Book travels the long road of images in war photography – 06/04/2021 – World

A wounded Libyan rebel tries to avoid inevitable death in an award-winning image portrayed by Brazilian photographer André Liohn in 2011.

Greek musician Orpheus attempts to shake off fatal blows in a similar pose in a 1494 engraving by the German Albrecht Dürer who in turn copied another attributed to the school of the Venetian master Andrea Mantegna a few years earlier. .

The time span from classical antiquity, where the death of the mythical Orpheus was described, to the hot deserts of Libya by Muammar Gaddafi is the subject of journalist Leão Serva in “The formula of emotion in the photograph of war “(Editions Sesc SP, 204 pages., 69 R $).

Based on detailed research, based on Serva’s doctoral thesis presented at PUC-SP in 2017, the book seeks to trace commonalities over the centuries to aesthetically analyze a more recent phenomenon, war photography.

Recent in historical terms, of course, given that the practice emerged in the first conflict to have effective coverage: the Crimean War, lost by the Russians to a coalition of Westerners and Ottomans in 1856, mother of so much animosities between the Kremlin and Europe.

At the center of the thesis, the soul relationship between the representation of astonishment, pain, in short, of “pathos”, the intense emotion that surrounds the extreme moments of human existence – and almost everything is found in armed conflict.

Director of journalism at TV Cultura, Serva experienced coverage of the war, such as during trips to Bosnia-Herzegovina during the break-up of Yugoslavia by Folha. From there came a book on Sarajevo.

But he is now an academic, as well as the well-known instrument he uses: art historian Aby Warburg’s reading of that imaginary familiarity that has transcended centuries.

German “of Jewish blood and Florentine soul” Warburg (1866-1929) spent his life methodically establishing similarities between the archetypal images bequeathed from Antiquity to the Renaissance and beyond.

From hair in the wind to horror to death, almost everything was catalogable. From there emerged Pathosformel, the German for the formula of emotion that underlies the book of Serva, and an unfinished and monumental Atlas of Images Mnemosine (in honor of the keeper of memory and mother of all muses of Greek mythology).

A less intellectualized observation would say that in descriptions of violence, such a spirit of aesthetic continuity is only an emulation of the primary instincts of man: each reacts more or less equally when threatened.

Such an idea did not escape Warburg, as Serva recounts in his introduction to the master, since he was a reader of Charles Darwin’s work on the identity of emotions between humans and animals – less famous, but no less controversial at the time of launch. (1872) than the classic “The Origin of Species” (1859).

During World War I (1914-18), Warburg wanted to serve Germany and put together a large archive with aesthetic data on the conflict, a struggle that bequeathed to the world not only horror, but, in the argument of Canadian historian Modris Eksteins, all modernism.

In 2004, the Warburg Institute in London found a lost batch of war photographs collected by the Germans. During the development of her thesis, Serva studied them personally.

In his text, the journalist analyzes other photographs thematically (image of Christ, beheaded, etc.) and comments on phenomena that are not foreign to conflict journalism, such as photo frames to increase their aesthetic impact.

He recounts the suggestion that this may have taken place in the famous account by Venetian Felice Beato of a Hindu fortress occupied in 1858 by the British, curdled with the skeletons of defeated rebels.

Nothing much different in terms of the distribution of radio batteries to the inhabitants of Kabul just after the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, when some Western journalists wanted to prove to the world the liveliness of places with restricted access to music under the fundamentalist regime. .

But the political and ethical implications of war photography are not Serva’s main focus – for that matter, essayist Susan Sontag and her analytical arc ranging from “About Photography” (1977) to “Facing the Pain of Others “(2003) are a start.

Serva will participate in a virtual conversation about the book the next 14 at 7 p.m., on the TV PUC website (

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