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March 11 as a New September 11

The Photographic Coverage of the 2004 Madrid Bombings
Gérôme Truc
Cet article est une traduction de :
Le 11-Mars comme un nouveau 11-Septembre. Le traitement photographique des attentats de 2004 à Madrid

Résumé

The Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004, were immediately hailed as a ‘new September 11.’ This article seeks to determine whether this analogy is also pertinent to the photographic coverage of the two events. It is based on the statistical treatment of a sample of 248 photographs that were featured on the day following the attacks on the front pages of newspapers in Spain, the rest of the Europe, and the United States. As in the case of September 11, the entire body of these photographs can ultimately be reduced to six ‘images-types’ or ‘master images’ that were endlessly repeated. But the relative frequency of each of them and the actual photographs most widely reproduced vary from one geographical area to another. This is especially the case for images of the dead and wounded, which were much more visible in Spain than in the United States. This observation then becomes an occasion to identify the effects of globalization on the distribution of news photographs in the United States and Europe, as well as to explore the journalistic practices and types of intericonicity that lead to different ways of photographically representing death.

Texte intégral

  • 1 For an example of this in the Spanish press, see among others ‘Notre 11 septembre,’ Le Monde, March (...)
  • 2 Like September 11 before it, March 11 quickly attained the status of a fixed phrase (designated in (...)
  • 3 See especially Barbie Zelizer, ‘Photography, Journalism, and Trauma,’ in Journalism after September (...)
  • 4 Clément Chéroux, Diplopie. L’image photographique à l’ère des médias globalisés: essai sur le 11 se (...)

1On March 11, 2004, the day the explosion of ten bombs on Madrid commuter trains caused the deaths of 191 people and wounded more than 1,850 others, the Spanish ambassador to Washington, Javier Rupérez, declared, ‘This is our September 11.’ The likening of the bombings of March 11, 2004, to a new September 11 was echoed with varying degrees of intensity by media throughout the world, which spoke of a ‘Spanish September 11,’ ‘a European September 11,’ and even a ‘new tragic 11th’.1 In addition to both attacks having occurred on the eleventh of the month, the parallel seemed that much more self-evident in that March 11 was the worst bombing in the history of Spain and Europe, just as three years earlier September 11 had been the worst bombing in the history of the United States.2 Another characteristic of September 11, however, is that it marked a radical shift in the way photography is used by the press.3 Does the analogy between March 11 and September 11 still hold in this regard? Did March 11 effectively replicate the tendencies already observed for September 11? Did the photographic coverage reflect certain particularities of the Spanish and European press in their approach to covering the terrorist acts? To answer these questions, I thought it would be helpful to use the same methodology devised by Clément Chéroux for his study of the photographic coverage of September 11, in this case applying it to March 11 instead.4

  • 5 For more on this second point, see also Clément Chéroux, ‘Le déjà-vu du 11-Septembre. Essai d’inter (...)
  • 6 C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 37. The ‘master images’ are subjects represented by many photographs (...)
  • 7 Adán R. Burgos and David R. Burgos, Madrid in Memoriam. Una iniciativa para el recuerdo (Madrid: B (...)

2According to Chéroux’s study, the photographic coverage of September 11 was characterized by the unrelenting repetition of the images published, which led to uniformity in the photographic representation of the event, as well as by a phenomenon of ‘intericonicity’: certain photographs of September 11, which for this reason have become the most famous, were not only repeated from newspaper to newspaper, but also – in their framing and composition – themselves repeated other images deeply rooted in the collective imagination.5 The former phenomenon in particular created a ‘paradox of September 11’: despite that it was the most photographed event in the history of photojournalism, its photographic coverage was uniform and repetitive, consisting of just thirty photographs which themselves were based on just six ‘images-types,’ or ‘master images.’6 The source of this paradox lies in the processes of concentration at work in the information and entertainment industries as a result of globalization. The market for news photography is dominated today by a small number of agencies, which can be counted on the fingers of one hand (Associated Press, Reuters, AFP-Getty Images), a situation that leads to a drastic screening of the photographs actually published. In reaction to this standardization, an alternative representation of September 11 was proposed in the form of a project called Here Is New York: A Democracy of Photographs, an exhibition that was then turned into a book that brought together, in no particular order, thousands of photographs taken that day by professional as well as amateur photographers. Two days after the March 11 bombings, two Spaniards conceived the idea for an identical project, Madrid in Memoriam: Una Iniciativa para el Recuerdo, which presented some two thousand photographs of March 11 in the form of a book, a website, and a traveling exhibition.7 In this sense, March 11 was undeniably a new September 11. Does this mean there was also a ‘paradox of March 11’?

  • 8 This sample was assembled from the digital archives of the Newseum (http://www.newseum.com/todaysfr (...)
  • 9 For a broader examination of the media coverage of the March 11 attacks, see: A. Vara, J.R. Virgili (...)

