Reading The Pictures: Visualizing Iran

10/05/2007 04:20 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

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How dangerous is sleepwalking?

According to Robert Byrd, it is America's gravest threat as the Administration paces us through another Shock and Awe prelude -- this time, tidying things up for an Iran bombing campaign.

Not that analogies stand much chance against the mesmerization, intimidation and manipulation practiced by this Administration. Still, hearing Byrd liken today's foreign policy process to the formation of spitballs reminds that the force of pictures -- whether unveiled through inspired oratory or pointed political images -- offers some counter-weight to political narcolepsy.

Photojournalist Nina Berman exemplified that potential earlier this year. That's when her award winning photo, Marine Wedding -- a simultaneously touching and tragic testament to the Iraq war's domestic emotional price tag -- made a viral sweep through the blogosphere. Now, as the hawks fine-tune their rationalizations for an Iranian strike, Berman surfaces again, this time teaming with Paolo Pellegrin of the famed photo agency, Magnum, to visualize the potential consequences of sleepwalking (can you sleepwalk in a fighter jet?) across Iraq's border.

Sponsored by Alternet (along with BAGnewsNotes), and inspired by "Double Blind," the recent book by Pellegrin and correspondent Scott Anderson, Berman offers up a two-part package. First is a slide show illustrating the results of the Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon in 2006. Second is an interview between Berman and Anderson sketching out how an American aerial attack on Iran might, in relation to Pellegrin's images, look very much the same.

It is not just a steady drum beat, as Byrd suggests, that causes the sleepwalking effect. It is the lack of anything really graspable from the Administration's easy-to-parrot, but ingeniously elliptical false arguments. When pseudo-policy is so hazy one cannot translate it to logic, let alone picture it in real life, we must appreciate it is the aim of the hawks to generate a vacuum.

In that vacuum, I am not saying that the image above -- along with the rest of Pellegrin's frames, or the Patti Smith verses, or Berman's choreography in the Alternet slide show -- is thoroughly predictive. Just like I wouldn't say that a bombing campaign couldn't eliminate munitions alone. Or munition factories alone. Or, barracks alone. And then, who's to say that apartment buildings would even be automatically leveled, causing traumatized men and women to swarm everywhere at once, darting through clouds of ash, digging the bodies of children out of rocky rubble?

Still, these images offer us a much clearer picture of the path we're on than a sleepy stroll, then a concussion.

Photo Essay: What a War on Iran Might Look Like - link.

For more of the visual, visit

(image: Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum. Tyre, Lebanon. 2006. Used by permission)