Item description for Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq by Ghaith Abdul-ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson, Rita Leistner, Philip Jones Griffiths & Phillip Robertson...
Truth, it has been said, is the first casualty of war. In the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, official truth died months before the bombing of Baghdad began. Unembedded bears witness to the enduring power of independent journalism. In their unflinching look at war-ravaged Iraq, four freelance photojournalists show that life there is brutal yet poignant; that compassion co-exists with anger, hatred and fear. By gaining the confidence of Iraqi civilians and insurgents, these photojournalists have brought back images of life in wartime, from beauty parlors and joyful wedding scenes to the carnage of civilian casualties, the heartbroken faces of grieving parents, and the glassy-eyed shock of parentless children. This is not the view from a Marine base. These photographers were on the streets of Baghdad when it fell, amid a crowd of civilians under aerial attack, and in the holy Imam Ali shrine with the Mahdi Army during the siege of Najaf. Their images document issues often underrepresented: the insurgency as seen from inside the separate resistance movements, civilians affected by the battles between U.S. and insurgent forces, growing conservatism and fundamentalism and their effects on women, and the devastating effects of ongoing civilian casualties. Working outside the U.S. military's official "embedding" program, the authors bring us face-to-face with the people of Iraq. They combine photographs and essays with excerpts from two years of personal letters, journal entries, and feature stories to take us across front lines and cultural barriers into the lives of a nation in crisis. Theirs is a path to understanding the cost of war.
From Unembedded: Four Photos, Four Photojournalists
These photos appear in Unembedded: Four Independent Journalists on the War in Iraq. Unembedded bears witness to the enduring power of independent journalism. In their unflinching look at war-ravaged Iraq, four freelance photojournalists show that life there is brutal yet poignant; that compassion co-exists with anger, hatred, and fear.
Photo by Kael Alford August 21, 2004 Najaf, Iraq During the battle between U.S. forces and the Mahdi Army militia for control of the holy city of Najaf, civilians were once again caught in the crossfire between U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents. While many families fled the city at the start of the fighting, others stayed and found themselves trapped as the cordon of U.S. trips tightened around the old city. At the heart of the ancient city among the twisting alleyways was the shrine of Imam Ali, the holiest site in Shia Islam, which the Mahdi Army was claiming to defend. With heavy bombardments during the night and small arms fire and lighter bombing during the day, those civilians left stranded in the city lived in constant fear. During a lull in the gunfire, this man decided to risk an 11th-hour escape. He raised one arm toward sniper positions and held his screaming child in the other, walking across the front lines on a main avenue to escape the final hours of the battle.
Born in Middletown, NY, 1971. Kael Alford is a freelance photojournalist who has spent more than eight months of the last year and a half in Iraq. She was based in Baghdad during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Her recent work from Iraq focuses on the growing culture of resistance, conservative religion, and the grass roots movements developing since the invasion of Iraq. Kael has worked extensively covering culture, politics and conflict in Southeast Europe and the Middle East for many major US and European magazines and newspapers. She is based in Amsterdam and New York and is represented by Panos Pictures in London.
Photo by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad September 12, 2004 Baghdad, Iraq When I arrived at Haifa Street I was told that an American vehicle had been attacked earlier in the day. The American soldiers had been evacuated, but a crowd had gathered around their burning armored vehicle. Suddenly, there were two big explosions from an American helicopter attack and people started running toward me in waves as I ran up to the burning vehicle. A dozen men formed a circle around five injured people lying in the street, all of whom were screaming and wailing. I had been standing there taking pictures for two or three minutes when we heard the helicopters coming back. Everyone started running, and I didn't look back to see what was happening to the injured men. I had just reached the corner of a concrete cigarette stall when I heard two more explosions. I felt hot air blast my face and something burning on my head. Six of us squeezed into a space behind the stall less than seven feet wide. Blood started dripping on my camera and all that I could think about was how to keep the lens clean. A man in his forties next to me was crying. He wasn't injured, he was just crying. The helicopters wheeled overhead, and I realized that they were firing directly at us. I wanted to be invisible; I wanted to hide under the others.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq, 1975. Ghaith Abdul-Ahad studied architecture at Baghdad University. A deserter from Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army, Ghaith lived underground in Baghdad for six years. He began making street photography in 2001 and determined to document conditions in Baghdad during the war. The day after the fall of Baghdad, Ghaith satisfied an aching curiosity by walking into one of Saddam's palaces, talking his way past American guards by claiming to be a foreign journalist. Soon after, Ghaith began writing for The Guardian and The Washington Post. His photographs began to appear in The New York Times, The Times (London), and others. Ghaith was wounded by shrapnel to his head when U.S. helicopters fired rockets into a crowd of civilians on Baghdad's Haifa Street in September 2004. Of the six people seeking shelter from the attack behind a small street kiosk, Ghaith was the sole survivor.