3A quick glance at the headlines from March 12, 2004, is sufficient to confirm that March 11 also produced a situation in which a small number of images were printed over and over again. It remains to be determined, however, whether the scale of the phenomenon was the same as in 2001, what the master images of March 11 were, and whether they were the same in Spain and the rest of the world. To answer these questions, I have undertaken the statistical treatment of a sample of 248 photographs published on the front pages of newspapers on March 12, the day after the bombings, in three geographical areas: Spain (42), the rest of Europe (45), and the United States (161).8 I then sought to determine whether the success of certain images of March 11 could be explained by particular instances of intericonicity.9 Finally, by comparing my results to those obtained by Clément Chéroux for September 11 using the same method, I was able to highlight the differences between the United States and Europe, both as regards the effects of globalization on the distribution of news photographs and also with respect to journalistic practices related to photographic representations of death.

What We Saw of March 11

4The first striking result to emerge from my inquiry is that, just as in the case of September 11, all the images published on the front pages of Spanish newspapers were ultimately based on just six photographic subjects. More than a third (38%) depict the gaping hole caused by one of the explosions in the train that was passing Calle Téllez just outside the Atocha railway station. Next, 23.5 percent show the arresting image of dead bodies in the wreckage, while 16.5 percent show a row of corpses in black body bags near the trains prior to being transferred to the morgue. These three master images alone account for almost 80 percent of the photographs on the front pages of Spanish newspapers on March 12, 2004.

  • 10 A similar correlation had already been observed for the photographic coverage of September 11 in th (...)

5Elsewhere in Europe and in the United States, one finds these same six subjects as well as a seventh: Spanish citizens taking to the streets to demonstrate their opposition to terrorism (4.5% of European and 7.5% of American front pages). From this comparison between the photographic coverage of March 11 in Spain, Europe, and the United States, it emerges that while the images remain the same the incidence of their use varies markedly from one region to another. Also, as one moves further away from Spain, each of the leading master images is increasingly represented by a single photograph printed over and over. Thus, only in Spain do we find a positive correlation between the share of a master image and the number of different photographs representing it,10 which further substantiates the influence of the wire services on the photographic representation of an event of international significance. While at the local level each newspaper publishes the images produced by its own photojournalists – a practice that tends to maximize the number of variations on a given theme – foreign newspapers draw from the more limited stock of images offered by the news agencies, which leads to a concentration on one or two photographs for each of the subjects.

  • 11 In France, articles about him appeared in various publications, including Libération, March 25, 200 (...)

6Hence, two of the three leading master images in Europe effectively correspond to just two photographs, which have become two of the most famous images of March 11. Eighteen percent of the European newspapers in this sample published a photograph of the tracks beside a train with Madrid residents tending to the wounded. In Spain, this photograph, which was taken by Pablo Torres Guerrero just a few minutes after the bombing, was carried on the front page of only one single newspaper, El País, which owned the exclusive rights; it was later distributed commercially by Reuters. Similarly, the master image portraying the wounded covered in blood, which also corresponded to 18 percent of European front pages (compared to 9.5% of those in Spain), was represented almost exclusively by a photograph taken by José Huesca and distributed by the Associated Press, and which had initially been featured on the front page of La Razón. It shows a young man, his head covered in blood and with a cell phone in his hand, sitting beside a wounded young woman with a stricken expression. This image was so successful – it was featured on the cover of Newsweek with the headline ‘Europe’s 9/11’ – that two weeks after the bombing, journalists went back to try to find the wounded man, Sergio Gil, and inquire after his health.11

  • 12 This was especially the case for the Romanian press in 2005 and 2006 (after Spain, Romania is the c (...)
  • 13 C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 29–30.

7The photographic coverage of March 11 appears to have been more balanced in Europe than in Spain. In Europe, each of the three leading master images accounts for roughly 20 percent of front page photographs. In the United States, by contrast, the distribution of the master images is considerably less balanced; 56 percent of the photographs show the gaping hole in one of the railway carriages. Nevertheless, this master image remains the most potent and the most reproduced image throughout the world. Elevated to the status of a symbol of March 11, it was sometimes used in subsequent years to illustrate the articles on the commemorations of the bombings.12 It is significant that, among all the images of the damaged carriage, two photographs by Paul Whyte, a photographer for the Associated Press, were the two most widely reproduced images of March 11 in the United States. The first could be seen on the front pages of 32.5 percent of American newspapers, while by comparison the most pervasive image of September 11 reached a share of ‘only’ 14 percent.13 Equally revealing is that these two photographs by Whyte, which went on to become iconic of March 11, were virtually absent from the front pages of Spanish newspapers (the one that was printed most extensively in the United States does not appear in the Spanish sample at all, while the next most widely reproduced image appears only once), and were outstripped in Europe by a photograph by Christophe Simon for AFP. This appeared on the front page of Le Parisien and is, except for a few details, identical to the most widely reproduced photograph by Paul Whyte. What is evident is the influence that each of the news agencies has on the market it dominates, an influence which seems to have become even more pronounced between 2001 and 2004. In the United States, where 72 percent of the images of September 11 came from the Associated Press, the same source furnished almost 90 percent of the images depicting the events of March 11. And that figure climbs to 98 percent if one includes the images distributed by Reuters and Getty Images. By contrast, none of the photographs published in the United States were distributed by the European Pressphoto Agency, whereas the agency supplied 14 percent of those published in Spain and almost 18 percent in the rest of Europe.

