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

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

In a similar pose, the Greek musician Orpheus tries to shake off fatal blows in an engraving from 1494 by the German Albrecht Dürer, who in turn copied another that was ascribed to the school of the Venetian master Andrea Mantegna a few years earlier. .

The period from classical antiquity, in which the death of the mythical Orpheus was described, to the hot deserts of Libya by Muammar Gaddafi is the subject of the journalist Leão Serva in “The formula of emotions in war photography” (Editions Sesc SP, 204 pages , 69 R $).

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

Historically new, of course, as the practice emerged in the first conflict effectively dealt with: the Crimean War, which the Russians lost to a coalition of Westerners and Ottomans in 1856, mother of so much hostility between the Kremlin and Europe.

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

Serva, director of journalism at TV Cultura, reported on the war, for example while traveling to Bosnia-Herzegovina during the breakup of Yugoslavia by Folha. From there came a book about Sarajevo.

But he’s now both an academic and the familiar instrument he uses: art historian Aby Warburg’s reading on this imaginary familiarity that has spanned centuries.

The German “of Jewish blood and Florentine soul” Warburg (1866-1929) spent his life methodically creating similarities between the archetypal images that were left behind from antiquity to the Renaissance and beyond.

From hair in the wind to horror to death, almost everything was catalogable. This resulted in pathos formula, the German for the emotional formula on which the book Serva is based, and an unfinished and monumental atlas of the images Mnemosin (in honor of the keeper of memory and mother of all muses in Greek mythology).

A less intellectualized observation would say that such a spirit of aesthetic continuity in descriptions of violence is only an imitation of the primary human instincts: everyone reacts more or less the same when threatened.

Such an idea did not escape Warburg, as Serva reports in his Introduction to the Master, having read 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) as the classic “The Origin of Species” (1859).

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

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

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

He tells of the suggestion that this could have happened in the famous account by the Venetian Felice Beato about a Hindu fortress that was occupied by the British in 1858 and curdled with the skeletons of defeated rebels.

Not much different in terms of the distribution of radio batteries to the residents of Kabul shortly after the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, when some western journalists wanted to prove to the world the vibrancy of places with limited access to music under the fundamentalist regime. .

However, Serva does not focus on the political and ethical implications of war photography – essayist Susan Sontag and her analytical arc from “About Photography” (1977) to “Facing the Pain of Others” (2003) are a start.

Serva will join a virtual chat about the book on the TV PUC website ( on the next 14th at 7pm.

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