The Digital Journalist
The Quiet Anger of Paul Fusco

by Ron Steinman

After seeing Bitter Fruit, Magnum photographer Paul Fusco's portfolio of funerals of American soldiers who died in Iraq, I was moved to these thoughts.

There are times when a still photo is so much more powerful than a moving image. With a strong still, a set or suite, as here with Paul Fusco's photos of those who suffer at home because of the war in Iraq, his somber and quiet images allow us to peer inside the souls of the people he depicts as they struggle with loss.

As viewers of stills, we only look as long as we want, and then turn away when we feel the onset of tears. With moving images, which are also often powerful, they are usually past us before their final impact. With still photos we have the option of lingering or turning away, depending how it moves us.

From the 'Magnum in Motion' presentation of photographer Paul Fusco's essay "Bitter Fruit." Military pallbearers carry the casket of a soldier killed in Iraq.

Photo by Paul Fusco/Magnum
Many of the people in these stills appear to be numb. No wonder. Behind every shot is a back-story of sons, daughters, husbands and wives going off to war. For the lucky ones, returning from Iraq unchanged in one's heart and body forever is not a story we often see. Not returning at all, as many of these photos show, is enough to make the most hardened among us incapable of feeling and warmth, tenderness or righteousness about this war. These photos should be enough to get inside the hearts and minds of our leaders who are responsible for it. That is too much to ask and will never happen.

Kudos to Paul Fusco for sharing these moments with us through his powerful, yet quiet and affecting images. They should be required viewing for all who believe the war is just.

More than a week after writing these words, I spoke with Paul Fusco, and in speaking with him, I could easily detect his quiet anger about America, the country he loves, and what he calls, "the indecent war in Iraq." Speaking with dignity, there were times I could barely hear him during a brief phone interview.

"I believe in democracy and freedom," he says. "I hate what this administration is doing to our country. It intentionally never tells the truth. That is unacceptable."

Paul Fusco is a veteran photographer of war and grief and social issues. He served in the Army Signal Corps as a photographer during the Korean War from 1951 to 1953. No stranger to life on the edge, he has chronicled major social issues such as AIDS, homelessness, welfare, and the horrific results of Chernobyl.

His current portfolio is as far from combat as possible, but it is all about war and how war destroys lives. Showing the results of combat puts the lie to those commercials, which practically beg the young to enlist, the many patriotic posters we see everywhere, and the recruiting officers patrolling the streets and byways of our country. Fusco shows what he calls "the end cost of war," that time when our young come home, when families bury them, and when they weep for their loss. And he is very successful in doing it.

Quietly, very quietly, but with the power of his convictions, Fusco spoke to me of what he calls "the veil of secrecy" put forward by our government, especially its lies about WMD in the run-up to the war. Of equal importance, though, is what he, and any self-respecting journalist, must recognize is an attempt at "censorship by the government" to keep the press away from, among other things, funerals at home for those who died in Iraq. To beat that cover-up, he decided to attend as many funerals as he could, something that George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld want to cloak in the shadow of obscurity.

Manny and Kira, both 20, were starting their lives together. Their daughter Isabelle was just 4 months old when the soldiers showed up and told Kira that Manny was dead, killed in action in Iraq.

Photo by Paul Fusco/Magnum
We are familiar with the restrictions the government places on returning caskets from Iraq when they land at Dover Air Base in Delaware. We know the trouble some amateur photographers had when they released pictures of bodies after their return home from the war zone. Clearly, under the guise of respecting the dead and their grieving families, the government is enforcing censorship on what we can see about the results of the war, results that are never in the service of the government's cause.

At every funeral but one, and Fusco attended as many as 26, the military in attendance tried to turn him away. Only one family allowed him access, and to shoot pictures without a fuss. But he managed to get inside the other funerals and once inside those in charge did not stop him, probably because, as he says, "they did not want to make a scene."

He only saw local press, but never any national media. He wants to make clear that he does not blame the journalists for not covering these events. They work for editors and publishers. It is their fault rather than the reporters' that we are not witness to the grief at home that goes unseen and largely uncovered.

Amen to that.

You can view "Bitter Fruit," Paul Fusco's copyrighted photo essay, online at

© Ron Steinman

At NBC News for 35 years, Ron Steinman was bureau chief in Saigon, Hong Kong and London, was a senior producer on "Today" and wrote and produced for "Sunday Today." At ABC News Productions, he produced and wrote documentaries for A&E, TLC, Discovery, Lifetime and the History Channel. He has a Peabody, a National Headliner Award, a National Press Club Award, an International Documentary Festival Gold Camera Award, two American Women in Radio & Television Awards and has been nominated for five Emmys. He is a partner in Douglas/Steinman Productions, whose latest documentary, "Luboml: My Heart Remembers," aired on PBS' WLIW/21 and the History Channel in Israel, April 29, 2003. He is the author of "The Soldiers' Story," "Women in Vietnam," and most recently, "Inside Television's First War: A Saigon Journal," University of Missouri Press, 2002.