8With respect to the effects of globalization on media coverage of the event, March 11 did more than merely replicate the mechanisms that had led to the continual reprinting of a small number of images in 2001; it compounded them. It rendered them at once more massive (the share of the photograph of March 11 most widely reproduced in the United States was twice as large as that of the most extensively printed image of September 11) and more visible in their effects. But just as it exerted a centripetal force by focusing attention on certain individual photographs, this phenomenon of the constant repetition of images also produced a centrifugal force which tended to marginalize certain representations of the event.

Were the Dead More Visible?

  • 14 ‘Merci de ne pas censurer les morts,’ Libération, March 13–14, 2004, p. 9.
  • 15 C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 39–46.

9In the newspaper Libération, two days after the Madrid attacks, a reader wrote the following: ‘My message has nothing to do with voyeurism or a fascination with blood and gore. I’m simply writing to thank the European media for showing us with dignity what the United States refused to show us: the dead. It obviously isn’t pleasant to see blood, limbs, and strewn or mutilated bodies, but that’s the reality of terrorism, and I think it’s important to see these images. I lived through September 11 at very close range, and if I hadn’t been thinking quickly just before the first tower collapsed, I might not be here today. In any case, having directly witnessed the deaths of thousands of people and having never seen a single body on television or in the newspapers – hardly even bloodstains – I can say that this bothered me a lot.’14 Indeed, it is well established that the dissemination of images of September 11 was directly linked to how painful they were to behold, so that photographs of the dead, the seriously injured, and those jumping out of windows as well as images of human body parts were relegated to the inside pages of newspapers and were consequently considerably less visible than those of the towers exploding or the cloud of smoke above Manhattan.15

  • 16 For more on the specificity of the coverage of March 11 in the Spanish-language US press, see Tomas (...)
  • 17 It is also interesting to note that this photograph was not reprinted on the websites of the major (...)
  • 18 C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 46. US newspapers sometimes preferred to publish verbal descriptions (...)

10By contrast, as we have just seen, the photographs of March 11 most widely reprinted in Europe were the image of a wounded man covered with blood and an image of the train tracks where, among those rescued from the explosion, one can clearly see dead bodies and human body parts. This trend was even more pronounced in Spain, where the most frequently reproduced photograph was that of a dead woman’s body embedded in the wreckage of a railway carriage, with two firefighters in the foreground recovering other bodies. This photograph by Emilio Naranjo was distributed by three different agencies – the European Pressphoto Agency, the Associated Press, and Reuters. And yet, while it corresponds to 14 percent of the photographs published on the front pages of Spanish newspapers and a still sizeable 9 percent of those published in Europe, it appeared on the front page of only one single American newspaper in our sample, El Nuevo Herald which, moreover – and this is probably no accident – is a Miami newspaper published in Spanish for a Latin American readership.16 With all of the photographs of dead bodies in the rubble of the trains combined, this master image, which was in second position in Spain (where it accounted for 23.5% of front page photographs), was in very last position in the United States (1%).17 Similarly, Pablo Torres Guerrero’s photograph of the train tracks only made the front pages of five American newspapers, while the photograph of Sergio Gil covered in blood only made the front pages of two papers (although one of them was USA Today). In the United States, however, in almost 18 percent of cases, this latter photograph, without a doubt the least unsettling of those depicting the human toll of the bombings, was published on the front page in much smaller size next to a photograph of a different master image. By giving precedence to the depiction of material destruction over that of human suffering (the perforated towers of September 11, the ripped-open trains of March 11), American editorial boards do indeed seem to have replicated in 2004 the position they had adopted in 2001. Despite that images of the dead and the wounded were distributed by all of the major news agencies, the American press decided to censor the most violent photographs themselves, a decision that, in 2004 as in 2001, helped lead in the United States ‘to a winnowing of the number of available representations of the event and fostered a greater uniformity in the media coverage.’18

  • 19 Sophie Béroud, ‘Manipulations et mobilisations, l’Espagne du 11 au 14 mars 2004,’ Critique Internat (...)
  • 20 R. Benson, G. Lochard, and V. Streit, ‘états-Unis: un écho du 11 septembre’ (note 18): 97.
  • 21 Abigail Solomon-Godeau, ‘Photographier la catastrophe,’ Terrain, no. 54 (March 2010): 58. This conv (...)
  • 22 Cristina Sánchez-Carretero, ‘Trains of Workers, Trains of Death: Some Reflections after the March 1 (...)
  • 23 Similarly, in the French press, the rare letters to the editor in which readers described Aznar’s d (...)
  • 24 José-Luis Fece and Manuel Palacio, ‘Espagne: le sous-texte des élections,’ Hermès, no. 46: 76.

