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Essayist Considers the Power of War Photography

March 13, 2007 at 5:15 PM EDT

ROGER ROSENBLATT, NewsHour Essayist: A Palestinian youth threw stones at Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, West Bank, last week. That was the New York Times’ caption to its front page picture of Monday, March 12th.

Some shot. Everything in it is gray, black or white. The impermeable smoke; the automobile tires; the ground on which the kid stands; and his outfit, too, all gray and black and white. Everything, that is, except is the flames and the boy’s face.

It almost looks like one of those hybrid old movies, like “The Wizard of Oz,” part black and white, part Technicolor. In the movies, color usually signals life. Here, it means life and death.

But how cool the kid looks, if abstracted from what he’s doing, cool haircut, cool sweat shirt, cool shoes, cool gloves, very cool belt buckle. He’s a kid, after all.

Remove the background, replace it, say, with a playground, and his act of war turns innocent. One sees a kid with a slingshot behaving like a kid.

Of course, there are no kids in the Middle East, which is what this photo is getting at. The Middle East is all black-or-white opinion and gray areas tending toward either black or white.

The face has the peachy color of a child’s, but its intent expression could be directed towards something harmless, a child’s fun. The flames, on the other hand, are not peachy. They say the fire this time, all the time, but it’s really smoke all the time, all that smoke, clouds and bushes and dream shapes of smoke.

Ordinarily, when the smoke clears, one sees things clearly, too. Not here, not in the Middle East, where kids who are not kids but who look like kids live in a world of grays and blacks and whites.

I’m Roger Rosenblatt.