independent Television News (ITN) and Living Marxism (LM) magazine, this controversy is the subject of a two-part article, the full text of which can be seen here.

In Atrocity, Memory, Photography (part 1), the allegations concerning the filming of the Trnopolje inmates are considered in detail. In Atrocity, Memory, Photography (part 2) the argument moves beyond the specifics of the case and the camp to an exploration of the historical, political and visual context in which those specificities are located. This involves understanding the significance of the camps in terms of the Bosnian War and the history of the concentration camps, as well as discussing the issue of photography and the Holocaust to question how particular atrocities are represented. The articles conclude with the issue of intellectual responsibility and the politics of critique in cases such as these.

This is a theme taken up by David Walls’ important article on Project Censored’s claims about these images, which can be read here. Walls’ article drew responses from some of the revisionists we criticise, and he has posted this debate on his site.

The 1992 ITN news reports that are discussed in my articles can be seen on the Atrocity and Memory — Video page on this site. The images from the articles can be seen in the gallery below. These come mostly from the ITN news reports, but the work of other photographers — such as Ron Haviv — shows similar pictures from Trnopolje.

For updates on what happened to Fikret Alic, see the 4 August 2002 and 27 July 2008 articles in The Observer for details.

In November 2009 the issues surrounding the 1992 ITN news reports was replayed following a lecture tour to Ireland by Noam Chomsky. This underlined the way revisionists seeking to belittle the meaning of the Bosnian War continue to recycle untrue claims about the imagery from Trnopolje. I wrote three posts on this new phase in the controversy (here, here and here), the second of which includes my revealing correspondence with Chomsky. While I have focused on the reiteration of false claims about the ITN vs. LM case, Oliver Kamm has provided a fullsome critique of other moments of denial, especially with regard to Srebrenica, and has kindly linked to these pages for information on Trnopolje.

In January 2011 the Bosnian Genocide blog posted more than 50 rarely seen seen photos from the Manjaca and Trnopolje camps. These detail the appalling conditions in both locations.

In April 2012 John Simpson of the BBC publicly expressed regret for being a defence witness in the ITN vs Living Marxism libel trial:

Reviewing Vulliamy’s new book about the Bosnian war, The War is Dead, Long Live the War – Bosnia: the Reckoning, Simpson says that what happened at Trnopolje, as well as at the Omarska camp and during the siege of Sarajevo, was “evil”.

He adds: “Vulliamy’s account of what happened in the camp is completely unanswerable; and I’m sorry now that I supported the small post-Marxist magazine Living Marxism when it was sued by ITN for questioning its reporting of the camps. It seemed to me at the time that big, well-funded organisations should not put small magazines out of business; but it’s clear that there were much bigger questions involved.”


email1Imaging Famine is a research project that examines how famine has been historically pictured in the media, from the nineteenth century to the present day.

The project began as a photographic exhibition at the Guardian and Observer Newsroom and Archive in London in August/September 2005 to mark the twentieth anniversary of ‘Band Aid’ and ‘Live Aid’ as well as the ‘Live 8’ event of that summer. It was summarised in a 24 page catalogue, and accompanied by public lectures and a major conference.

The project deals with the persistence of a famine iconography regardless of time and place. It traces the emergence of those images historically – considering the relationship between anthropology and photography, and the way photography has been a technology of colonialism – to pose the question of photography’s political effects.

The project seeks to move debate of these issues beyond the unhelpful distinction of positive versus negative imagery, and confront the morally complex political question: what if the stereotypical images of starving children remain the images most capable of mobilising a response?

The project continued through the Imaging Famine blog (May 2010-2013) which aggregated and curated material on the imaging of famine and the revisualization of ‘Africa’ and the majority world.



Visual economy of HIV-AIDSIn The Visual Economy of HIV/AIDS I investigated the way HIV/AIDS has been pictured through photography since the public emergence of the virus in 1981. This analysis establishes the imagined geography of the pandemic, and provides the backdrop for asking whether that visualization has altered since the disease was problematized as a security issue in 2000.

The project’s focus is on photojournalism as published in a small selection of major US and UK media outlets – the New York Times, The Guardian and The Observer (London), and Time magazine – since 2000. In addition, the project considers the work of selected documentary photographers and photojournalists who have undertaken special projects on HIV/AIDS – including Pep Bonet, Don McCullin, Gideon Mendel, James Nachtwey, Brent Stirton and Tom Stoddart – as well as some photography used by the United Nations and non-government organization publications concerned with HIV/AIDS.

The Visual Economy of HIV/AIDS was originally a research report, completed in May 2008, for the AIDS, Security and Conflict Initiative. A full copy of the (135 page) Visual Economy of HIV/AIDS final report can be downloaded, and the project web site with its image galleries remains online.

Top photo credit: Jael Ahrem, Rawa, Al Anbar, Iraq, 29 October 2006, Flickr, Creative Commons license. 

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