11This probably provides some clue as to the relative misunderstanding shown by a portion of the American press and public opinion of the political consequences of March 11. José María Aznar, head of the Spanish government that had brought Spain into the war in Iraq alongside the Americans in 2003 (despite the opposition of 90% of Spanish public opinion), was defeated in the elections of March 14, 2004. He was succeeded as prime minister by the young Socialist José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, whose opposition to the war was widely known, and one of whose very first actions in office was to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq.19 This change in government was often denounced in the United States as a ‘victory for the terrorists’ and a ‘cowardly act.’20 According to Abigail Solomon-Godeau, ‘the censorship that continues to operate in the field of photojournalism and the tacit self-censorship practiced by American magazines and newspapers suggest that, whether rightly or wrongly, the civil and military authorities are convinced that certain types of images can have undesirable consequences, in this case fueling opposition to the war.’21 Not having seen the same images of the event, American public opinion struggled to understand the antiwar and pacifist response of the Spanish people to this far-away attack22 (reactions that led to a vote of non-confidence in the outgoing Spanish government.)23 This becomes even clearer when we remember that there were even harsher and more violent images of March 11 published in Spain on the inside pages of the major daily newspapers, including those of Jaime García in ABC (showing the wounded covered in blood and waiting to be treated in a makeshift hospital) and those of Ray in El País (depicting still smoking railway carriages with contorted and disfigured bodies strewn about). Indeed, in the days following publication, El País received letters to the editor complaining of ‘the brutality of the published photographs.’24

  • 25 For more on the first of these photographs, see Tom Junod, ‘The Falling Man,’ Esquire 140, no. 3 (S (...)
  • 26 Other photographs by him were published on the inside pages of El País and reprinted in other publi (...)
  • 27 For more on this photograph, see above all Kenneth Irby, ‘Beyond Taste: Editing Truth,’ Poynter Onl (...)

12Among the most disturbing images of March 11, the photograph by Pablo Torres Guerrero published on the front page of El País deserves to be considered at greater length. Distributed by Reuters and printed on the front pages of many newspapers throughout the rest of Europe and the world, it also sparked a lively controversy, similar to those after September 11 provoked by Richard Drew’s photograph of a man falling through the air after jumping from a window in the World Trade Center and by Todd Maisel’s photograph of a severed hand lying in the street.25 The photograph by Guerrero was not the most shocking image of the report he produced that day,26 but the presence of a human body part in the foreground – it appears to be a femur – led a number of newsrooms throughout the world to crop or retouch the photograph in order to eliminate this detail, or to render it less conspicuous.27 Of the newspapers that published it on their front pages, some – such as the Virginian Pilot and the Baltimore Sun – cropped out the foreground altogether. The Irish Independent preferred to eliminate the upper portion of the image in order to remove the bodies that could still be seen lying in the train in the background, while leaving the femur visible in the foreground. Others chose to alter the color balance to make the grisly details less conspicuous (Toronto Star), to use the graphics palette to repaint the femur gray (Guardian), or to publish the image in black and white (International Herald Tribune). Finally, a number of newspapers opted simply to eliminate the troublesome detail digitally. This was the case, for example, with a Belgian newspaper, the Gazet Van Antwerpen, and a number of British newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph and The Times. Finally, another approach was to strategically place headlines over the photograph. This was done, for example, by Time Magazine and Paris Match. An Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, combined all of these strategies, cropping the photograph, digitally retouching it to eliminate the femur, and placing its headline across the top of the image to conceal a dead body.

  • 28 A quick glance at newspapers published in Latin America suggests that this was also the case in Col (...)
  • 29 One could certainly go further and suggest that two different journalistic ethics were at work here (...)

13In short, while this photograph was featured more frequently than any other on the front pages of European newspapers (18%), it was rarely published unretouched, as it was by El País, or with a simple formal cropping that eliminated none of the morbid details. The only newspapers in our sample to do so were La Libre Belgique, Morgunbladid (Reykjavik, Iceland), and Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten. In the United States, by contrast, the situation is reversed: the photograph was rarely published on the front page (3%), but when it was, as by the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Daily News, and the San Antonio Express News, it was almost always published without modification.28 This pattern suggests that something other than systematic self-censorship was at work in the practices of American newsrooms. In fact, all the evidence suggests that in the United States, journalists felt it better not to publish certain photographs at all than to alter their content, while in Europe the opposite would be true: retouching a photograph was deemed less problematic than foregoing its publication. In the United States, the deliberate decision not to publish certain photographs would be regarded as a form of the lesser of two evils.29 Of course, other factors enter into consideration as well, including that it takes less time to publish a photograph if no digital retouching is required, or that a different treatment of contextualizing elements is appropriate for different audiences (it was doubtless more important in the United States than in Spain to leave wide shots intact, so that readers further away from the event would see a train in the picture and get an immediate sense of the nature and scale of the bombings). Finally, there is the matter of a photograph’s ‘inherent quality,’ which sometimes demands that it be published regardless of the consequences.

The Intericonicities of March 11

  • 30 Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. Channa Newman and Claude Doubi (...)