Photo by Rita Leistner April 15, 2004 Baghdad, Iraq Patients at Baghdad's Rashad Psychiatric Hospital had few activities to occupy them. One was watching television, which included the Coalition Provisional Authority's daily live broadcasts and updates to the press. On this day, General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was fielding questions on how he proposed to address the rising insurgency, especially Muktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Myers underplayed the threat of the insurgents. A few months later, the hospital grounds would shake from nearby bombs, and mortars would land in its courtyard as Coalition Forces fought the Mahdi Army right outside the hospital gates.
Born in Toronto, Canada. Rita Leistner is a graduate of the International Center for Photography in New York, and has a master's degree in comparative literature from the University of Toronto. She spent 10 months covering the war in Iraq between April 2003 and September 2004. With a focus on in-depth, long-term projects, her feature work includes a profile of an American cavalry unit during a three month embed in the spring and summer of 2003, a portrait story of women residents at the Al Rashad Psychiatric Hospital in Baghdad, and a feature on the gravediggers at the cemetery of Najaf during the August-September siege of 2004. She often writes as well as photographs her stories. Her photographs and stories from Iraq have been published in The Walrus, Newsweek, Time, and Rolling Stone, among other publications.
Photo by Thorne Anderson September 23, 2003 Falluja, Iraq Falluja is in ruins now, but bitter seeds were sown there from the earliest days of American occupation. In September 2003, I heard about an American air strike on a village in the Falluja area. I visited the village and found a family from the Jumaili tribe in distress. Three members of the family had been killed in their home during the night. Some neighbors then took me to the Falluja hospital where family members crowded into the room of nine-year-old Hussein Ali Al-Jumaili. A doctor raised an X-ray to explain his injuries to the family and I photographed Hussein and his sister through the image of his fractured skull. Within a week after this incident, six more members of the Jumaili family--including two women and a one-year-old child--were killed by American forces in two additional incidents.
Born in Montgomery, Alabama, 1966. Thorne Anderson has been covering international news with Corbis/Sygma since 1999. Thorne's photographs are regularly published in magazines and newspapers including Time, Newsweek, Stern, and others. He has spent 10 months of the last two years in Iraq and is among the few active journalists who worked in Iraq during the sanctions period before the most recent war. While covering the war itself from Baghdad, he was arrested by Iraqi intelligence and expelled from the country. He returned to Iraq as soon as the borders opened at the end of the war and has covered the nascent occupation resistance movements, both Sunni and Shiite. In Najaf, he and journalist Phillip Robertson spent three days inside the Imam Ali shrine with the Mehdi Militia and its supporters at the peak of the American military siege.
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More About Ghaith Abdul-ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson, Rita Leistner, Philip Jones Griffiths & Phillip Robertson
Reviews - What do customers think about Unembedded: Four Independent Photojournalists on the War in Iraq?
response to Linda Bergin Oct 7, 2006
I just saw this book featured on the PBS show "AIR." It showcased many of the images from the book. Only the most heartless could fail to feel compassion and awe for the people depicted here and the brave photographers who did the work. I cannot accept the remark that the photos are somehow from Saddam's "point of view." They are a facet of the reality, a facet which we as Americans must confront, sooner or later, because it is our government that has set this chain of events in motion.
Ms. Bergin, please, if your idea of fighting for freedom is to deny the truth of suffering, at least have the integrity to spell "freedom" correctly.
UNEMBEDDED May 13, 2006
The photos were very interesting. Seeing the sadness of war is very compelling and heart wrenching. The captions are obviously from a Saddam Hussien Sympathizer point of view. I question if the captions are truthful to the photos or just more journalists propaganda. The less than 20 percent of Iraqis that don't want Freedom are captured in the words wriiten. Great photos ...that is about it. If you hate the American and Iraqi Military...you'll love reading the words.
