star-boy-journoPhoto-and-TweetFirst I wanted to be a cowboy – now I want to be a journalist

A tweeted photograph by a Swedish journalist has received 40K retweets and remarkably little analysis.

Is placing your helmet on a child for a photo any less improper that placing a toy or a Koran in rubble to ‘improve’ a shot? Don’t both deserve the label Fauxtography?

There is always something dubious about journalists including photojournalists practising mind reading. Did Sommarström actually ask the boy why he was dressing up or is this a sadly typical case of the journalist stamping his own agenda on a photograph? I can think of at least two alternate explanations that are as credible as Sommarström’s “For me the picture is a powerful example of children’s strong will to survive. He has seen us journalists go in and out of the hotel, he has seen that we survive. I think that in his pretending play he wants to be like us, someone who survives.” Unfortunately they don’t suit the agenda of the indomitable Gazan victim.

  1. The boy saw the journalists with their cool uniforms (flak jacket and helmet) and equipment (mikes and cameras); saw their living conditions and noted how the Hamas fixers were so nice to them and took them everywhere, probably addressed them as Sayadi (Sir) and said to himself I want to be like them (second choice: cowboy). Surely it is beyond his age (not least because he almost certainly didn’t see an instance of it) for him to extrapolate that the armour /press credentials saved them when others were killed? That would have been an irresistible story for if-it-bleeds-it leads editors – did anyone read it?
  2. This is a staged photo-op. Some Hamas guy took his remarkably clean, photogenic and so non-Arab in appearance son to the journalists and suggested it would make a great photo of the child in the plastic bag flak jacket which he or his wife created.Think not? Try and tie a knot on your left shoulder. If it is difficult for you imagine a six-year old with that level of dexterity.

Who is Yazan Hilliss?

Sommarström reported that Yazan comes from Shejaiya, one of Gaza’s poorest and most crowded neighborhoods, which was targeted by Israeli rockets. Now he and his family live in a construction site after they fled their home in the middle of the night without belongings. His uncle’s house was destroyed when it was hit by a missile from F-16 planes. Does he look some someone living in a construction site after been twice bombed out of his homes? Check the photograph. I see a clean, tidy, very European-complexioned child who could have been posing for Purim or Halloween. Shejaiya has been described as one of Gaza’s poorest and most crowded neighborhoods. Something about the boy just doesn’t typecast him as a resident. BTW how far is the construction site from the sea-side hotel favoured by journalists? Shejaiya is at least five kilometres from the beach. Would it be impertinent to ask how either the boy or the journalist knew which specific aircraft type fired the missile or even whether it was fired from the air?

Speaking as a photographer

The Huffington post described the photograph as, One of the most incredible pictures to come out of the savagery in Gaza. ????? For crying out loud, why? Photographically there is nothing extraordinary. Any parent has a dozen similar. Any small-town photographer has taken hundreds of similar shots – only better. I’d love to see the series, though. We only get a glimpse of another child’s arm which adds to the amateur snapshot effect. Who would wager that he/she is just as clean and tidy as Yazan Hillis? As albawaba, the Jordanian news, blogging and media website put it, albeit without tongue in cheek, Too Cute!

Extra credit

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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