Photos are known for their stories and ability to spark emotions. Every photo has a story behind it. Whether that is a calm sunny day or a battlefield full of bloodshed after a war.

Many things leave us baffled after we know the dark truth behind them. The best example would be the cruelest acts of history — war.

Being a product of humankind, photos can either be used to communicate truth or propaganda regarding global conflicts. The photographer has the power to change how we view and perceive war.

In the past, people rarely knew how things really were on the battlefield.

Watching movies only supply a false glimpse into the realities of war. Most movies are heavily adapted to suit the directors’ purpose. Highlights often only fall on one side and depict the other side unjustly, ruining their reputation and giving them a bad image.

The Civil War could be used as a good example. There were many controversial photos that told how war affects people and families. Pictures that were used to help child slaves were also present back then.


In the 1800s cameras were in their infancy; subjects were supposed to stay still for eight seconds. This is one of the main reasons why most Civil War records were painted.

The glorification of one side is just the byproduct of such actions. And so is censorship.

Censorship in war photos

Nobody can please everyone, but at least they should tell the truth, right?

These questions have haunted editors wanting to publish images that highlight the harsh realities of war.

Censoring became common to keep high moral standards, and to prevent espionage from rivals. Censorship was also performed for tactical reasons so as not to expose intelligence that one side may have.

It is interesting to note that such censorship still exists today.

Often, certain parties want to present a bloodless war to the media, while others want to show the gruesome aftermath it causes. So, what was censored?

In World War I, the American military banned pictures of soldiers drinking alcohol and performing cowardice acts among their ranks. They also banned images of any wounded or dead service members.

At the time, conscription was in place forcing everyone to fight in the war.

Some were proud of their family members fighting for their country, while others were left anxious. The publishing of pictures of dead or wounded men only led to anxious families visualizing what might happen to their loved ones.

Credit: U.S. Army / U.S. National Archives

Nobody wanted to see that, including the public.

The media and public

So, what would happen if the media started publishing the images of dead service members?

Well, in 2007, The New York Times posted a photo of a wounded soldier that died. Critics came and mentioned how the valiant young man who sacrificed himself was displayed to the world in the worst condition.

The photo was said to elicit horror as the last picture his family will ever see.

Censorship made the public believe that war was valiantly fought for the sake of the country. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were also censored to show a bloodless version of war.

There are also postwar/conflict photos which highlight how children are affected by it. They showed the lives of people stuck in the crossfire of conflict. Living with harsh conditions, worrying every minute if an attack will hit them.

The media changed how people viewed war. Likewise, people also influenced how the media reported war.

The harsh reality

The introduction of photography changed how we viewed war, yet it has its own controversies. It shows the harsh reality that not everyone is willing to see.

Some want war to be shown as a valiant effort to defend the country. The latter wants the media to show how bloody and harsh the war is.

Whatever side you are on, photography has and will forever play an important part in the depiction of war.