How does the meaning of an image change
when viewed from different cultural perspectives?

a case study of two photographs from East Timor

by Alice Wesley-Smith


1. introduction
2. the photographic message
3. the power of the photographic message
4. aspects of the culture of Western society
5. aspects of the culture of East Timorese society
6. the photographers speak ...
7. conclusion
8. bibliography

appendix 1
appendix 2

1. introduction

This study had its genesis during a multimedia concert tour of East Timor in July 2002.

The author accompanied a group of musicians [1] presenting multimedia pieces in four different centres: Dili, Laga, Lospalos and Same. After the first concert, in Dili, the East Timor-based Australian organisers of the tour said that they would not allow other East Timorese audiences, at this delicate stage of their recovery from twenty four years of brutal treatment at the hands of the Indonesian army, to view pieces that included photographs of East Timorese victims of violence and torture. It would be too traumatic for them, they said.

One such photograph was "Santa Cruz face". It came from a video made by English documentary film-maker Max Stahl [2] as Indonesian troops gunned down hundreds of innocent civilians in Santa Cruz Cemetery, Dili, East Timor, on November 12 1991:

santa cruz face

The musicians, while deploring the cultural superiority displayed, agreed to drop two pieces [3] from their program and substitute other pieces, including one hastily thrown-together that used a Midnight Oil song [4] and photographs taken in East Timor by Australian photographer Jon Lewis [5]. One of these, "Suai Loro Boys", shows a group of naked boys on a beach near Suai, East Timor, in 2000:

happy boys

To the surprise of the touring party, several East Timorese audience members expressed their disapproval of what is to the Western eyes of the touring party a wonderfully happy shot. It was, of course, the boys' nakedness that provoked this disapproval (and embarrassed laughter).

When the tour reached the town of Same, the local East Timorese Catholic priest insisted that the two offending pieces be put back into the program. He was adamant that the audience would not be traumatised by the torture shots, and he believed that it was essential for them to see and deal with such images in their recovery from the trauma of the Indonesian occupation.

This raised the question of cultural interpretation of photographic messages (specifically Western (see chapter 4) versus East Timorese (see chapter 5)). Empirical and literary (including internet) research, plus face-to-face interviews with both Jon Lewis and Max Stahl, led to, and formed the basis of, this inquiry.

2. the photographic message


"The press photograph is a message", writes French semiologist Roland Barthes in his essay The Photographic Message [6]. Although he is dealing specifically with the press photograph, most of what he says applies also to the photographs under discussion here.

In looking at the structural analysis of the photographic message, Barthes writes that a (press) photograph "is not the reality but at least it is its perfect analogon ... ["7]. In other words, it is perfectly analogous to, or corresponds to, the scene it has captured. It is a "message without a code", a "denoted message". And it is a "continuous message" (it is not broken up into sections).

Any message can be characterised as a source of emission, a channel of transmission, and a point of reception. More simply:

source - channel - receiver

Looking at a linguistic message, the source (the person transmitting the message i.e. speaking) must encode her/his thoughts into spoken language i.e. into sound waves. These sound waves travel through the channel, which is in this case air. The listener (the receiver) must then de-code the message i.e. turn the sound waves back into language. Clearly the decoder must work accurately in reverse to the encoder for the message to be faithfully, and therefore successfully, transmitted. Our communication system now looks like this:

source - encoder - channel - decoder - receiver

In more detail:
the person talking
translation of thought into air waves via language English, say
translation of air waves back into the English language and thus into thought
the person listening
If the receiver here speaks French and doesn't understand English, then the decoding process fails to reverse the encoding process. Transmission of the linguistic message fails. Thus the culture of the person transmitting and the culture of the person receiving are important factors in human communications.

A person speaking on the telephone involves a more complicated system:

encoder 1
channel 1
encoder 2
channel 2
decoder 2
decoder 1
the person talking
translation of thought into air waves
translation of air waves into electrical signals
electrical cable
translation of electrical signals back into air waves
translation of air waves back into thought
the person listening
The reception of a visual message (someone looking at a realistic painting of a tree on a hill, for example) involves no encoding-decoding process. The painting "denotes" ("indicates", "is a mark or sign of") its subject matter: a hill is a hill, a tree is a tree. No code needed. Everyone, pretty much regardless of culture, can see and recognise hill and tree. Thus at one level the painting acts like a photograph (Barthes' "message without a code"). But the painting's denoted message "develops ... a supplementary message ... whose signifier" (aesthetic or ideological) "is a certain 'treatment' of the image (result of the action of the creator)" and which "refers to a certain 'culture' of the society receiving the message." [8] In other words, the style of the reproduction carries a message which will be interpreted differently depending on the cultural background of the person viewing it. For example, an Aboriginal dot painting might seem to a European to be an attractive, stylised representation of hill and tree. An Aboriginal, however, steeped in tradition, might see a particular hill and a particular tree telling a particular story that carries meaning far beyond what the 'whitefella' sees. This is what Barthes calls its connoted message (a second meaning in addition to the primary meaning).

