The Horror and the Ghosts of War

A word of warning: this post deals with very graphic subject matter. I wondered whether I should post this, especially so early after re-launching my site, but in the end, I felt compelled to share these images, most especially the work of Craig F. Walker. It’s powerful work and it deserves to be seen.

Earlier today, the Los Angeles Times published two gruesome photos of American troops posing with the remains of dead Afghan insurgents. One of those images, among the 18 obtained by the Times, shows a group of U.S. soldiers smiling behind two Afghan police officers, holding up the severed legs of a suicide bomber who, unfortunately, was successful in carrying out his insane attack.

These latest ghastly images emerged only a day after the 2012 Pulitzer Prize was awarded to two photojournalists — one Iraqi, one American — whose photos once again remind us so powerfully of the life-shattering consequences of war.

Massoud Hossaini won the Breaking News Photography award for his heartbreaking photograph of Tarana Akbari, a 12-year-old Afghan girl screaming in tears among a pile of bodies following a suicide bomb attack at a crowded shrine in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Tarana Akbari, 12, screams in fear moments after a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in a crowd at the Abul Fazel Shrine in Kabul on December 06, 2011. "When I could stand up, I saw that everybody was around me on the ground, really bloody. I was really, really scared," said the Tarana, whose name means "melody" in English. Out of 17 women and children from her family who went to a riverside shrine in Kabul that day to mark the Shiite holy day of Ashura, seven died including her seven-year-old brother Shoaib. More than 70 people lost their lives in all, and at least nine other members of Tarana's family were wounded. The blasts has prompted fears that Afghanistan could see the sort of sectarian violence that has pitched Shiite against Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan. The attack was the deadliest strike on the capital in three years. President Hamid Karzai said this was the first time insurgents had struck on such an important religious day. The Taliban condemned the attack, which some official viewed as sectarian. On the same day, a second bomber attacked in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Karzai said on December 11 that a total of 80 people were killed in both attacks.

Photo credit: Massoud Hossaini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

An update on Tarana, who lost seven members of her family that day, was published online yesterday by the New York Times.

Denver Post photographer Craig F. Walker was also awarded the Feature Photography prize for his incredibly moving piece, Welcome Home: The Story of Scott Ostrom. Walker’s photographs tell the story of the 27-year-old former Marine and his daily struggle with PTSD, haunted by the ghosts of war that followed him home from Iraq. One has to wonder whether the soldiers pictured in today’s L.A. Times are also facing those same demons, and perhaps more importantly, how they got there in the first place.

Photo credit: Craig F. Walker/Denver Post

Photo credit: Craig F. Walker/Denver Post

Please take a few minutes to read through this story. It’s a beautiful piece of photojournalism, which to me speaks to the importance of documentary work more generally. Incidentally, it’s also quite timely, considering recent cuts to public funding for Canadian documentarians. If today’s piece in the Times is any indication, we need a lot more work like this, not less of it.