14A photograph’s ‘inherent quality’ is often rooted in its ability to remind us of other images and to reactivate the representations and values associated with them. In the case of photojournalism, the success of an image is often because it evokes the memory of historical precedents, thus allowing us to immediately perceive the significance of the event. The most widely reproduced photographs of September 11 owed their success to their clear reference to images of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This is especially the case with a photograph by Thomas Franklin in which three firefighters are seen raising an American flag above the ruins of the World Trade Center in a pose that recalls one of the most celebrated icons in American history and the history of photography: Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal. To describe this phenomenon of ‘dual referentiality,’ in which a single image points not only to an indexical referent (a real situation) but also to an iconological one (another image that has acquired the status of an icon), Clément Chéroux turns to the notion of ‘intericonicity,’ which may be defined – paraphrasing Gérard Genette – as a relationship of copresence between two images or among several images, typically as the actual presence of one image within another.30 How do things stand with the most widely reprinted images of March 11? Do they involve particular instances of intericonicity?

15If images of the dead were more visible in Spain than they were elsewhere, this is probably largely because of the attitude developed by the Spanish media while covering the bombings carried out by ETA since the 1960s. Some of the most disturbing front page photographs from March 12, 2004, resemble those published after the worst attacks by ETA, especially in the 1980s, when, with the death toll from its attacks continuing to mount, journalists decided to stop hiding details of the atrocities committed by the terrorists in an effort to turn public opinion against them. This being the case, the images of dead bodies lying among the wreckage of the trains on March 11, 2004, inevitably bring to mind those of the Civil Guards killed in their buses in one of the bloodiest of ETA bombings, which took place at the Plaza de la República Dominicana in Madrid on July 14, 1986. From this perspective, it is not insignificant that the Spanish newspapers that chose to publish images such as these on their front pages were generally those that were the last to abandon the thesis that ETA was responsible for the attacks. It is impossible to understand why a large segment of the Spanish people continued to believe in ETA’s involvement – despite that the Islamist hypothesis was quickly confirmed by the opening stages of the police investigation – if one does not take into account that when the Spanish people saw the images of March 11, they were reminded of others that were only too familiar.

  • 31 Quoted in K. Irby, ‘Beyond Taste: Editing Truth’ (note 27).
  • 32 Luc Boltanski, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics, trans. Graham Burchell (Cambridge: (...)

16But this relationship of intericonicity between the images of March 11 and those of the worst attacks by ETA is not enough by itself to explain the success enjoyed by the photograph that appeared on more Spanish newspapers’ front pages than any other, and which was also one of the most widely disseminated in Europe: Emilio Naranjo’s photograph of the dead body of a young woman in the wreckage of a train with two firefighters in the foreground. Referring to this image, Lynn Staley, assistant managing editor for Newsweek, has said that for the magazine’s editors, it was ‘one of the most beautiful, haunting, and amazing images that we had seen.’31 One may well find this an odd thing to say about the photograph of a dead woman’s body in the wreckage of a train. In fact, it reflects an aestheticization of suffering of the kind that is defined and analyzed by Luc Boltanski,32 and one of whose exponents in the history of painting is none other than one of the most celebrated Spanish masters, Francisco de Goya. And this puts us on the trail of an iconic referent that may explain the special quality ascribed to the photograph by Naranjo: the great works of Spanish painting on display at the Prado Museum just a few meters from Atocha railway station, toward which the trains that exploded on March 12, 2004, were traveling … Among the thousands of people who later came and left messages, candles, and various objects in memory of the victims, one left a clue that points in this direction: a little drawing inspired by one of Goya’s most famous paintings, Saturn Devouring One of His Children, with the figure of the child replaced by a train.

  • 33 This is the same kind of intericonicity that is also at work in La Marianne de 68, a photograph by (...)
  • 34 Antonio Cea-Gutiérrez, ‘Sistema y mentalidad devocional en las estampas del 11M. Imágenes, palabras (...)
  • 35 For more on pacifism as a mode of reaction to the March 11 bombings, see Cristina Sánchez-Carretero(...)

17Ultimately, however, it is not a work by Goya but rather one of the most famous paintings of El Greco, founder of the Spanish School, that is repeated by Naranjo’s photograph. In its overall composition, the position of the body in the center of the image (with the right shoulder pushed forward), the white drapery in the foreground, and the distribution of the colors (red at the lower right, white and blue at upper left, yellow at upper center, and gray at lower center), it directly recalls the painter’s Trinity.33 The intericonicity is all the more powerful in that El Greco drew his inspiration for the painting from Michelangelo’s Pietà, one of the most famous works in the history of art. Moreover, the religious dimension of this icon is associated with popular piety, which is very strong in Spain and was powerfully mobilized by the reactions to March 11.34 It is also present in an iconic photograph of the Madrid in Memoriam project showing a young girl with a gentle face and delicate features standing in the rain at a street demonstration following March 11, which irresistibly evokes a representation of the Virgin Mary. These images exhibit an intericonicity very different from that of the images of September 11 in the United States. Its referents are artworks rather than photographs and are religious rather than historical, ultimately inspiring a pacifist rather than a bellicose reaction to the event.35

  • 36 J. Varela, ‘El dolor y la verdad de la imagen’ (note 27).
  • 37 ‘“Vacío Azul” en honor a las víctimas,’ El País, March 11, 2007 (http://www.elpais.com/articulo/esp (...)

