Photojournalism uses pictures laid out sequentially to tell the story of soldiers in battle, civilian casualties, and other aspects of war. Accompanying captions and articles also guide interpretation of the photographs and influence the public's moral and political understanding of military conflict.
In the late 1920s, new small-format cameras that used 35mm roll film enabled photographers to extend the subject matter of war by taking candid shots in numerous settings including the battlefield. In the 1930s technological innovations in printing and communications enabled faster transmission of photographs and the development of picture magazines such as Life and Look. During World War II, Americans were able to follow the progress of the war through pictures taken by hundred of photojournalists in battlefronts all over the world.
Life, the premier picture magazine from 1936 to 1972, gained tremendous popularity during World War II because of its extensive visual record of the war. The magazine ran two to three war stories a week that included photographs and maps. Life featured the work of famous photojournalists like Robert Capa, Carl Mydans,
and W. Eugene Smith. They often used close-ups to depict soldiers' experiences of war, such as Capa's photographs of soldiers landing on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day.
In subsequent wars, newspapers and magazines like Life, Newsweek, and Time continued to rely extensively on photojournalism to report on Americans at war. During the Korean War, Life published "This Is War," by David Douglas Duncan (1950), which contained closeup shots of American soldiers struggling to comprehend violence and death. Photographing war from the perspective of American soldiers visualizes the actions of soldiers but ignores the impact on civilian populations. This heroic perspective appears in reporting of later wars, especially with the use of embedded reporters in the war in Iraq in 2003.
Other photojournalists have tried to use the camera as a tool of political opposition. During the Vietnam War, especially after the Tet offensive, photographers like Larry Burrows and Nick Ut took compelling and often horrifying pictures of the effects of napalm on civilian victims, the execution of prisoners, and other atrocities. Although the news media was criticized for its conservatism, photojournalists published their pictures in all the major magazines and newspapers. Commentators still debate whether Americans' opposition to the war stemmed from seeing such pictures or if photojournalists' increasingly critical gaze was a response to the growing antiwar movement in the United States.
In 1963 television news programs changed from fifteen to thirty minutes and included greater coverage of the Vietnam War. As more Americans turn to television for news, some magazines have closed and newspapers struggle to maintain their readerships. Despite these changes, photojournalism continues to be an important source of visual reportage. Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News& World Report offered extensive photographic coverage of the bombings in Afghanistan in 2001 and the two Gulf wars. Still images arguably have a distinct ability to distill a message, captivate viewers, and affect public opinion about war in ways that moving pictures do not.
Lewinski, Jorge. The Camera at War: A History of War Photography from 1848 to the Present Day. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978.
Moeller, Susan D. Shooting War: Photography and the American Experience of Combat. New York: Basic Books, 1989.
Susan Sontag. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2002.