Barthes goes on to wonder if indeed a (press) photograph really IS "a message without a code": "... there is a strong probability that the photographic message too - at least in the press - is connoted" [9]. There is a paradox here, he says: the denoted message (which does not have a code) gives rise to a connoted message (which does): "The photographic paradox ... is that ... the connoted (or coded) message develops on the basis of a message without a code." He continues: "This structural paradox coincides with an ethical paradox: when one wants to be 'neutral', 'objective', one strives to copy reality meticulously", trying not to imbue the photograph with any meaning other than what it denotes (i.e. give it a connoted message). But a connoted message seems inevitable. The ethical paradox, therefore, is that a photograph is simultaneously 'objective' and 'invested'.

While some photographs contain an intentionally invested message, others do not (although they will still have a connoted message). Barthes mentions various photographic procedures specifically designed to add a particular connoted message to the denoted one, one such procedure being the design of a particular pose e.g. a photo of President Kennedy with "eyes looking upwards, hands joined together", connoting "youthfulness, spirituality, purity" [10]. But does every viewer everywhere receive the same message? Many will see the photograph as intended by the photographer, but others, believing President Kennedy to be a deceitful, hypocritical womaniser, will read it as another example of Kennedy deceit, or of propaganda and therefore not to be believed. In fact, the message might be the exact opposite of the one intended. Someone with no idea who the subject is - someone from another culture, perhaps - will read yet another message. The decoder here is not a faithful reproduction, in reverse, of the encoder, and hence the message is, at best, garbled. Thus aspects of the following claim by Helmut Gernsheim's must be questioned:

"Photography is the only 'language' understood in all parts of the world, and bridging all nations and cultures, it links the family of man. Independent of political influence - where people are free - it reflects truthfully life and events, allows us to share in the hopes and despair of others, and illuminates political and social conditions. We become the eye-witness of the humanity and inhumanity of man-kind ..." [11]

When photographer and viewer are from the same socio-economic and political group within a particular culture, realist photography functions, in most cases, as a kind of language even though it lacks the vocabulary, syntax and grammar of normal language. It communicates its denoted message - and perhaps even its connoted message - clearly. Its denoted message will be clear to most people from other cultures, too, but its connoted message might be read quite differently. And it may not be a truthful reflection of life and events at all: the widespread official use of propaganda, doublespeak and lies is seen not just in words but also in images, still and moving. But the essence of Gernsheim's claim - that photography can be a very powerful medium - cannot be disputed.

3. the power of the photographic message


man on box

see (photographer unknown)

"Rumsfeld then explained, 'You read it, as I say, it's one thing. You see these photographs and it's just unbelievable ... It wasn't three-dimensional. It wasn't video. It wasn't color. It was quite a different thing.' But the report also described atrocities never photographed or taped that were, often, even worse than the pictures ..." [12]

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or, as Josef von Sternberg put it, "the camera is a diabolical instrument that conveys ideas with lightning speed. Each picture transliterates a thousand words." [13] The American government - especially Donald Rumsfeld - must be ruing the day that digital cameras became a reality. "The digital camera will haunt the future career of George W. Bush the way the tape recorder sealed the fate of Richard Nixon" [14]. Just a few images from Abu Ghraib have made a fundamental difference to the world's attitude to the Coalition of the Willing's invasion of Iraq. As Susan Sontag writes, "it now seems likely that the defining association of people everywhere with the rotten war that the Americans launched preemptively in Iraq last year will be photographs of the torture of Iraqi prisoners in the most infamous of Saddam Hussein's prisons, Abu Ghraib" [15]. Harlan Ullman, a Senior Advisor of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, USA, compares the Abu Ghraib photos to photos of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre as they came down on 9/11 and to the defining images of the Vietnam War: the naked girl screaming from the pain of napalm as she ran towards the camera, and the South Vietnamese officer shooting a Viet Cong suspect in the head. The Abu Ghraib photos "will have tremendous impact on the Arab and Muslim psyches and they will do us a huge amount of political and psychological damage." [16]

man on leash

see (photographer unknown)