18Finally, we turn to the master image of the gaping hole produced by an explosion in one of the carriages, that ‘black hole … that looks like the eye of hell,’ as Juan Varela writes,36 and that was chosen to represent March 11 more often than any other (it was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, where the name of the magazine was printed in such a way that it seemed to disappear behind it, further highlighting the spectacular nature of the cavity). As we have seen, a photograph of this scene by Paul Whyte was featured on the front page of more than a third of newspapers in the United States. While it is more difficult to prove, it is possible that this photograph directly refers to those of September 11 but as their ‘negative’ or inversion. In fact, what is repeated in these photographs is not a master image of September 11, but its logical opposite. Instead of the towers imploding from the impact of the airplanes crashing into them, they show trains exploding as a result of the bombs detonated from within. In this way, the torn apart trains would refer to the perforated towers, with the horizontality of the former in contrast to the latter’s verticality. Indeed, this is precisely what is suggested by a number of political cartoons that appeared following the attacks. From this perspective, this gaping hole would constitute a ‘European Ground Zero’ (to cite the text of a headline in Het Belang Van Limburg) and would represent, above all, the human and emotional void left behind by the sudden deaths of 191 people. It is telling that the architects who won the competition to design a memorial to the victims of March 11 should have chosen to call their proposal The Blue Void. It is a glass cylinder eleven meters high, inscribed with some of the messages written in memory of the victims, which can be read against the light shining through from behind by those standing in the blue-walled chamber beneath.37 This memorial is ultimately an embodiment of the void that has become the principal icon of March 11 in the eyes of the world.

A New ‘New Pearl Harbor’?

19March 11 was indeed a new September 11, certainly where photography was concerned. But it was more than that: by following the trajectory established by the earlier event, it endorsed what had been revealed about the direction of photojournalism in an age of globalized media, trends that March 11 further corroborated by making them even more visible. September 11 also served as a historical watershed, a ‘new Pearl Harbor,’ that would define an era and to serve as a new standard against which all future events would be measured; it would be to the twenty-first century what Pearl Harbor was to the twentieth, the day and the symbol of ‘infamy.’ From this point of view, by repeating September 11, March 11 also became a reiteration of Pearl Harbor, as it were, at one remove. Following the bombings, José María Aznar did not hesitate to declare: ‘From now on, March 11, 2004, will have its place in the history of infamy.’ Not surprisingly, this statement enjoyed some success in the American press: nearly 4 percent of the newspapers in our sample featured it prominently on their front pages (compared to none in Spain and Europe). Following the lead of the American press, some Spanish newspapers repeated verbatim front page headlines that had already been seen in the United States in 2001: ‘Infamy’ in capital letters (La Voz de Galicia) or ‘The Day of Infamy’ (El Mundo).

20In a certain sense, this is the final stage in the Europeans’ appropriation of September 11 – the recycling of its semantic and iconic referent, despite that the latter is alien in terms of European history. But this recycling does not apply to the photographs of March 11. True, a political cartoon in the Charlotte Observer shows the firefighters of Thomas Franklin’s photograph raising a Spanish flag – a perfect illustration of this intericonicity at one remove – but the drawing is not based on a photograph of March 11. In Madrid, no Spanish flag was raised above the wreckage of the trains destroyed by the explosions. The ‘infamy’ in Spain and Europe is not embodied by images of material destruction and smoke but by those of human devastation and death: dead bodies in the wreckage of the trains, the wounded covered in blood along the tracks. These photographs do not recall Pearl Harbor, but rather evoke the worst attacks by ETA and certain artistic and religious iconography. While the words and the headlines are the same, the images are different. Aside from a gaping hole, which was spectacular but of little informational value, there was scant overlap in what Americans and Europeans viewed on March 11. That both were nonetheless able to characterize the Madrid attacks as a new September 11 is indicative of something fundamental: even as Americans and Europeans all saw the same images of September 11, their understanding of the event differs. For the former it was an act of war committed against a nation, while for the latter it was a terrorist act visited upon the entire world.

Notes

1 For an example of this in the Spanish press, see among others ‘Notre 11 septembre,’ Le Monde, March 13, 2004, p. 7.

2 Like September 11 before it, March 11 quickly attained the status of a fixed phrase (designated in Spain by the abbreviation ‘11-M’). See Julien Fragnon, ‘Quand le 11-Septembre s’approprie le onze septembre. Entre dérive métonymique et antonomase,’ Mots. Les langages du politique, no. 85 (November 2007): 83–95.

3 See especially Barbie Zelizer, ‘Photography, Journalism, and Trauma,’ in Journalism after September 11, ed. Stuart Allan and Barbie Zelizer (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), 48–68.

