Book Review– Iraq | Perspectives: Benjamin Lowy
Raj Lalwani examines Lowy’s personal ways of viewing the war in his book that questions, and tries to tackle public apathy.
Modern-day journalism can be characterised by varying degrees of three similar-sounding platitudes—sense, sensitivity and sensationalism. But there is a fourth similar-sounding word that is more crucial to examine, since it defines the way we take in news, the way we look at pictures, and consequently, shapes the way the story is told and remembered. That word is sensitise, and at a time when any news is bad news and as viewers, we are getting comfortably numb and dumb, we are, in effect, desensitised. That is what makes Benjamin Lowy’s individualistic take on the war in Iraq quite remarkable. Steering away from conventional war imagery, Lowy presents two different perspectives, both seen through different eyes. Perspectives I: Windows takes the viewer into the heart of Lowy’s situation of being an embed.
The photos are of the conflict, but not of the conflict, showing us the vagaries of the daily life that plays out in the background, but through the inches-thick bulletproof windows of the armoured Humvees of the US soldiers. It’s ironic that a phone call from Lowy’s mom that led him to adopt this point of view—she wondered what Iraq look like and was surprised at her son’s grim description of the war, for the mainstream media painted a different picture, presumably that of jingoism and triumph. The vantage makes us both voyeur and participant, as Lowy’s restrictive vantage becomes our window into his world, and consequently, our window into his window of the Iraqi common man.
The visual parallel for a photo-literate audience, of course, is the fact that Lowy’s framing of the frame within the frame, reminds us of the camera itself—the fact that the photos have been shot in two kinds of Humvees, one with rectangular windows and the other, with square, being a curious parallel to a project shot part on 35mm, and part, 6×6. The parallel to picturemaking is what makes Lowy’s perspective disconcerting, as you as viewer of the photos, alternate between assuming the role of a viewer, a voyeur, a photographer, or even, a soldier. When the leit motif gets repetitive, you wonder, could the edit have been tighter, or is Lowy only expressing the visual and emotional ennui of a life ravaged by war, both of those who face it, and those who see it.
For the longest time, I felt that the second part of the book, Perspectives II: Nightvision, should have been its own book, a completely different perspective, this, being a view of the warstruck nightscape through a pair of night-vision goggles attached to Lowy’s camera. Night vision brings forth strange visual associations, from kitschy memories to home videos. Here, it recreates the point of view, and thus, the tension that a soldier actually sees. The perspective is far more intimate, but the proximity, both physical and visual, can be a double-edged sword. For sometimes, we even feel like we are in a movie. But that is where the tension and claustrophobia built up by the former half of the book reminds us, that this is exactly the apathy that Lowy is trying to push against. This is no Hollywood, the fear and desperation is all real, war is that futile. This isn’t just a different way of telling the story, but also, a different story being told.
Title: Iraq | Perspectives
Authors: Benjamin Lowy
Publisher: Duke University Press
Price: Rs. 2694