There has been a tectonic shift in how we consume journalistic images in the last five years. As the smartphone camera market has emerged, its also made us question the position of photographers in stories and in the current visual culture. Personally believe, age of the mythical heroic photojournalist is over. And this critical thought has in fact been in discussion with many recent books which came out, one example being War Porn by Kehrer Verlag.
But today I’m going to discuss about the very poignant book Infidel by Tim Hetherington which abandons the traditional ideas of being a war photographer and takes a much more personal approach. For those who don’t know the project, Tim Hetherington and reporter Sebastian Junger spent 15 months living with a small unit of US Army deployed on a tiny outpost built in north-eastern Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Considered the most active fighting grounds in Afghanistan, the outpost was built to support a nearby larger supply base which was constantly under fire.
Coming back to the book, small journal sized, the faux leather bound Infidel feels almost like a religious artefact in your hands. The images inside are partial gloss prints, with a thick white border. The pages are thick but unlike a fine art photobook, they bend making the entire book a little flexible and a little more personal. 240 pages thick, the book operates in sections, each divided by the style Tim follows.
In a old interview with The Independent UK, Tim said,
“You can get bored of taking pictures of fighting,” he says. “I got more interested in the relationship between the soldiers. That’s where the shots of them sleeping came from. If you go to these places you can sometimes get all your media oxygen sucked up by the fighting; we were lucky to have time to explore other things.”
This is the very core of what Infidel is about. Unlike previously released books by war photographers, this work does not just deal with the act of war but acknowledges that most of it is just waiting. And in this waiting period, bonds are built between men who will possibly die for each other.
Tim also challenges the very nature of masculinity projected by the young soldiers, their bravado also unconsciously exhibiting tenderness and friendship in a way which is almost childlike.
The book moves in and out constantly, falling into tense moments and then releasing the reader into lighter spaces. As a reader you move into portraits of the young men, landscapes, illustrations of the men’s tattoos, dogs with bullet shells for collars and the soldiers wrestling playfully. But under all this is a constant stress of anticipation, waiting for sirens.
For me Infidel is not only about the brotherhood of the soldiers and their personal lives un-glorified but also about how we interpret war now as a sadistic entertainment, looking for it, hoping for specific images in a heroic war photographers story.
Tim also masters the rhythm in the book, the sequencing of the images is just brilliant. Its so wonderful to see the way it comes together, always being true to its subjects and the weight of the situation but also never betraying the photographers personal viewpoint.
Infidel is a great book to have and definitely worth your library. Its easily available on Amazon & Photo Eye. Also if you’re interested in looking at the images, Magnum Photos has a set available for the public to see!