Photography and the Falklands Conflict
: Homeric Heroism in Modern Warfare

  • Stuart Bingham

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The Falklands Conflict has always loomed large throughout my adult life. As a young man of 19 years old, I watched the television and read the newspapers with the same degree of excitement and fascination as most of the British population. In the following year, as a direct result of the passion and glory that surrounded the war I joined the British Army as a Royal Military Policeman. It quickly became apparent to myself, if not the military, that this was a poor career choice and that I was never cut out to be a soldier.

    After a military career lasting no more than a few weeks I went to college and started life as a photographer, joining the Ministry of Defence in the late 1980s. Since then, I have made numerous visits to the Falkland Islands to publicise the work of the soldiers who now defend the islands from any threat of re-invasion.

    Looking back, it seems that the war was over remarkably quickly, and by modern standards, where the war in Afghanistan is projected to last anything between 10 and 20 years, it was. It has often been described as Britain's last colonial war, the last in a long line of small conflicts that expanded and defended the British Empire. Attitudes to war in the South Atlantic developed in a bubble of patriotism and jingoism that has not been seen since and such attitudes now seem to be forged in imperialism, in a time long past and no longer available to representatives of British culture.

    However, on a wider stage, the representation of all wars and the men who fight in them has a long history. Each culture has its own way of coming to terms with conflict and death, but in the western world, the origins of the representation of the warrior can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks in general, and Homer in particular.

    Dr. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist with the United States Department of Veteran Affairs has made a compelling argument that breaking the Greek covenant has had lasting implications for the veterans of the Vietnam War. (Shay 1995) This psychoanalytical work has helped provide a model of representation that explains why soldiers are portrayed in the way they are. Without the work of Dr. Shay, I am sure that this thesis would not have taken the course that it has.

    In pursuing this thesis I have had to accept that there may be implications, perceived or real, for my ongoing work as photographer with the Ministry of Defence. The MoD has in various measures supported this research and to date has made no attempt to direct its course or influence the findings; in fact, at the point of submission, they are unaware of its contents. It is clear, that in this type of research, not all the findings will reflect well on the MoD's past or current working practices, but I believe it is possible for it to learn from the results. My position as an MoD photographer has on the other hand had a positive benefit on the research: I have been able to gain access to archives that have remained closed to others.

    Hilary Roberts, Head of Photography Collections at the Imperial War Museum, has been very influential in this work and has given me more co-operation and trust than I could have hoped for. She has also allowed me more time to present this work than I could have dared asked for given the nature of the images found in the IWM archive, and that the research spanned the 25 th anniversary celebrations. I remain grateful to Hilary for her unstinting support.

    Finally, I would like to thank Dr lan Walker for his support and supervisor expertise over far too may years. He has read and re-read this work more times than I care to remember and has remained perennially patient with my inabilities to either type or spell, a problem that has made his job all the more difficult. The research and the writing faltered on several occasion, some more serious than others, but without his skill in getting me to do things that, quite frankly, I really did not want to do, this project would never have been completed. It is to lan that I hold the deepest debt of gratitude.
    Date of Award2010
    Original languageEnglish


    • Documentary photography
    • Falklands Conflict
    • Falklands War

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