The camera, which in all its current manifestations is more popular now than ever before, is "a microscope. It penetrates. It goes into people and you see their most private and concealed thoughts" [17]. We don't see Lynndie England's most private and concealed thoughts in the photo above, but this image must surely have provoked them in most people who have seen it. It has already become a symbol, a representation of something far more profound than its immediate reality. The photo shows Private England treating an Iraqi prisoner like a dog. That's the denoted message. What we see, however - the connoted message we receive - is America, or the West, treating Iraq - even the entire Middle East - like a dog. This image transcends its subject, and its symbolic meaning will continue to grow. No amount of talking will undo the lasting damage that this image has done to American imperialism. A thousand words? Not even a thousand million would wipe this image from our memory.

On November 12 1991, several thousand people in East Timor marched to Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili to bury a student, Sebastaio Gomes Rangel, who had been shot dead by Indonesian troops in the city's Church of St Antonio de Motael [18]. After the ceremony, as the crowd dwindled, several truck-loads of Indonesian soldiers arrived and began shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. A final count revealed that 370 or so people died on that dreadful day. But this was nothing out of the ordinary: the Santa Cruz massacre "was relatively minor when compared with the massacres that occurred between the (Indonesian) invasion (of 1975) and the Creras massacre of 1983" [19]. At Lacluta in 1981 about 400 people were killed. At Creras in 1983, the figure was over 1000. Yet the international community made no protest. The reason that the Santa Cruz massacre achieved world-wide attention and condemnation was that Max Stahl was there with a video camcorder:

"Max Stahl was in the cemetery, inside the cemetery, when the Indonesians began shooting. He took pictures, film, and as the Indonesians approached him, he was incredibly ... with sangfroid - you know, with enormous serenity - he pulled out the tape, buried it in the sand in the cemetery, and, uh, the Indonesians took him, rough him up, but then release him. At night, with incredible courage, he came back to the cemetery, jumped the wall and undug the tape, recovered it and then managed to smuggle it out." [20]

Jon Lewis believes that that "was the time when people took a huge step in the eventual liberation of that country. For me it's fascinating ... it just sort of shows me just how imagery can change the world, and indeed the world of the East Timorese." [21] Max Stahl: "The Timorese wanted (the footage) to be seen because at that moment of the massacre they knew instantly that this was absolutely crucial evidence of what the Indonesians were doing to them and they had to get it out." [22] Stahl's images (and the still shots by English photographer Steve Cox) did more for the East Timor cause than the hundreds of thousands of protests, letters, demonstrations etc of the international peace movement. It took another eight years, but eventually the East Timorese won their freedom.

Ironically, at a time when technical advances in computer technology are making visual fakery and deception easy, and there is ever-increasing sophistication in government marketing and propaganda, images seem to hold more authority than ever before. Western society is controlled more and more by commercial media (newspapers, radio, free-to-air and pay television, film, music, even, to some extent, the internet) concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer proprietors whose interests, and therefore politics, are solely to do with the bottom line. They are experts at manipulating images - fixing their connoted messages - in order to manipulate the people.

4. aspects of the culture of Western society


As the world shrinks, and cultural globalisation gathers pace, Australian culture - which conditions our reception of an image's connoted message - and that of other Western countries become increasingly similar. The West generally is affluent, more so than ever before, enabling us to live in great comfort divorced from the harsh realities of life faced by most people in Third World countries. We live in sanitised reality, where horror is rarely seen and thus, when it is, has greater shock value than it does for, say, people living in East Timor. We don't have to witness the actuality of disease, famine and war - these things happen in far-away places, where information may be difficult to come by. And if the information is known, the only way the public will know about it - if at all - is through the lens of strictly controlled media, where censorship, usually subtle, is rife.

