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Kameran i krig: den fotografiska iscensättningen av Vietnamkriget i svensk press
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMK).
2000 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The doctoral thesis deals with the problems of (news) photographic representation in general, and is based on an empirical study ofVietnam War photography in four major Swedish daily newspapers. A more specific aim of the thesis is to investigate and ideologically evaluate the representational strategies of the press photographs. A central argument is that news pictures must be understood in terms of the specific cultural context constituted by the Western pictorial tradition, both classical and popular. The news media operate within the culture and make use of common motifs, symbols and rhetorical devices to convey their messages. Studies have shown that journalistic texts often hark back to literary traditions, oral storytelling, sagas and myths. Likewise, press photography is permeated by iconographie conventions from the Western arthistorical and pictorial tradition. In order to understand how and what the pictures signify, you must read them in light of this tradition.

The thesis takes its starting points in various theories of representation; in photo theory, art theory, visual rhetoric and in mass communication theory, particularly the part that deals with news production. Following a poststructuralistic line of argument, 1 take it that photographs convey information not about any objective reality, but about the beliefe and ideas particular to the culture in which they operate. News photographs can be conceptualized as projections, as ”involuntary confessions” of their culture’s deeper preoccupations. This study shows that both the form and content of the news photographs from the Vietnam War reflect historical and contemporary, fictitious and documentary depictions of war. They trigger the same cultural myths found in popular movies, novels and picture genres, including classical Western painting - which confirms the present assumption that news photography must be understood as a cultural product. An ethnocentric as well as patriarchal perspective is prominent in the Swedish new- - spapers’ Vietnam photographs. They position the capitalist West as the masculine, modern and civilized ’ ”Absolute”, against which the Vietnamese are contrasted as a feminized, primitive, communist ”Other”. The press photographs are permeated by a Judeo-Christian iconography. They convey a modern version of the Passion, with the Pietà and the mourning Madonna as recurrent themes. The American soldiers are transformed into Christian martyrs, and the fleeing South Vietnamese population is staged as a timeless vision of the Old Testament Exodus. By referring to the Christian tradition, the photographs give the suffering and killing a higher purpose. Belief in the resurrection - the ultimate triumph owing to the sacrifice — acts as a comforting filter over the scenes of wounded American soldiers and crying South Vietnamese women.

My study does not support the popular assumption that the photographic staging of the Vietnam War turned public opinion against the war in any direct way. The negative picture of the war conveyed in press photographs from 1968, which became increasingly negative beginning in 1972, can largely be seen as a result of the mounting Swedish and international resistance to the war. Even though the Swedish press (and other mass media) mirrored changes in the actual course of the war to a certain extent - and through its brutal descriptions of violence certainly contributed to strengthening anti-war opinion — it still appears as if its picture policy responded to, as opposed to preceded, public opinion. Whereas it is difficult to find evidence that news pictures have any direct and decisive effects on the formation of political opinion, it can be argued that they have long-term repercussions for more general cultural conceptions - that they are both symptoms and agents of a process of cultural reproduction. What my study has shown in particular is that even liberal democratic Western media seem to function as propaganda machines of some sort, in the sense that press photographs confirm and reproduce deeply rooted cultural myths and values. It seems appropriate to say that the media — rather than revealing the world — project onto it ideologically colored pictures.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: B. Östlings bokförl. Symposion , 2000. , p. 192
Series
Doktorsavhandlingar från JMK, ISSN 1102-3015 ; 16
Keyword [en]
war photography, Vietnam war, media, visual communication, documentary photography, photo history, photo theory, Sweden, gender theory, masculinity, femininity, postcolonial theory, cultural studies, ideologies
National Category
Media and Communications
Research subject
Media and Communication Studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-69384ISBN: 91-7139-476-1 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-69384DiVA, id: diva2:476515
Public defence
2000-06-09, 10:00
Opponent
Available from: 2012-01-12 Created: 2012-01-12 Last updated: 2018-05-02Bibliographically approved

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