War Photographer by Carole Satyamurti

This poem, War Photographer, centers around the tragic, comparing poverty to leisure. The author, Carole Satyamurti, is known for facing pain and suffering head-on in her works of poetry. The words of these poems center around modern warfare, and explicitly reveal the minor details of the effects war has on individual lives. Rather than seeing war as a whole, the author reveals that the details seen by a war photographer reveal that war is individual and personal.

War Photographer by Carole Satyamurti


War Photographer Analysis

Stanza 1

In the opening stanza, which can be read in full here, the speaker uses intense imagery to reveal what a picture of war can do to the viewer. Upon first glance, the picture is safely inside the frame. To most viewers, the photo is of a different place and perhaps even a different time. Thus, one is not forced to entirely enter into the photo. The speaker reveals that as a person looks at a war photograph, they can think outside the frame of the photo and believe that “people eat, sleep, love normally”. But life is different for the photographer herself. She must “seek out the tragic” and thus live in it. For the one who sees the realities of war first hand, life outside of war is hard to imagine. One might even forget that it exists. The speaker mentions the edges of the photo again, implying that “the firmness of the edges” can help a person to live outside of the tragedy of war, keeping the realities safely within the borders of the pictures. However, other pictures are the kind that “lift the heart” and most people tend to look at these pictures and convince themselves that “this is how things are”. The photographer herself, however, knows that photos are only a snapshot in time and could never fully encompass the way things are at any time and place.


Stanza 2

Here, the speaker recalls a picture she took is Ascot. The picture was clearly of some rich, fairly privileged girls. She describes them as wearing silk and giggling in the grass as they sipped champagne. This is clearly a group of girls who represent happiness and perhaps ignorance of the tragedies going on in the world around them. The purpose of this stanza is to reinforce what the speaker said in the previous stanza concerning the viewers’ ability to believe in the truthfulness of the happy photos rather than the tragic ones. The imagery provided here will also contrast with the images the speaker presents throughout the rest of War Photographer, allowing the readers to understand the irony of the fact that some people get to enjoy wealth and ease while others suffer war and tragedy.


Stanza 3

With this stanza, the speaker drives her point home by providing a specific instance and revealing that it happened recently. She remembers following “a small girl” as she was “staggering down some devastated street”. The vivid description of the small child allows the reader to enter into the scene and feel as though he is there with the photographer, following the small girl. She describes the way her “hip thrust out under a baby’s weight”. This reveals that this small girl was not only so weak that she was staggering, but she walked down a street that could only be described as “devastated”. On top of that, she had to care for a baby when she was only a child herself. The photographer looks at the girl and takes the picture just as the girl turns to look at her. This subtle description of the act of taking this picture allows the readers to enter into the photographer’s reality. She cannot do much to help the child. She is simply there to report and take pictures of life there. The readers, then, can understand that there is so much more to the realities happening behind the pictures they see. They will see only a photo of an impoverished child caring for a baby. They do not know how it feels to see that child first hand and to know that the child has seen you, and yet be able to do nothing to help save for spreading awareness of the situation through the photos taken. The description of this child sharply contrasts the previous stanza, allowing the reader to juxtapose the two situations and understand the harsh reality that some starve while others drink champagne.


Stanza 4

With this stanza, the speaker continues to describe the small child who held the baby. The fact that the bomb is described as “the first bomb of the morning” suggests that there have been numerous bombs prior to this one, and that many more would follow. War Photographer becomes all the more shocking, however, when the child drops the baby she was carrying and flees for her own life with a scream that seemed too loud for the mouth from which it came. This also reflects the contrast between this stanza and the second, suggesting that when it comes down to it, human nature, by instinct, will cause one to take care of himself first and foremost. This offers more insight into the reason some can enjoy riches while others starve.


Stanza 5

With the final stanza, the photographer reveals the way pictures can be deceiving. While she saw the child first hand, looked into her eyes, heard her scream, and watched her run, dropping the baby in her arms, the picture she captured did not tell the whole story. In the picture, it looked almost as if the child was smiling. The caption reveals that the photographer played a role in the deception of the public. Whether she wrote the caption herself or simply allowed it to be published, she knew that the realities of life for this young child were not truthfully reflected through the photo. The caption said that “even in hell the human spirit triumphs over all”. This gives readers the false idea that the child was happy. This allows the readers to believe that even though the war was going on and people were starving and dying, the people could still be happy. This, the photographer knows, is untrue.

However, it is apparently what the public wanted to hear, and therefore what the photographer published. The last three lines, however, reveal that the photographer is aware of the deception of her photos, and wants to proclaim the truth. She explains that “hell” does not have specific boundaries like the edges of the photo. Rather, they are “arbitrary as a blood stain on a wall”. This ending reveals that pain and suffering are arbitrary, or senseless. It is not fair that some people get to sunbathe and drink champagne while others scream and run in terror as bombs go off around them. This reveals the injustice that goes on in a world in which small, innocent babies are casualties of war. By the end of War Photographer, the speaker successfully reveals that which the media fails to reveal. She proclaims the truth about war, that it is painful, ugly, and personal. She reveals the injustice of a world that turns its back on the suffering, willing themselves to believe in the pictures that reveal happiness. Her words bring conviction for those who have been content to keep the tragic pictures within the borders of the picture without concerning themselves with the tragedies of others.

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