Sep 26, 2021 • 15M

🎙 Insider #3 - "Images of War"

war reportage, illustration, and a lesson from history.

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This post is a bonus commentary in both audio and (summarized) text format. We will cover -

📝 A brief history of war reportage

💡 Some ideas from Episode 15 of the podcast with George Butler

🗺 The recently concluded War in Afghanistan (text)


⚡ Announcement

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⚔ Art about War

Art about war has been around for as long as both art and war. To begin, it was not reportage in any sense, although it was meant to carry a specific message for a specific population. It was more like propaganda or foreign policy.

At the turn of the 2nd century AD, the Roman emperor Trajan launched a military campaign against the Dacian Empire. As news of his exploits trickled to Rome, the stories were added - as a spiraling comic-strip - to a 126-ft marble pillar called Trajan’s Column. Check out this fascinating virtual guided tour on NatGeo for more.

Trajan’s Column.

The first instance of war-reportage was in the 1850s during the Crimean War. Newspapers were already a new thing, but this one - The Illustrated London News - was doing something completely new again. Taking advantage of the latest tech, it was using woodblock lithographic printing to print illustrations with the text.

Newspapers had made it possible to share information quickly from any corner of the world. People wanted to know what was happening overseas in the farthest reaches of the British empire.

An illustrator, William Simpson, was sent to gather images of the brave soldiers in the Crimean peninsula. His first task was to paint the famous scene later immortalized in Lord Tennyson's poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Listen to the audio in this post for a longer discussion on reportage, its incentives, and and the circumstances around its inception.

William Simpson’s watercolor of the “Charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade”

Drawn Across Borders

But war reportage is not exactly what George Butler does. He paints scenes around a war, lives affected by war, and places destroyed by war. As we discuss in our conversation, his objective is to provide wider context to geo-political conflicts in terms of the toll they take on innocent human life. We spoke about this work, and how he has brought together a decade of art in his new book - Drawing Across Borders.

A family returns to the rubble of their destroyed home to salvage what they can - George Butler (Syria)

But why does a watercolor painting - made over an hour in just one location - matter in today’s age? Early in our conversation, I asked him about the relevance of illustrations in a time of multimedia coverage.

Listen to the episode for his deep thoughts on the subject.

For my part, I like to think of all visual media as containing packets of specific information. You can use words to convey the same information. But it would take a lot of words, and a lot of time, and still not be as effective as an image. While saying this, I also believe that today our minds are saturated by such recorded images - photos and videos. Special effects in movies have made explosions and scenes of complete devastation feel routine and boring.

Nothing shocks us anymore. Everyone has seen everything.

This is not the case with illustration. Every line and stroke of an illustration carries the deliberate intent, focus, and effort of an artist to depict what is in front of them. This makes it a personal account rendered at the location by the artist while feeling a certain way, thinking certain thoughts, and reacting to certain situations.

Because the information is incomplete, we fill in the blanks with our minds. Because it cannot be the absolute truth, it is reckoned with as someone's observation. A painting, then, has a greater impact upon us than a photo or video, because it pushes us to think, understand, and connect the dots.

George says that every illustration invites the active engagement of the viewer.

Through his work, he hopes to re-humanize peoples and places to whose conditions we have become desensitized.

Children play on an abandoned tank in Syria.

Listen to our conversation on your choice of streaming service:

Spotify | Apple | PocketCasts | Google | Web | Gaana

Invading Afghanistan

(This portion of the post is not in the audio.)

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