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Mar 16, 2005

In Love With Lebanon


This picture was everywhere yesterday, as was talk of the media obsession with the  "Girls of Cedar."  What I was interested in, though, was how the photo signals a shift in the sexual gaze in the span of one week. 

One thing that's obviously different is the scale.  All that riding around on shoulders (Betty Boop Takes Lebanon - link) is now small time stuff.  At this point, what the situation calls for is nothing short of straddling mountaintops or skyscrapers.

Prior to the Hezbollah rally, the energy of the movement was often captured in tight, centered shots of female protesters, expressing joy almost to themselves.  With the explosive upsurge in collective energy however, these massive crowd shots have become almost as enticing.  (After all, what could be more seductive than tens of thousands moving rhythmically in unison?) 

If the movement continues to gain in scale and solidarity, the young women of Beirut will become more complementary than central.  It would explain why this girl, still the largest figure in the image, is now standing to the side. 

If this photo is also any indicator, the new focus will involve more scenes of love with the group.  In this version, the girl might as well be a couple hundred feet tall, the excited throng crawling up her legs.  Or, like some sitcom variation on St. Peter's Square, the crowd could be looking upon her balcony and serenading their blushing and overwhelmed Ms. Democracy '05.

(image: Hussein Mall/AP in The Los Angeles Times)


In the Washington Post the Hezbolla protest picture showed a man with a pistol.

scale, vraiment.

but it won't begin to get interesting until they figure out how to do it at night with dozens of klieg-lights, piercing the sky; and thousands of torches, on the march ~ rotating slowly around the... brand

scale, vraiment. but still puny, perhaps even naive compared to Goebbels & Speer.

who needs colour ?

c'mon baby ~ light my fire !

Interesting observations, but some are reaching overly far. Certainly salient is the prevalence of the sexualized, celebratory, liberation aesthetic in the images of the anti-Syrian demos -- here and in the "Betty" photo, which speaks the visual language of Delacroix's Liberty on the Barricades more than anything else -- and the stark contrast with those of the pro-Syrian demonstation.
The difference in scale as between "Betty" and this one may well be a function of the difference between the turnout in each of the demos. The "Betty" picture made a very effective use of a tighter frame with less people in order to generate a sense of drama. Given that that demo had nothing like the turnout of the later demo, that may well have guided the choice -- that is, in a wider shot, the crowd's size in relation to its surroundings may have looked diminished, while pushing in gives you plenty drama, with no real reference to the size of the protest. With the huge crowds at the second demo, the images turn to ones that *do* emphasize the size of the corwd. In each case, the animating principle may well be to pump up the drama by whatever means works -- if you've got huge numbers, go wide; if smaller, go tight. If true, this may or may not be a symptom of a systemic bias in favor of those whose ideological agenda masy be served by a boosterish presentation of the anti-Syrian demos. It may well be a less-insidious systemic bias in favor of the more dramatic image (that does not explain, however, the seeming disparity between these and images of the pro-Syrian rally, unless one countenances the idea that there are no photogenic pro-Hezbollah women in attendance).
I do not for a minute buy the idea that the woman's presence on one side of the image reflects a media that has consciously or uncounsciously decided to sideline the women involved. Rather, it is a standard compositional convention in which the field is divided into thirds, in this case, having the woman in the left-hand third and the flag taking up much of the top third, the crowd is framed, and depth-of-field and perspective are highlighted.

A simlar image attributed to Reuters appeared on the front page of the New Zealand Herald on Monday (16 March), 2005. It showed only the mass of protesters. There were no other (superimposed?) images or problems of scale.

Your blog always raises very interesting questions. Thanks.

I'm convinced there's something going on with the female images. I took special notice of this picture in the news after your entry about the betty-boop girl. What I'm curious about is this: how much of this seemingly flirty relationship with the protesters is because its Lebanon? I've noticed a motif of sexuality associated with Lebanon in particular for some time: the "Levant" as a theme, the "Phoenician" idea and the history of the illicit, violent civil war, the drugs, terror, etc. all seems to mix together to create a particularly distinctive creature--Lebanon. The region has long been a prize in the eyes of the West and the Middle-East, and a kind of symbol for illicit pleasure--simultaneously like a virgin and a prostitute. I wonder if that has something to do with it...

I don't know how relevant this is to coverage back in the states, but just to give some context on the Lebanon/Female thing: Lebanon is the base for Arabic pop music. Sexy females and Lebanon go hand in hand as in Hollywood. It's where they have both Star Academy and Superstar - Arabic versions of American Idol. Lebanon exports beautiful women. That's part of it's pop culture, much like America.

I don't know about the class system there, though. It is likely that this is a product of middle/upper-class Beirut and there is a lot of Lebanon that is very different from that, but I don't know.

Mark my words, Vogue will have a new Radical Chic fashion shoot on location with the flag girl (if they can find her) before the year is out.

Democracy is not only good for you, it looks good on you, Dahling.

It reminds me of The Yevgeny Khaldei photograph of a Soviet soldier placing the Red flag atop the Reichstag building in Berlin, a world famous photograph of liberation, but also a fake of sorts -in so far as it was staged. The other thing that strikes me about he photo is the impression it gives of Women Overseeing and approving the protest, a real Western-friendly image, she is the womens-lib footsoldier perched with flag above the scene of liberation below, just like the soldier in Khaldeis photo.

Or the famous flag raisings by U.S. Marines on Iwo Jima during World War II. If you look at the film clips—which have been on TV at various times—you get an idea of the role that sheer luck often plays in the timing of a great photograph. Any thoughts that this shot might have been posed are easily dismissed by comparing it to the later images that actually were. The photographer, Joe Rosenthal, explains:

"It was like shooting a football game. You never knew what you got on film."

Photojournalists in the thick of things don't have much time for contemplation, but we do, thanks to their work.

Re: Aethorian
Time for contemplation may be short when they're out in the field, but there is much time afterward to carefully consider, select and crop any of the many photos taken on the spot.
I do wonder though how much of any photograph, like this one or the Abbas photo for example, is due to the conscious (or otherwise) influence of the photographer and his own set of beliefs and assumptions -what he wants or chooses to see, out there in the field, and the conscious political will of the photographers employer -what THEY want US to see, the photo they are paying for and the message they want to impart on us.

Perhaps all photographs are staged to some extent, in the sense that the photographer alters the scene by their selection of one POV (among all possibilities), or that they might direct the positioning or behavior of their subjects.

Echoing Joe Rosenthal's work—and risks to life and limb—at Iwo Jima, Yevgeny Khaldei took many images of the Russians' Berlin flag-raising, each from a different moment or POV. Here are a few examples:

Russians hoist the Hammer and Sickle
The Churchill Society [about halfway down the page]

Icons of War cover
[Google cache, about halfway down the page]

Witness to History cover
Aperture Foundation

Here is a revealing photo of Khaldei "hunting" Hermann Göring at the Nuremberg Trials, along with Khaldei's comments:

"When we received orders to leave Nuremberg, I asked an American colleague to photograph me with Göring. Göring remembered that, because of me, he had been hit with a club, and hence he always turned his head aside when I came into the courtroom. When he noticed I wanted to get into the picture with him, he put down his hand in front of his face"

I would assume that Khaldei then moved to another POV. In the life of an image, the subject, photographer, developer, editor, and reader all selectively edit what has actually happened. The tricky part is to discern when reality actually occurred.

u have NOTHING ABOUT LEBNON!!!!!!!!!!

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