Exhumations in Ukraine, elections in the United States, and the climate crisis – Chatting the Pictures

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Chatting the Pictures is a video series featuring Reading the Pictures publisher Michael Shaw and visual academic Cara Finnegan analyzing key news photographs.

VII Insider is pleased to partner with Reading the Pictures to bring episodes of Chatting the Pictures to the VII Insider community every couple of months.

We began in March 2022 with a close reading of some of Ron Haviv’s work in and around Kyiv. Throughout April 2022, Michael and Cara published three episodes of Chatting the Pictures analyzing images of war in Ukraine, which we posted on the blog here, and in September we shared three examining the war in Ukraine, American politics, and the climate crisis.

In this post we have another three episodes, covering exhumations in Ukraine, the recent elections in the United States, and the climate crisis. The text accompanying each episode below is written by Michael Shaw.

Nicole Tung took this photo for The New York Times on September 16, 2022. It’s a portrait of a recovery team at a large grave site in the forest by Izium in northeastern Ukraine. Russian soldiers occupied the city for six months until a surprise Ukrainian counter-offensive forced them to flee. So far, the investigation has revealed one mass burial of 17 Ukrainian Army soldiers and at least 445 mainly unmarked, individual graves. This follows similar discoveries in recent months in Bucha and Mariupol.

In the video, we discuss the stunning portraiture, the power of the geometry, and how unique and devastating it is that this grueling war crimes effort is taking place while the war is still going.

Rachel Woolf took this photo for CNN. It shows conservative Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney speaking with a CNN reporter during an interview in Laramie, Wyoming, on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. The sit-down took place two weeks before Cheney was soundly defeated in her bid for re-election to the U.S. Congress.  She was excommunicated from the state party and the GOP national leadership for her leadership position on the House January 6th committee investigating Donald Trump’s role in the Capitol uprising and his attempts to overturn the 2022 presidential election. The vice chairwoman of the House January 6th committee is now considering a presidential bid largely to prevent Trump from returning to the White House.

In this video, we discuss the photo’s quirky staging and how well Cheney fits the scene. We also note how the background aligns with Cheney’s agenda and the Republican Party’s increasingly primitive tendencies.

Nuno Andre Ferreira took this photo for EPA. It shows firefighters tackling a forest fire in the Guarda district in central Portugal on Aug 19, 2022. Fires in Portugal and the western Mediterranean have been raging since July. At times, smoke from the blazes, centered in the forest region of central Portugal, have obscured skyscrapers in Madrid 250 miles away. The month of July was the warmest in Portugal in almost 100 years. That week, Portugal registered 215 wildfires, requiring the mobilization of over 8,000 firefighters.

In this video, we discuss how the photo presents a unique juxtaposition. Between the symbols of climate destruction and a green energy solution, the viewer is prompted to think about the status and the outcome. We also focus on the body language of the firefighters and the image of the wind turbine in the context of windmills and (energy) farming.