Wow. What is so compelling about this image? What makes the open eyed expression of the man who is the victim of violence at the center of the image so powerful? The image in question is a photograph which appeared on the cover of The New York Times Sunday paper, dated Nov. 18th 2012. Taken by Tyler Hicks in a war zone in Gaza City, the image speaks to the power of war and brings us face to face with the nature of the destruction of man by men. Compositional elements of the image include the use of light and shadow. There is also the dismay on the face of the victim which is quietly and sublimely presented. The face itself is beautiful. The eyes of the young man who is the victim are riveted to the face of another who stands to the left of the image but out of view save for a hand which reaches into the image and with this gesture asks, why?
Half of the right side of the image is obscured in darkness, and out of this darkness an object emerges at an angle, red in tone and color; this object is hidden and undefined. Looking left from the darkness towards the center of the image is the most incredible composition made up of two human figures. The arm of a man in a white cotton shirt who serves to anchor the image reaches straight down to touch the shoulder of the victim seated on the floor. The center of the image is all about these two men’s hands and arms and angles. Touching hands. Blooded hands. And then at the center of the image is the victim’s face. The expression of the victim is as open, with a beauty which matches the destruction of the scene. Perhaps that is where the tension resides in the image; the beauty of the face compared to the harshness of the reality of war. The absolute strength of the light of the image married to the darkness in which it resides.
The victim is framed by the wide spread legs of the man in the white cotton shirt. I will call him the bystander. His legs in their stance appear to plant firmly beside the victim in the center. The torso of the bystander is not seen but can be felt as it hovers above the victim. The bystander’s hand extends from the unseen torso in brightness and separates the darkness on the right side of the image from the light at the center.
This image speaks to what is seen and unseen, and the final figurative element of the image belongs to the “companion” of the victim, who is standing to the far left of the image and towards which the victim looks. The only portion of the companion to appear in the image is his right hand which reaches in from the bottom left corner of the image to ask, again, why? How did this happen? To what purpose? Can this not end, ever?