Syria. 2017.


How do you publish the pictures of a chemical attack? For French left-wing daily, Libération, the choice was clear. It put an image on its front pages.

The photograph, released by the Associated Press, shows the lifeless bodies of at least children minutes after a chemical weapon attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a rebel-held town in Syria. They were stripped half-naked, immediately after the chemical attack, not to leave their skin in contact with contaminated clothing. It was a screenshot from video shot by a group of citizen journalists, Edlib Media Center (EMC). America’s ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley showed a version of the image to the Security Council.

In Time magazine, Lionel Charrier, Libération’s director of photography, defends his controversial decision:

Our job, as photographers, as photo editors, is to see what we don’t want to see. We don’t take pleasure from it. These images are unbearable, but if we do it sparingly, sometimes we have to break the rules.

This is not gratuitous. This is not done to sell copies. It’s a photograph that we found on the Associated Press’ wire. We’ve captured, in the past, screenshots of videos, but the fact that the wires had authenticated the photograph was important for us. We watched as improvised first responders were carrying these children and putting them in trucks and pickups.

This photograph reminds us of James Nachtwey’s images in Zaire. When you do a front page like this one, you want to disturb people. We can’t hide behind it. It’s the image with a capital I; the one we will remember this year.”

Time asked whether he would have published a photograph of French victims of a terror attack. Charrier noted, “In those cases, publishing these images would be playing in the hands of ISIS, which wants to create terror. In this case, the Syrian regime denies these events ever happened. They don’t want people to see. This pushes us to say: ‘See, here it is.’ That’s an important part of our job.”

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4 thoughts on “Syria. 2017.

  1. A sad and moving image. The children seem angelic, in a rapture, almost as if they were painted. Only the stillness reveals the terrible truth.

    However, let us hope Libération is not required to print a retraction one day. As others have said: “Where is the Motive?” The jury is still out on the perpetrators of this heinous attack. In fact, the investigation has yet to begin. While most people don’t want to hear it, same as in August 2013, it’s possible this was a cold blooded attack by rebels on their civilians to discredit Assad.

    Putin has stated this was another false flag attack designed to provoke the United States into attacking Assad, thereby aiding ISIS in it’s continued barbarism.

    Unlike in 2013, this time it worked and while the world was aghast at the images, the President hammered the Syrian airfield with somewhere between 23 and 59 cruise missiles. A message not lost on any of the spectators including China, Russia, and of course North Korea.

    Remember WMD, Babies taken from Kuwaiti Incubators, Building Seven, Gulf of Tonkin, and others.

  2. Very topical – thank you for drawing attention to this important action by Libération on reporting this awful event. Interesting that the image is from video…do you think that some image manipulation has been done perhaps for modesty, as the black and red striped pants on child top left seem to be copied from the other piece of material or vice-versa? If so this brings in the issues of retouching that have plagued the World Press Photo award recently.

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