Baghdad Calling

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Book Review: Baghdad Calling

Geert Van Kesteren

ISBN 9789059730830

Much of the talk during the presentations at The Eye festival this year was centred around the future of photo-journalism.  This book is a great example of many of the professionals fears – that the ‘citizen reporter’ will soon overtake the paid veteran.

This book has been printed on two different types of paper.  The bulk of the book has been printed on what looks and feels like newspaper.  The colours are subdued and the image quality is low.  This is obviously a deliberate choice by the publishers to make the book feel like a collection of cut-outs from contemporary newspapers at the time of the trouble sin Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Turkey.  The images were all collected by Kesteren and his team to give an exclusive insight into the lives of everyday citizens.  By using these images, many taken on mobile phones, he is able to present pictures from locations and situations that a professional journalism would never have access to.  Many of the images seem mundane, a wedding, men in a public park, a market place but dispersed amongst these shots are scenes of dead bodies in the street, bullet riddled buildings and the aftermath of suicide bombings.  These images are not exceptionally graphic but there placement amongst the ‘banal’ serves to shock the viewer as they skim the pages.

In addition to the collected images is a photo essay by Kesteren.  His images are presented on a higher quality a paper on pages that are slightly smaller than the rest of the book.  The difference in quality is huge, both  of the print and the actual photographic skill.  Kesteren is clearly fighting the case for the professional journalist.  The level of access he has is less than that of the amateurs but his use of light, framing and composition add a level of beauty to his images.

Each chapter is a compilation of images from one ‘hotspot’.  At the start of every chapter is a few pages of text, extracts from diaries or eye witness accounts from people who lived through the troubles.  Much like the book ‘It’s All Good‘ these stories really add to the book.  This is a device I will need to consider for any future work I may be attempting.

For me both sets of images are equally important and are strengthened by being shown together in one book.  Photo journalism is close to a tipping point and the future is unclear.  Books like Baghdad Calling show how the amateur and professional could work together.  The amateur images give a greater level of access but the sheer volume of images produced during any event requires strict filtering to capture the essence of the moment.  This can then supported by the images from a professional who is able to pick specific topics to represent and, in a way, act as a figurehead for the massed images.  Without Kesteren many of these images may have been lost forever and that would be a terrible shame.

Baghdad Calling can be bought on Amazon HERE

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