Placing the world in the middle, or the end of the war? Whitman & Trachtenberg depicition of war in photo and text

In Whitman’s evaluation concerning the aftermath, and destruction of war, he describes (in a graphic, yet not skirmish) details: young soldiers whose limbs have been amputated. What does Whitman proposed will help these poor souls with lost body parts? He places himself as the assistant, helping the soldiers create letters, and he brought them apples…all and all, the shock (and to produce a reality, a picture needs to produce a feeling of shock) is not there. As I am reading, and constructing an image which will suit Whitman’s piece, I’m overtaken by a calm feeling. Aside from young men who are impartially complete (in term of the body structure), the vision Whitman sets up for the reader does nothing to present the horror or unspeakable torment the war has caused to the soldiers. Therefore Whitman’s text produces a lesser reality (in the context of the culture of vision, and individuals search for the true reality), because its form/ as well as the images produced, are nothing more than storytelling in my opinion.

In contrast, Trachtenberg’s “Album of War: Reading Civil War Photographs” presents photos that are boldly captured the aftermath of the war (Bull run) and making it visible to viewers, the destruction. Although the captions attached to the pictures gave references to particular instinces after the war, how can anyone really know? First of all, as Trachtenberg points out himself, in particular to Bernard piece, a photo of a certain scene is presented, but the photographer gives no direction as to what he or she wants their viewers to see (if there is really anything to see)(301). But again in the context of this time frame, pictures are in sense meant to bring forth ambiguity (unless a text is presented alongside) but the “picture can [always] be turned against the text” (302). Therefore, the “real deal” that individuals are searching for through the photo can be transformed into a multitude of ways (I see this, you see that). In addition, the photos presented within this album are taken only after the war…not during war…so, is it “reality”?

Like Whitman piece, he is commenting on what occurred only after the war. The audience gets a piece of the war that already occurred, so our vision, or understanding could have (and mostly has) been altered, cut, cleaned..way before it reaches our eyes (you can’t take pictures during war, its too gruesome) 
So with both of these visions, nothing can really be labeled real, but it is Trachtenberg inclusion of the pictures from the album of war leaves a better bitter taste of the war through the photo which is showing “the seeable [as] it represented the unspeakable” (296).

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1 Response to Placing the world in the middle, or the end of the war? Whitman & Trachtenberg depicition of war in photo and text

  1. Dominique says:

    In your questions about what’s “real” and your thoughts about the ambiguities between pictures and text (or captions), you get at some of the foundational themes of our course, Josephine. In order to find what’s “real,” is the only answer to reduce everything to relativism (you see this, I see that)? If so, how do any of us ever communicate with each other?

    Powerful last line in this post, by the way.


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