Picturing War

Marcel Saba brings us images Iraq that will hold their moment in history

We live in a world that moves at warp speed, and now we watch that very speedy history as reality TV.

The war in Iraq fascinated many of us, as for the first time journalist were actually

When the Pentagon decided to “embed” journalists with military units, the result was fascinating, up-close, and personal reporting about a new kind of tragedy. The strategy seemed to advance the Pentagon’s agenda, at first––though it also highlighted every hiccup, which of course have come to plague U.S. Iraq policy.

Marcel Saba is a photo editor who grew up in Beirut and left in 1978 when he was still young. He saw many violent upheavals there and went on to develop an incredible eye for selecting photographs that tell a unique story. He now runs a photo agent called REDUX.

“I have represented photographers for years, I love photo journalism; and as the war was happening I pitched the idea to Powerhouse after their incredible success with the September 11 book and they went for it,” Saba explained. “The book, ‘Witness Iraq,’ debuted July 4. I felt it was important to get this out while the war was still happening.”

Saba has compiled the work of dozens of photographers in a handsome book designed by Yolanda Cuomo.

What is incredible about this coffee table-sized book––full of riveting photographs that literally pop off the page––is that it came out just three months after the launch of a war still only six months old, and about which there is no firm agreement as to whether it has been concluded.

Saba and Powerhouse Books have taken a nation’s fear, its arguably voyeuristic inclinations, and certainly its political energy and put them all into this book.

Saba may have political agendas, but he worked very diligently with the photographers he presents to have this book portray all sides of this story, human, pro-war, and certainly the horrors and price of this war, and indeed any war.

“I hope the book tells all sides to the story, the Iraqi people, the Americans, the humor, the tragedy, the heroic effort, and of course the damage––and that the book comes from a neutral place,” he said.

I asked Saba if, with our culture’s inundation by video, film, and moving images, a still photo held sway, and offered the same import and moment that they used to.

“We all remember the photos from Kent State, from the Kennedy assassination, and even of the firefighters rising the flag at Ground Zero,” he responded. “During this war sometimes people were too overwhelmed by images on the news and the only way the public can find a moment to take it all in is through a still photograph. Still photographs hold their moment in history better. Stills photos become icons more than moving images or video.”

Saba has favorites and they are the photographs that tell clear stories. There is both a photograph and an essay about the Marines saving an Iraqi woman on a bridge under siege. There are pictures of destruction, jubilation, and incredible pain that bring you so close you may need to look away. The book has collected the spoils of war and stands out because the pictures offer a very balanced view. Saba’s approach could teach a lot to those claiming a “fair and balanced” presentation that instead is often simple war mongering.

Saba’s book can keep this war in the front of our brains, helping us avoid being lulled and dulled into forgetting that people on all sides are suffering, sacrificing, and dying. This up-close look with photographs and essays by men and women who were there, tells a profound story.

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