Killing for Show
Photography, War, and the Media in Vietnam and Iraq
Published by Rowman & Littlefield, 2020
In the autumn of 2014, the Royal Air Force released blurry video of a missile blowing up a pick-up truck that may have had a weapon attached to its flatbed. This was a lethal form of gesture politics: to send a £9-million bomber from Cyprus to Iraq and back, burning £35,000 an hour in fuel, to launch a smart missile costing £100,000 to destroy a truck or, rather, to create a video that shows it being destroyed. Some lives are ended—it is impossible to tell whose—so that the government can pretend that it taking effective action by creating a high-budget snuff movie. This is killing for show.
Since the Vietnam War the way we see conflict – through film, photographs, and pixels – has had a powerful impact on the political fortunes of the campaign, and the way that war has been conducted. In this fully illustrated and passionately argued account of war imagery, Julian Stallabrass tells the story of post-war conflict, how it was recorded and remembered through its iconic photography. Through accounts of events such as My Lai massacre, the violent suppression of insurgent Fallujah, or the atrocities in Abu Ghraib, Stallabrass maps a comprehensive theoretical re-evaluation of the relationship between war, politics and visual culture.
Julian Stallabrass talks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about the inescapable complicity of photography and media in warfare, the technical and social evolution of images as lethal weapons, and their changing role as witnesses or propaganda documents.
Julian Stallabrass is an art historian, photographer, curator, and professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art.