D Day and more

Perhaps because the media have been so preoccupied with the anniversaries of the First World War there was little publicity this year about the anniversary of D-Day, June 6th 1944. Which perhaps explains why I’m only writing about it a day late, having seen some posts about it on Facebook late last night.

Although we now know much more about the iconic images taken by Robert Capa – and the myths that have grown up around them and are still being stated as fact, even by some who are perfectly aware of the investigation by A D Coleman and his team, a three year study concluded around a year ago, when I last wrote about it. I suppose they are following Capa’s example; his most famous dictum was ‘If you’re pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough‘ but perhaps the attitude that most shaped his life was to never let the facts get in the way of a good story, though to be fair the story that he wrote was intended more as a Hollywood treatment than real autobiography.

I don’t mean by this in any way to belittle Capa as a photographer. The investigation is one that I think paints others in a worse light than him, though he certainly went along with the deception. Nor do I in any way minimise the shock of landing on that Normandy beach; for the military who went as a team to do a job they had trained to do it will have been far less horrific than for a lone individual, and I doubt if many of us would have handled the situation there any better. If anything I admire him more for his courage in realising that he had to return as soon as he could and get on with doing the job.

I’ve fortunately never been under fire from an enemy army. The nearest I’ve come is having milk bottles thrown at me from six floors up on a council estate, beer cans and bricks thrown from far right groups and a firework rocket aimed horizontally at me early one Sunday morning by kids in Bermondsey that missed by inches. And a paintball which splatted on my chest from the black bloc, probably like other missiles aimed at nearby police. I’ve been spat at, threatened, cursed, pushed and punched by the right, assaulted by police… But generally I’ve chosen to avoid violent situations, and I know I would never be a good war photographer. So Capa and the others who have chosen that course deserve and get my respect.

I hadn’t meant to do more than briefly mention D-Day and Capa, but as so often I got a little carried away. On being reminded of the anniversary I took another look (as I do fairly often) at Photocritic International. A D Coleman’s latest post there has the rather uninformative title Spring Fever: Ends and Odds 2018 and is, as always, worth reading, with a typically acute analysis of the case of Naruto, a crested macaque who picked up David Slater’s camera and took a few pictures with it. Coleman explains and comments on the decision by the Federal Appeal Court that copyright law covers the actions and creations of humans, and only humans, as well as on the concept of animals having names.

The post also contains Coleman’s incisive comments on two other matters, one of which is also – like the names of animals – related to ideas of ‘identity’ and brings in Alfred Korzybski’s argument that we should beware of all variants of the verb to be, which is perhaps rather relevant to some current debates, and a second more specific to photography, and in particular the devaluation of photojournalism, something some previous guest posts on Photocritic International have explored. It’s perhaps ironic that while some photographs now sell for undreamed of amounts in the art market, the rates for photojournalism are actual cash terms are lower than they were 30 or 40 years ago, despite huge inflation. Or if not ironic at least pretty desperate for those trying to make a living.

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