As news organizations have increasingly pulled out of conflict zones like Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, ordinary people are taking the tools of journalism—often, their phones—into their own hands. This photo of a man snapping a selfie in front of an oil field set aflame by ISIS during the Battle of Mosul, Iraq, in October shows citizen journalism mixing with the global auto-documentary craze that has brought us personalized YouTube channels, a Periscope suicide, and a police shooting on Facebook Live.
In the wake of exhausting and unfinished military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a growing reluctance among Americans to seeing the US at war. One result of that ambivalence is sensational, but decontextualized, images. We see more quirkiness and eye candy overwhelming the hard facts of daily news. But as human interest fodder, war photography may never have been more forceful.
This photo may not tell us much about the campaign to retake Mosul, but it’s a powerful statement on where we stand: a man in the midst of a disaster, looking at himself.