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Thursday, October 17, 2013

What Blue Bars and Photos do not Tell

I am looking at a bar graph which chronicles the number of civilian deaths in Iraq from 2008- 2013. The bars are blue and, side by side to each other, form a rather uniformly inverted bell curve. This shape tells me that the number of Iraqi deaths in 2008 nearly parallel the numbers 2013 has thus far produced; Iraqi causalities were at their lowest between 2009 and 2011.
The article within which the bar graph appears discusses the factors which led to the bombings responsible for the civilian casualties. A student of world news and of current events, I read this academic analysis. I read to learn. I read to inform. Staring at the blue bars, a thought arrests me. These dozens of blue bars arc tall and taller and tallest: Towers of Death. I am staring at lives lost, thousands. Nearly half a million, another news article claims. Dead human lives academically recorded, sterilely documented, logically presented. Within the blue are the undocumented faces of those little ones on their way to school, boys sweating at a soccer match, students arguing politics at a café, a young woman carrying her yet born babe, the old men exchanging neighborhood gossip around tea. My imagination fails me. The blue bars fail me. They fail to tell their stories, fail to name their names. They fail to record the lament of the left-behind. The blue bars fail.
And the photos that capture survivors and wreckage post-bombing fail. They reveal images of burnt out cars, destroyed real estate. Blood splattered on city streets. Dust, displaced objects jarred into alien space by the blast, eerily resting forever where the photo finds them. Crumbling infrastructure, the fabric of Iraq unraveled and unraveling. Photos capturing reality- yet the latter half of it only. Where are snapshots of these scenes seconds pre-bombing? We do not see the bold, clean colors of the parked cars on the street. No photo captures the unblemished store fronts with goods neatly arranged. The bystanders have already been carried away in body bags; their expressive faces, conversations, concerns, laughter, distractions, lost to us forever in what was not snapped. In the absence of any visual contrast of what Once Was and what Now Is my brain has been trained to expect the carnage: News from Iraq. It will be bloody. The images will be charred. We can smell the death. That’s normalcy. The photos tell me so.
No, no, NO! Go back seconds ago, rewind to the laughter between small school girls, revisit the cheers for the team, hear again impassioned words of the academic debate, see the fear and hope written on a young mother’s face, smell the aroma of hot tea in the desert. But these pre-bombing realities- and untold more- are reduced to pixels within a blue bar graph, and photo journalists’ post-bombing images.
To discover what blue bars and photos do tell, and to read the article referenced, copy and past this URL into a new tab: