David Shields’s new book got his publisher sued by the New York Times. Then his publisher sued Shields. But the fair-use questions surrounding these lawsuits aren’t even the most controversial aspects of the book. War Is Beautiful gathers sixty-four color combat photos that appeared on the front page of the New York Times between 1997 and 2013, and many of the photos are, despite their subject matter, quite beautiful. We see a US military convoy driving through a luminous orange sandstorm in Iraq, a pop-art close- up of two homemade Iranian bullet casings, and an Apocalypse Now–grade shot of a marine vehicle sweeping through an Iraqi palm grove in glowing dawn light.
Shields argues that these images make a break with the photojournalistic tradition of artful but disturbing photos of war, from the Civil War to Vietnam. Instead, he says, these images function much like Judith Miller’s reporting from Iraq: manufacturing our tacit consent for war. The Organist spoke with Shields about this strange, polemical new coffee-table book he’s produced.
(And, after the credits roll: a short tribute to Alvin Buenaventura, 1976-2016.)
Banner image from War is Beautiful by David Shields, published by powerHouse Books