The line between popular culture and the reality of conflict is no longer clear cut, but where does this leave photography?

Tom Seymour — 26 August 2014

In February 2011, the Arab Spring spread to Libya. After a week-long siege, the town of Ajdabiya fell when French aircraft bombed the Gaddafi-loyalist troops. Here, a local man is pictured thanking God for the victory while standing on a burning tank. He was aware of Mads Nissen, the photographer, so he was actively presenting an image of himself for the camera. Image © Mads Nissen, courtesy Panos Pictures

Before he was killed in Libya, war photographer Tim Hetherington talked of “the feedback loop” – the self-perpetuating link between the reality of conflict and its portrayal in popular culture. But where such fictions were once tightly controlled, the internet has opened the floodgates, creating an ever-increasing circle that is seemingly more gruesome than ever before.

A few months before he died, Hetherington submitted to Vanity Fair a series of photographs of US soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. At the time, Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now was getting a re-release. The designers atVanity Fair mixed the images up, mistakenly using Hetherington’s shots to illustrate a review of the famously conceptual rendering of war.

It was an ironic mistake. Just before the photographer died covering the uprising in Libya, he wrote of what he termed “the feedback loop” –


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