4 Clément Chéroux, Diplopie. L’image photographique à l’ère des médias globalisés: essai sur le 11 septembre 2001 (Cherbourg-Octeville: Le Point du jour, 2009). For a detailed summary of this work, I have taken the liberty of referring the reader to Gérôme Truc, ‘Seeing Double: 9/11 and Its Mirror Image,’ La Vie des idées, September 16, 2010 (http://www.laviedesidees.fr/Seeing-Double.html).

5 For more on this second point, see also Clément Chéroux, ‘Le déjà-vu du 11-Septembre. Essai d’intericonicité,’ Études photographiques, no. 20 (June 2007): 148–73.

6 C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 37. The ‘master images’ are subjects represented by many photographs at once, despite the formal differences among them.

7 Adán R. Burgos and David R. Burgos, Madrid in Memoriam. Una iniciativa para el recuerdo (Madrid: B&B Ediciones, 2005) (www.madridinmemoriam.org). For more on this project and on the role of photographs in the popular reaction to March 11 more generally, see Carmen Ortiz-García, ‘Imágenes para le memoria. Fotografías de las muestras de duelo por el 11-M,’ in La imagen como reflejo de la violencia y como control social: actas del Primer Congreso Internacional sobre Imagen, Cultura y Tecnología, ed. Pilar Amador-Carretero (Madrid: Universidad Carlos III, 2009), 213–24.

8 This sample was assembled from the digital archives of the Newseum (http://www.newseum.com/todaysfrontpages/default_archive.asp), supplemented by a second digital source for the Spanish newspapers (http://paz-digital.org/new/content/view/703/138/), and from newspapers in my own private collection.

9 For a broader examination of the media coverage of the March 11 attacks, see: A. Vara, J.R. Virgili, E. Giménez, and M. Díaz, eds., Cobertura informativa del 11-M (Navarra: Ediciones Universidad de Navarra/Eunsa, 2006); as well as the journal Hermès, no. 46 (2006): 68–105.

10 A similar correlation had already been observed for the photographic coverage of September 11 in the United States; see C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 29–30.

11 In France, articles about him appeared in various publications, including Libération, March 25, 2004, p. 39, and Le Parisien–Aujourd’hui en France, March 25, 2004, p. 19.

12 This was especially the case for the Romanian press in 2005 and 2006 (after Spain, Romania is the country that lost the greatest number of its citizens in the March 11 attacks). See Cristina Hermeziu, ‘Roumanie: la dimension d’un drame national,’ Hermès, no. 46 (2006): 102.

13 C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 29–30.

14 ‘Merci de ne pas censurer les morts,’ Libération, March 13–14, 2004, p. 9.

15 C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 39–46.

16 For more on the specificity of the coverage of March 11 in the Spanish-language US press, see Tomasz Płudowski, ‘American Print Media Reactions to the March 11 Madrid Train Attack,’ The Americanist: The Warsaw Journal for the Study of the United States, no. 23 (2006): 153–69.

17 It is also interesting to note that this photograph was not reprinted on the websites of the major Spanish newspapers. See Emma Torres Romay, ‘El tratamiento de la imagen en los atentados del 11-M. Terrorismo y violencia en la prensa,’ Revista Latina de Comunicación Social, no. 61 (January-December 2006) (http://www.ull.es/publicaciones /latina/200603torres.htm).

18 C. Chéroux, Diplopie (note 4), 46. US newspapers sometimes preferred to publish verbal descriptions rather than print images deemed too violent. For example, the New York Post, in its edition of March 12 (p. 4), describes ‘a baby torn to bits’ and ‘bodies … littered across the floor.’ See Rodney Benson, Guy Lochard, and Valérie Streit, ‘états-Unis: un écho du 11 septembre,’ Hermès, no. 46 (2006): 98.

19 Sophie Béroud, ‘Manipulations et mobilisations, l’Espagne du 11 au 14 mars 2004,’ Critique Internationale, no. 31 (April–June 2006): 53–66.

20 R. Benson, G. Lochard, and V. Streit, ‘états-Unis: un écho du 11 septembre’ (note 18): 97.

21 Abigail Solomon-Godeau, ‘Photographier la catastrophe,’ Terrain, no. 54 (March 2010): 58. This conviction probably dates from the Vietnam War. See Gérald Arboit, ‘Rôles et fonctions des images de cadavres dans les médias. L’actualité permanente du massacre des ‘Saints innocents,’’ Annuaire français de relations internationales 4 (2003): 828–48; and Benjamin Stora, Imaginaires de guerre. Les images dans les guerres d’Algérie et du Viêt-nam (Paris: La Découverte, 2004). This being the case, Christian Delage has argued that it is incorrect to speak of government censorship in the case of September 11; Christian Delage, ‘Une censure intériorisée? Les premières images des attentats du 11 septembre 2001,’ Ethnologie française 36, no. 1 (2006): 91–9.

22 Cristina Sánchez-Carretero, ‘Trains of Workers, Trains of Death: Some Reflections after the March 11 Attacks in Madrid,’ in Spontaneous Shrines and the Public Memorialization of Death, ed. Jack Santino (New York: Palgrave, 2006), 333–47.

