A news photo is sometimes worth more than 1,000 words. The image of a napalm-burned Vietnamese child fleeing in terror, for example, resonates decades later in ways that millions of words never quite did. So what if such images were produced not by journalists but by the military itself? In recent months, newspapers large and small have been running pictures from Iraq shot by military personnel. Bob talks to Santiago Lyon, director of photography for the AP, about this trend.
BOB GARFIELD:: A news photo is sometimes worth a lot more than a thousand words, especially in war time. The image of a napalm-burned Vietnamese child fleeing in terror, for example, resonates decades later in ways that millions of words of reporting never quite did. So what if such war images were produced not by journalists on the ground but by the military itself? Clearly, the 1972 photo of nine-year-old Kim Phuc never would have seen the light of day nor the demoralizing evening news footage of American casualties. Yet in recent months, newspapers large and small have been running pictures shot in Iraq not by journalists but by military personnel. The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and many others have printed pictures distributed by the Pentagon via the Associated Press. Santiago Lyon is the director of photography for the AP and he joins me now. Santiago, welcome to OTM.
SANTIAGO LYON:: Hello. Thanks for having me.
BOB GARFIELD:: How many pictures do you move in a day and how many of them are handouts from the military?
SANTIAGO LYON:: Well, we move typically globally about 600 to 1,000 pictures a day. From Iraq specifically we probably move in the region of 20 to 30 pictures a day. And of those, it really varies according to the news, but some days there are no military handouts. Others, there might be one or two. And during this recent offensive in western Iraq there were days when we moved five or six.
BOB GARFIELD:: Is there a special set of journalistic considerations attached to running a picture that originated with the military?
SANTIAGO LYON:: Absolutely. When I started in this job a year and a half ago, I was a little bit distressed to find that handout pictures, the only way one had of knowing that they were a handout picture was by the letters "HO" at the end of the caption. And one of the first things I did with regards to that was to make sure that the body of the caption started with: "In this image released by the U.S. military, in this case so-and-so is happening," and then sign the picture off: "AP Photo/" and then the source of the picture written out in full - U.S. Army, U.S. Marines, U.S. Air Force, whatever it was. And I think that that certainly makes it very clear that we're not trying to incorporate military pictures, sort of hide them in our service. We're making very clear the source of those pictures.
BOB GARFIELD:: Well, let's talk about captions. I think all photos come in with them and they are the means to establish context, to frame and interpret what's in the image. Does the military's version of the caption ever go out on the wire?
SANTIAGO LYON:: It's rewritten entirely according to AP style. We apply the journalistic standards of the AP to all our captions. We need to know the location. We need to know the date the picture was made. If there's a difference between the date the picture was made as opposed to when it became available to us, we need to highlight that. There are times when, if we have a question about the caption of a picture, we might well go back to the source and ask for clarification.
BOB GARFIELD:: You know, in propaganda terms, I have to say that the photos that we have seen finding their way into major newspapers, and small papers, are pretty benign. I mean, they're not hearts-and-minds. They're not showing the heroic soldier winning freedom in the war against terror. In fact, they're really quite unremarkable. But what we do know is what these photos will never show. They'll never show anything that reflects badly on the military or on the war effort. We do know that photo journalists on the scene will make different choices and that by using these photos, essentially the AP and the member newspapers surrender the opportunity for actual news. Or am I wrong?
SANTIAGO LYON:: Well, I think in an ideal world we'd like to have our own people in place covering these operations, and we do make an effort to do that as much as possible. In this case, the feeling is that some imagery reflecting an ongoing military operation is better than no imagery. The same can be said for the White House. We much prefer to cover the activities of the President of the United States ourselves, but there are times when the White House limits our access to those things and we have to rely on handout images. We're not happy with it, but we do it because we feel that the need to know at times outweighs some of the other concerns.
BOB GARFIELD:: I guess what it comes down to is this. If a story came in to the Associated Press about the ongoing struggle against the insurgency in western Iraq and it was written by, you know, Staff Sergeant so-and-so, would the AP run it?
SANTIAGO LYON:: No. And to your point, I would say that one of the things I'm doing in light of this usage of military handout pictures is reexamining our position. And it's possible that in the future as we do that, we will be even more judicious than we already are when it comes to using images of this nature.
BOB GARFIELD:: All right. Well, Santiago, thank you very much.
SANTIAGO LYON:: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD:: Santiago Lyon is director of photography for the Associated Press. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]