Award-Winning Photo Draws Criticism for Subjects Photographer Spencer Platt captured one of the most indelible images from last summer's conflict between Israel and Lebanon. But some people, many of them photo editors, attacked the behavior of the women in the car as "disaster tourism."
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Award-Winning Photo Draws Criticism for Subjects

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Award-Winning Photo Draws Criticism for Subjects

Award-Winning Photo Draws Criticism for Subjects

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Okay, here is the picture: Four stylish young women and their driver cruise through the rubble of war-torn Beirut in a red convertible. You may have seen that photo. It was shot last summer by a photographer Spencer Platt, and it was just named Photo of the Year by World Press Photo.

Well, if you haven't seen it, you can right now, go to our Web site npr.org.

LUKE BURBANK, host:

The images is pretty memorable, so much so that it actually generated some protest from people who labeled it an example of a disaster tourism back when it came out. But it turns that things in this photo are not exactly as they seem. That's according to a German magazine, Der Spiegel, which has been writing about the fallout from this photo.

Joining us now from London is the man who took the photo, Spencer Platt. He works for Getty Images. Spencer, welcome to DAY TO DAY.

Mr. SPENCER PLATT (Photographer, Getty Images): Hey, thanks for having me, Luke.

BURBANK: So can you just tell me about the moment when you took this picture? What exactly was happening?

Mr. PLATT: This photo was taken in an area called south Beirut. The place was absolutely leveled, I mean, it was (unintelligible) or something. You'd - 11-storey building or is 12, there were just absolutely flattened. And, you know, I was walking on this road and I saw a kind of - a corner on my eye, maybe a lurid color - a loud color, and I literally turned. I had very little time to focus, to frame the photo. I banged off five frames and someone walked in front of me and ruined four of them. So there's actually only one really usable frame of this situation.

BURBANK: And in the photo is this convertible car with these folks sitting in it, and they look, you know, pretty put together. They have on, you know, designer clothing, and they're all sort of attractive. And you really get the sense, just looking at it, that these people are kind of out of place in this photo. What was the reaction around the world? How have people characterized this picture?

Mr. PLATT: When I first showed it to people, it was kind of a shock. Where is this? What is this? Who are these people? Everyone has a different reaction to it. Everyone brings their own emotional baggage to it. I think there was a French publication - I have not seen it - put war tourism. I certainly don't agree with that, obviously. I would never put that in the caption. So I was never naive to the fact that just because these people looked like that, that it meant that they were just, you know, frolicking in this war zone. I was - I'm far too shrewd for that.

BURBANK: And you may have known that, Spencer. You may have known that. But -so the reaction, though, from a lot of people who just looked at the picture on the surface was that this was kind of, you know, disaster tourism. And in a place like Lebanon there's, you know, you have people with a lot of money living close to people that don't have a lot of money.

Mr. PLATT: Exactly.

BURBANK: But it turned out, actually, that the people in the photo were not these sort of snotty elites. They were actually people - they had borrowed the car and they were visiting their actual neighborhood. And they were wearing kind of skimpy shirts because it was really hot out. And so it turned out that the photo was not exactly what it seemed. What went through your mind when you actually sort of heard that?

Mr. PLATT: When I first heard that, if you had told me that, you know, we found the women and they're safe at their daddy's chateau in the south of France, I would have been disappointed if someone said - the fact that these women - a couple of them, I don't think all of them - a couple of the women have some connection to this neighborhood, it makes the photo that much more interesting. Look, these people are now victims, you know?

And you know, I think we - especially in the West - we have stereotypes of what a victim should look like, especially in the Middle East. You can't pick up a newspaper and you see they should be defeated. They should look powerless, helpless, okay. Here you have these people.

BURBANK: So you won a very, very prestigious award for this.

Mr. PLATT: Right.

BURBANK: World Press Photo of the Year. But knowing what you know now about the photo, and considering that maybe in some people's minds they've taken this sort of the wrong way, or sort of looked at the people in this photo and assumed that they were one sort of person when they really may be a different sort - I mean are you still overall happy that this happened, or would you take it back, or would you do something differently?

Mr. PLATT: My experience in winning this award and my experience of everything about it is, you know, I do feel that I've been kicked in the gut. Originally when the photo came out, it was accused of being staged, accused of being manipulated in Photoshop. You know, I went to Lebanon to report on what the Lebanese were going through. And it's almost as if some people have just forgotten all the other work that I did that landed on front pages and magazines around the world, showing what - the horrific situation for the Lebanese.

And then there's this one photo that's different. It's unique. It's as if I turned the camera back onto the Lebanese society, and that's disturbed some people. I mean it disturbed these girls in the car a little bit. But I still feel incredibly strongly about this photo. And I think it's one of the more unique images to come out of the summer of 2006 in Beirut, Lebanon.

BURBANK: Well, Spencer Platt, photographer for Getty Images and winner of the World Press Photo of the Year 2006, thanks very much for coming on the program.

Mr. PLATT: Hey, Luke, thanks for giving me this opportunity to discuss this image. It's been great.

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