Pilger's photos indict a rotten system

Issue 

BY ROBYN MARSHALL

BRISBANE — In the Brisbane City Gallery of the Town Hall is a remarkable collection of photographs, selected by radical Australian journalist John Pilger. The photographs that are included in Reporting the World are a stark reminder of the tragedies and wars in the Third World, and the poverty hidden in the First World, created by the rotten capitalist system.

The commentaries for each photo, written by Pilger, pay homage to the courageous photo-journalists he has worked with over the years: David Munro, Philip Jones Griffiths, Eric Piper, and a number of notable women photographers such as Anastasia Vrachnos, Penny Tweedie, Susan Meiselas and many others.

The series starts with Vietnam, with a photo of the war room showing US generals watching a slides of the number of war dead; there is a photo of GI's cigarette lighters, engraved by soldiers who wanted nothing to do with the war; photos of Vietnamese prostitutes remind us how war affects women. There is a picture taken in 1978 of a Vietnamese hero who lived for a decade in darkness in the tunnels at Cu Chi, 80 kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City. He knew when US soldiers were coming because he “smelt their after shave”.

There are horrendous photos of Cambodia: legless victims of landmines at the Battambang hospital; the Tuol Sleng high school in Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge's torture chamber with the clothes of thousands of the dead piled up. Pilger was one of the first of the Western journalists into Cambodia after the Pol Pot regime murdered 2 million people.

Photos by Steve Cox graphically show Indonesian soldiers firing on mourners at the Santa Cruz cemetery in East Timor in 1991. These photos alerted the world to the atrocities taking place in the Indonesian-occupied East Timor. A photo of three little boys in singlets and underpants playing on a hillside surrounded by rocks turned white by the defoliant Agent Orange is another reminder of the war waged by the Indonesians.

Other images capture the Indonesian sweatshops where women make Reeboks shoes, the 5000 people who live on Smokey Mountain rubbish dump in Manila, and the war that created Bangladesh in 1971. There are photos taken in Burma, El Salvador and Nicaragua which also highlight the pain and misery people have suffered during the last century due to imperialism's greed and ruthless search for profits.

Japan's “People of Shame”, the survivors of the 1945 US nuclear attacks who live in poverty and are shunned, are represented. There is an amazing photo of a family of poor, white Americans holding a picture of their 19-year-old boy killed in the Vietnam War. He died because a crazed US soldier shot up a latrine. Half of the Americans who died in the Vietnam War were killed by their own side.

The abject poverty of Aborigines, who have a death rate three times that of white Australians, is illustrated by pictures of their homes in the desert and in the cities.

But there are also photos to gladden our hearts. Pictures of demonstrations, rallies and protests by ordinary people in the USA, at protests at the Commonwealth Games in Queensland in 1982, and in other places.

Go and see the exhibition when it comes to your town. The exhibition is in Brisbane until April 14.

From Green Left Weekly, March 27, 2002.
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