23 Similarly, in the French press, the rare letters to the editor in which readers described Aznar’s defeat as a victory for the terrorists appeared in Le Figaro (editions of March 16, 2004, p. 19, and March 17, 2004, p. 13), which of all French newspapers provided the most sanitized photographic representation of the March 11 attacks (featuring a photograph of street demonstrations on its front page and no violent photographs on its inside pages).

24 José-Luis Fece and Manuel Palacio, ‘Espagne: le sous-texte des élections,’ Hermès, no. 46: 76.

25 For more on the first of these photographs, see Tom Junod, ‘The Falling Man,’ Esquire 140, no. 3 (September 2003) (http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ0903-SEP_FALLINGMAN); and for more on the second, Daniel Girardin and Christian Pirker, eds., Controverses. Une histoire juridique et éthique de la photographie (Arles/Lausanne: Actes Sud/musée de l’Élysée, 2008), 286–89 .

26 Other photographs by him were published on the inside pages of El País and reprinted in other publications, notably Paris Match, which included additional photographs as well; Paris Match, no. 2861, March 17–24, p. 34–49.

27 For more on this photograph, see above all Kenneth Irby, ‘Beyond Taste: Editing Truth,’ Poynter Online, March 30, 2004 (http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=63131), but also Juan Varela, ‘El dolor y la verdad de la imagen,’ Sala de Prensa, no. 66 (April 2004) (http://www.saladeprensa.org/art546.htm), and Julien Fanciulli, ‘Arrêt sur des images retouchées,’ TF1 News, August 27, 2007 (http://lci.tf1.fr/economie/medias/2007-08/arret-sur-images-retouchees-4881456.html).

28 A quick glance at newspapers published in Latin America suggests that this was also the case in Colombia (El Colombiano of Medellin) and Peru (El Comercio and Peru 21 of Lima). In Brazil, where the photograph was reprinted at least nine times on the front pages of the country’s newspapers, it was cropped on three occasions and on one occasion retouched to eliminate the femur.

29 One could certainly go further and suggest that two different journalistic ethics were at work here. See Cyril Lemieux, Mauvaise presse. Une sociologie compréhensive du travail journalistique et de ses critiques (Paris: Métailié, 2000).

30 Gérard Genette, Palimpsests: Literature in the Second Degree, trans. Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), 1–2.

31 Quoted in K. Irby, ‘Beyond Taste: Editing Truth’ (note 27).

32 Luc Boltanski, Distant Suffering: Morality, Media and Politics, trans. Graham Burchell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 114–30. For a discussion of the aestheticization of suffering by means of its photographic representation, see Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).

33 This is the same kind of intericonicity that is also at work in La Marianne de 68, a photograph by Jean-Pierre Rey which recalls La Liberté Guidant le Peuple by Eugène Delacroix, housed at the Louvre. The icon to which the photograph refers is not another photograph but a classical painting that forms part of the national popular culture. See Audrey Leblanc, ‘De la photographie d’actualité à l’icône médiatique: “La jeune fille au drapeau” devient “la Marianne de 68,”’ Le clin de l’œil (blog), Wednesday, January 6, 2010 (http://culturevisuelle.org/clindeloeil/2010/01/06/).

34 Antonio Cea-Gutiérrez, ‘Sistema y mentalidad devocional en las estampas del 11M. Imágenes, palabras, tiempos, lágrimas,’ in El Archivo del Duelo. Análisis de la respuesta ciudadana ante los atentados del 11 de marzo en Madrid, ed. Cristina Sánchez-Carretero (Madrid: CSIC, 2011), 175–203.

35 For more on pacifism as a mode of reaction to the March 11 bombings, see Cristina Sánchez-Carretero, ‘Trains of Workers, Trains of Death: Some Reflections after the March 11 Attacks in Madrid’ (note 22); and Gérôme Truc, ‘Le cosmopolitisme sous le coup de l’émotion. Une lecture sociologique des messages de solidarité en réaction aux attentats du 11 mars 2004 à Madrid,’ Hermès, no. 46 (2006): 189–99.

36 J. Varela, ‘El dolor y la verdad de la imagen’ (note 27).

37 ‘“Vacío Azul” en honor a las víctimas,’ El País, March 11, 2007 (http://www.elpais.com/articulo/espana/Vacio/Azul/honor/victimas/elpepuesp/20070311elpepunac_1/Tes).

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Gérôme Truc, « March 11 as a New September 11 », Études photographiques, 27 | mai 2011, [En ligne], mis en ligne le 04 juin 2014. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/etudesphotographiques/3466. consulté le 13 décembre 2017.

Auteur

Gérôme Truc

Gérôme Truc is a research member of the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid and a researcher at the Institut Marcel Mauss (EHESS, Paris). A graduate of the École Normale Supérieure de Cachan and an agrégé the social sciences, he is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on the European response to the attacks of September 11, 2001; March 11, 2004; and July 7, 2005. He is the author of a number of articles as well as the book, Assumer l’Humanité: Hannah Arendt, La Responsabilité face à la Pluralité (Brussels: Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 2008, part of the series Philosophie et Société).

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