A story of Iraqis under US occupation. May 9, 2006
It shows the heart and soul of Iraqis. It shows what they are going through during the US invasion and occupation. Though shot by mostly US photographers, it shows from the Iraqi standpoint. Some of the pictures are disturbing but after all it is the depiction of war and WAR is not a pretty site. Kudos to the worthy photographers who put their life in danger to show the whole world an unembedded story. I salute you guys!!
A Must Read for Everyone May 7, 2006
Truly great work. The world needs people like these guys to give us an in-depth view of what's inherently wrong with war. We never have known what the other side suffers. Until now. Even the 'enemy' is human and the pain and suffering of is there to be seen in the brows and creases in the faces of those men, women and children.
Keep on the good work and kudos.
Show the World American Democracy Apr 26, 2006
It is an almost unbearable image. The nude body of an eight-year-old girl killed by American bombs during the "Shock and Awe" campaign in 2003 is being washed for burial by a middle-aged woman dressed entirely in black. There is no obvious blood or gore. On the contrary, it is difficult to figure out just by looking at the photograph what killed her. Her mouth, which is open, almost looks as though it could be drawing in breath and you search her eyes, also open, for any sign of life, any sign that the photograph had been mislabeled. But then you notice the wad of cloth placed between her legs for modesty and remember that Muslims bury their dead as quickly as possible. You take the book, hold it vertically and close to the light and you can see that her lips are colorless and entirely drained of blood. You notice the utterly lifeless quality of her eyes and you realize what you, as an American are guilty of. Osama Bin Laden is alive and well somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, and this little girl has paid the price for what he did on 9/11.
Kael Alford, the photographer, who has expressed some ambivalence about seeing this photograph published at all, is part of a stunning but often horrifying new book and traveling exhibit called "Unembedded". The exhibit, which is currently being displayed at the "Photographic Gallery" at 252 Front Street in lower Manhattan, features Alford's work as well as photographs by Thorne Anderson, Rita Leistner, and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. All four are freelance photojournalists who work without the protection (or censorship) of the US military, and all four were in Najef for the entire course of the American siege, long after the official media had been whisked out of the city "for their own safety". Alford and Abdul-Ahad, an American from Middletown, New York and an Iraqi who had deserted from Saddam's army six years earlier, were both in Baghdad for the American invasion, and Leistner traveled through the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq and Turkey in the spring of 2003. Indeed, Leistner's portrait of the strikingly beautiful young wife of the Kurdish separatist leader Osman Ocalan almost appears to belong in another exhibit altogether, her confident gaze starring directly into the camera commanding the scene to rise up around her almost as an act of will with little or no effort from the photographer.
The rest of the exhibit is a parade of almost unrelieved horror and chaos, of the dead, the dying, and the damned, an inferno the official media has long since given up trying to cover at all and which the US government would rather the American people didn't see. That the American government would just as soon censor these images and that the extreme right in the United States would label them as "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" has not deterred Alford, Anderson, Abdul-Ahad, and Leistner. On the contrary, they have stepped up and performed the job that the official media and Congress are too cowardly or outright compromised to do. They have run, with little or no thought for their own safety, right into the mouth of hell and through sheer courage and artistic integrity given order to the chaos of American occupied Iraq and brought back images few Americans, even soldiers serving in Iraq, have seen, and which Iraqi civilians live with as part of their mundane daily existence. They force us to confront the moral issues of invading Iraq. For Alford, Anderson, Leistner, and Abdul-Ahad, the decision to go to Iraq in the first place was not a difficult one to make. Like all real journalists, and unlike the kind of person who would submit to writing government propaganda as part of the "embedded" media, they have a natural instinct to go to "where the action is". Like a fireman rushing into a burning building, this is simply an instinct, and, indeed, one of the most powerful photographs of the exhibit, title "Baghdad, September 12th, 2004, Civilians Flee as US Helicopters attack Haifa Street," distills this into a single image better than I could express it in words.
