Critical Response to Images Covering the Crisis in Libya

Photography is one of the most popular “expressive means” these days. Almost every newspaper article is supported with the relevant image. There are many kinds of photographs which are created according to certain technique and performed with different purposes. Photography in new has a great meaning as it helps readers understand the subject of the article, for example.

The documentary photography which is often used in news is aimed at recording certain places and events. But the photograph is not only a still image to be view, but according to Barthes (in Camera Lucda):

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“The photograph has a dual function. It is (at once) a fetish object and a transformational object (the w o ina) be closer…terms). The photography is also the means by which the shadow of the object understood as the real (and/as the mother) falls on the subject” (Kember 214).

Thus, each photo is a significant addition to the text, but it can also serve as an individual source of information. Everything used in photography, focus, light, line, space, shade, etc. has specific meaning and function which produce the effect on the audience. In this paper, we are going to provide a critical response to images covering the crisis in Libya. The still images under analysis are from the BBC News: Libyan Crisis (image 4) (Fig. 1) and The New York Times: Detritus of War (image 3) (Fig. 2).

These images are not only informational, but also contain certain ideas and tell stories. Every part on each picture is important in terms of the context and idea. In this paper, we are going to analyze the ideas and arguments of both pictures and discuss how the elements of each still image are used to transfer that idea.

Main body

First of all, it should be mentioned that both pictures are aimed at providing additional information to the articles to which they refer.

The Fig. 1 image refers to the article in the BBC News “Gaddafi ‘not Targeted’ by Strikes”. It shows one of the protest movements against the UN-backed action. In the picture, we can see several people from the crowd with placates with slogans like “No Blood for Oil”.

People are anxious, their faces are tense. People and placates are on the central focus. The setting of the image is quite difficult to define, as we can see only people, but it is some street. However, the setting is not very important. What is important is the idea: to show what people fight for.

In the second picture, from the New York Times (Fig. 2), we can observe only one person and a burning car. The aim of this picture is to show common situations that occur in the streets in Libya. As opposed to the first picture, it is possible to see the setting and picture is not as emotional as the first one.

The position of objects in both pictures is different and has a great meaning for the perception of the image by the audience. Barthes focuses attention on the relationships between object, image and time. He describes them as “that-has- been”:

“I call “photographic referent” not the optionally real thing to which an image or sign refers but the necessarily real thing which has been placed before the lens, without which there would be no photograph.

In the daily flood of photographs, in the thousand forms of interest they seem to provoke, it may be that the noeme “That-has-been” is not repressed but experienced with indifference, as a feature that goes without saying” (Barthes 22).

Thus, a common thing between these pictures is that both of them provide information about events that took place during the conflict in Libya, and function as additional source of information to the articles.

However, they use different settings, focus, details and composition because they provide different ideas: Fig. 1 depicts the “mood and intentions” of people. Human emotion is in the focus of the picture. The aim of the second picture is just to illustrate the situation, show the fact.

The second thing in common with the two pictures is that they have descriptions (or captions). According to Barthes, “the caption helps to choose the correct level of perception, permits to focus not simply the gaze but also understanding of the image” (118). Thus, the first picture Fig. 1 says, “Small-scale protests against the UN-backed action have continued in various cities around the world”.

Thus, the reader understands the history of the picture and acquires better understanding of its idea. The reader of the second article from the New York Times “U.S.-Led Assault Nears Goal in Libya” will be interested in evidences supporting the information in the article. Thus, the second image informs that, “for miles leading south, the roads were littered with burned trucks and civilian cars”.

Thus, the reader understands the situation and becomes more informed of the issue. Burrett mentions that “descriptions are important to readers, because they contain crucial and interesting information that leads them to understand and appreciate images” (35). Thus, we see that description is a very important element of the still image, especially the one that is used in the newspaper article.

Furthermore, as it was mentioned earlier in this essay, that every image is aimed at sharing a certain idea. As Bull says:

“What a photograph means does not derive entirely from its content (although it is essential that content is analyzed). By their very nature photographs are mobile signs whose meaning change across space and time and through virtual space too” (46).

Thus, the idea of the photograph will be understood differently by different readers. Consequently, the context of every picture has its cultural implications and helps understand the peculiarities of the nation.

In addition, both pictures have an ideological context, which can also be understood from the content, especially, in the first picture which depicts people, “reading an analog photograph as connected to reality is an ideological function of photographs based on their indexicality” (Sutton 165).


In the article “The Shadow of the Object: Photography and Realism,” Sarah Kember mentions the words by Fred Ritchin that “the viewer must question the photograph at the basic physical level of fact” (8). In this light, the still images are used mostly to inform the reader and show certain facts.

However, it cannot be argued that composition, focuses and other means used in both pictures are essential for the understanding of the articles to which they refer.

Moreover, apart from their main function to illustrate the information in the article, they contain certain ideas that can be understood by readers and help the audience to create personal opinion on the issues that images depict.

Fig. 1. BBC News: Libyan Crisis (image 4)

Fig. 2. The New York Times: Detritus of War (image 3) D2783E3A076

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. “Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography” in The Photography Reader. Ed. Liz Wells. New York: Routledge, 2003. 19 – 30.

Barthes, Roland. “Rhetoric of the Image” in The Photography Reader. Ed. Liz Wells. New York: Routledge, 2003. 114 – 128.

Barrett, Terry. Criticizing Photographs: An Introduction to Understanding Images. New York: Mc Graw Hill, 1999.

Bull, Stephen. Photography. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2009.

Damian Sutton, “Real Photography,” in The State of the Real: Aesthetics in the Digital Age. Eds. Damian Sutton, Susan Brind, and Ray McKenzie. London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2007.

Kember, Sarah “The Shadow of the Object: Photography and Realism” in The Photography Reader. Ed. Liz Wells New York: Routledge, 2003. 202 – 217.


“Detritus of War.” Photograph. The New York Times, Web. 29 Mar. 2011.

“Libyan Crisis.” Photograph. BBC New, 22 Mar 2011. Web. 29 Mar. 2011.


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