A photographer in Gaza.

Previously published Slate articles made new.
Jan. 6 2009 11:52 AM

A Photographer in Gaza

How to take pictures of a war.

Israel's offensive in Gaza entered its 11th day on Tuesday as the death toll mounted. Several weeks into the 2006 conflict in the region, photographer Scout Tufankjian filed photos and an essay from Gaza on how to take photographs of war. Tufankjian, who had been working in Gaza on and off for about three years, wrote at the time that "the situation now is as bad as I have seen it." The dispatch is reprinted below.

Click  here to see Tufankjian's photographs of Gaza. Please note: This slide show contains graphic images that may not be suitable for all readers.

Click to view a slide show.

GAZA, July 19, 2006—I love being a photographer. I doubt that I could possibly love it more. When I'm trying to compose an artful image out of the tattered remains of someone's son, however, I start to wonder if maybe my job is a little strange.

I've had this thought a lot during the last few weeks here in Gaza, where I've been working for various magazines and newspapers. While it may seem odd to commute between Gaza and New York, I've been working here off and on for almost three years, and the situation now is as bad as I have seen it. My photographer friends here tell me that Israel's incursion into Rafah in spring of 2004 was worse—so many bodies piled up in one neighborhood that locals had to keep them in a walk-in vegetable cooler—but I wasn't here for that. More than 100 people have died since what the Israelis are calling "Operation Summer Rains" began, and while a lot of them were militants, a lot of them were not.

Most days here in Gaza begin in the morgue. My driver and fixer, Mahdi, picks me up at my occasionally air-conditioned hotel in the morning and we head to whatever hospital is closest to wherever the Israelis are currently. The Israelis have been moving around a lot—a few days here, a few days there. The militants tend to operate only in their own neighborhoods, so the press corps has been speculating that the Israelis are trying to attract the most intense militants in each area to the tanks and then kill them all. Whatever the plan is, that has certainly become one of the results. The problem, of course, is that these clashes are taking place in and around residential neighborhoods, so every time a tank shell misses the militants, there's a good chance it'll hit someone's home or someone's kid.

No matter where we are heading, we listen to Radio Shebab along the way to find out what's going on. Radio Shebab—which is run by Fatah—is a mixed bag. Their local reporting is good and generally tells you what you need to know about where the clashes are, who's been killed, and where people are bringing the wounded. Unfortunately, the station also plays really horrible homegrown songs about the various factions, most of which would not sound out of place in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical, if Gilbert had written lyrics like "The death! The death! The death of Israel!"


Today and yesterday we ended up at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Hospital. Their morgue is tiny. In some drawers, two bodies share one gurney, curled up like brothers or lovers, something I have never seen before. The morgue attendant is reluctant to open the doors, but he relents for me after Mahdi convinces him that it is the only way to show Americans how many people are dying here. I photograph these bodies every morning, knowing that the chances of one of these pictures running anywhere are pretty slim: Most readers have no interest in being confronted by a corpse while eating their cornflakes.

The news this morning is that there will be no funerals today. Israeli tanks are still in the area, so it's unlikely that Hamas will be able to hold a service for its gunmen that doesn't end in a massacre. I wander back to the hospital, where the normally quiet lobby has become a triage center. There are only six beds in the ER, and around 60 people have been wounded this morning, so the hospital has thrown a bunch of cots on the ground, and doctors are rushing around trying to stabilize people. Young militants toting Kalashnikovs keep getting in the way, tugging on the doctors' arms, trying to get them to treat a brother, a friend. Small kids from the neighborhood have also sneaked in and are looking around like it's a carnival. Meanwhile, the lights keep blowing out, so a janitor is on a ladder, changing the fluorescent tubes.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.