Earlier in the day, Abdul-Ahad had received a phone call that the insurgents had blown up a Bradley fighting vehicle and that a crowd of Iraqis were celebrating around the burning wreckage. The scene has taken on the appearance of a macabre carnival and that he should get to Haifa Street immediately. But the US military would turn the tables against the Iraqis in a horrifying way and strafe Haifa Street with Apache attack helicopters, killing 22 civilians and wounding over 40 more. In the photo, we see an American helicopter in the upper right hand corner flying out of the frame after pulverizing a building off in the distance, and a crowd of terrified civilians running in our direction. But the photographer is not running away from the horror. He's running towards it, and horror it is. When he arrives on the scene, the Bradley is on fire and people are sprawled out all over Haifa Street dead or dying. Two bodies lie in a clump in like chop meat and blood is pouring out of their heads. Then the helicopters return and Abdul-Ahad is almost killed himself. He survives but he is tortured by what he had seen, and, more importantly, how he had acted. Why had he kept taking photos? Why had he remained an observer when he should have gotten involved? "All the people I had shared my shelter with are dead," he writes. "Every time I look at these pictures I tell myself that I have killed these people. I should have helped instead of taking pictures."
But he doesn't. He can't. He acts on instinct. "Six of us were squeezed into a space less then seven feet wide. Blood started dripping onto my camera and all I could think of was keeping my lens clean."
He does more than keep his lens clean. All four of the photographers in this exhibit not only keep their cool under fire and they not only document the horror of Iraq under the American occupation, they impose order on the blood, gore and the chaos. It becomes almost beautiful to look at. Most of the photos are exposed perfectly. Most are framed perfectly. They follow "the rule of thirds" even in the most extreme circumstances. Somehow Abdul-Ahad manages to take photos that are sharp enough to blow up to 24 x 36 even in the middle of an attack by American helicopters. Somehow Kael Alford, slight, blond, pretty and American manages to keep her hands from shaking in the middle of the siege of Najef in a room full of fundamentalist Shiite militiamen. Somehow she manages to take a good photo of a gigantic portrait of Al Sadr guarded by menacing black clad figures armed with AK-47s who look, if anything, a bit like the demons from the movie "Ghost" who drag evil souls down into hell. One photo by Abdul Ahad, of a teenage boy, lying dead in the middle of Haifa Street framed against the palm trees and the burning Bradley fighting vehicle is composed so perfectly you wonder if its even morally acceptable to look at it. Bullet holes riddle his white shirt, giving it the appearance of a funeral shroud. The photographers lens is less than a few feet away from the boy's head. A bit of flare pokes through the palms trees in the background shining down on the rubble strewn cement, almost giving you the impression that God is reaching down to elevate the his soul into heaven. This is photojournalism that rises to the level of art, Francesco Goya with a digital SLR.
In other words, you have to stop yourself from admiring the technical perfection of these photographs and remind yourself what's going on in front of your eyes. It's one thing to make a painting about the horrors of war. It's another one altogether to use live models. You can understand why Kael Alford and Abdul Ahad feel guilty, like voyeurs and almost see their own skill at taking photos as being somehow immoral.
They shouldn't. The artistry of the photographs and the meticulous observation of all four photographers have given the people of Baghdad and Najef a voice, even in the midst of their destruction. There are almost no shots taken with a telephoto lens. The photographers get up close with a 35mm or a 50mm lens and become, in effect, part of the scene that they're documenting. We see the pain in their eyes and feel the rage in their gestures. What's more, we not only see a culture as its being destroyed, we see what that culture was like before the American occupation and wonder if the Iraqi people have any chance of getting it back. The people in the photographs aren't monsters or victims. They're exactly like us. Slogans blare out from graffiti covered walls. "American soldiers will pay blood for oil." "We love America and Iraq." Women play in the Tigris River out of the gaze of their men and out of the gaze of the American army. Young Madhi Army members wear baseball hats turned around and look more like New York City high school kids than they do the evil terrorists of American propaganda. The mentally ill Rashad Psychiatric Hospital plead that they don't belong in the middle of all of the madness and almost stand in for the Iraqi people as a whole pleading to be freed from the madness of the war. One shot shows the fa?ade of a computer store half blow away revealing a line of new PCs and a poster advertising Microsoft in the Middle East. The brilliant lights of the Ali Shrine illuminate the temporary campground of the Mahdi Army set up in the middle of the third holiest place in Shia Islam. Who are these people who we Americans have decided to torment as revenge for September 11th and yet who still invite western journalists to come into their country and tell their story?
"We left the kids behind to die there alone, Abdul-Ahad writes. "I didn't even try to move any with me. I ran into the entrance of a building and someone grabbed my arm and took me inside. `There's an injured man. Take pictures. Show the world the American democracy, he said.'"