Australia, like America, is a "democracy", yet our citizens are to a large degree - probably larger than we think - protected by our governments and media from images and information judged to be too far from our comfort zone. Or, more likely, too far from theirs. Censorship. We are not, for example, allowed to see the second collection of images from Abu Ghraib, which are apparently worst than the first, although we were allowed to see in graphic detail the mutilated faces of Saddam Hussein's sons. Even the first collection, we're told, was cropped to protect our - and America's - sensibilities. Americans are not allowed to see their soldiers' coffins returning from Iraq - too gruesome. But we see violence every day - sanitised violence, glorified violence, on television. For most of us its reality - the blood, the pain, the broken bones - is not part of our experience, which is essentially voyeuristic. We censor the violence of our reality, yet glorify it in the fantasy - hypocrisy! Saturated by violent images, we learn to become inured to them, and to the suffering of the victims portrayed, simply in order to cope. We see a surfeit of them, in newspapers, on the television news, on the internet - even on our mobile phones. Our response is to develop an underlying sense of powerlessness. What can we do? Can we make a difference? Usually, no:

"It is because a war, any war, doesn't seem as if it can be stopped that people become less responsive to horrors." [23]

Every day, news content disguised as truth is censored unremittingly. The most relevant example of this can be seen in the images streaming in from the current Iraq crisis. The American government ensured, before the war had even started, that strict censorship was enforced, certifying (within their capabilities) that the images of the casualties being airlifted home would never reach the American public. "Today it is impossible to wage war unless - long before the go-ahead by parliament - the whole political apparatus of the press has been won over to the operative goal. It all boils down to information and misinformation." [24]

Through official misinformation, and official disinformation, we are starting to lose, in the name of the so-called "War on Terrorism", basic democratic freedoms:

"Within a month of President Bush officially declaring an end to hostilities, London, Canberra and Washington were proposing legislation to relax media ownership laws that would allow certain media owners, the most loyal supporters of the war, the possibility of even greater control over what the citizens of the West saw, heard and thought." [25]

We have the liberty and the privilege to protect ourselves from horror and suffering - to engage in a form of self-censorship. We have the freedom and the choice not to face uncomfortable facts - to turn over the page or switch off the programme. We don't have to buy in: "No-one is going to buy an East Timorese photograph and put it on their wall in Double Bay - why would you want to be reminded of such a horror?", says Jon Lewis [26]. Indeed. We are, afterall, only human. We all try to cope with life as best we can, and when confronted with the suffering of others, it seems normal to turn away, especially from images - unlike words, which are easily forgotten, images have unavoidable potency. Self-censorship, where we choose to protect ourselves from knowing too much about the harshness of life - about war and its effects, for example - is a privilege afforded people of affluence, one not available to poor people in the Third World. East Timorese people can't turn the page: it stares them in the face, every day of their lives. We are talked to in euphemisms, or doublespeak, where the truth hides behind innocuous terms like "collateral damage" (meaning the maiming and killing of innocent civilians). Images of damage caused by a successful army can be a form of visual doublespeak - when we see the rubble of a bombed-out apartment block, for example, but not the twisted bodies that lie within. In short,

"It is the image that matters, and be damned of the truth." [27]

It is not difficult to imagine visual equivalents for the following examples of linguistic doublespeak:

removal with extreme prejudice:
energetic disassembly:
take positive measures:
an incomplete success:
Hitler's final solution of the Jewish problem:
active invasion
nuclear explosion
act with unrestrained savagery
catastrophic strategic blunder

Melbourne barrister and human rights activist Julian Burnside writes: [28]

"The victims of protective reaction air strikes, or incontinent ordnance, or active defence, or fraternal internationalist assistance often flee for safety. A small number of them arrive in Australia asking for help. They commit no offence under Australian or international law by arriving here, without invitation and without papers, in order to seek protection. Nonetheless the Australian Government refers to them as 'illegals' ... Like all doublespeak, 'illegals' is used for a purpose: these people are immediately locked up without trial. No doubt it seems less offensive to lock up 'illegals' than to lock up innocent, traumatised human beings. They are also disparaged as 'queue jumpers': a neat device which falsely suggests two things. First that there is a queue, and second that it is in some way appropriate to stand in line when your life is at risk. When the 'illegals/queue jumpers' arrive, they are 'detained' in 'Immigration Reception and Processing Centres'. This description is false in every detail. They are locked up without trial, for an indefinite period - typically months or years - in desert camps which are as remote from civilisation as it is possible to be. They are held behind razor wire, they are addressed not by name but by number, and they slowly sink into hopelessness and despair."

The photos of "illegals" struggling in the sea - conveniently just before the 2002 Australian government elections in Australia - are a fine example of images that, especially when combined with suitable captions, transmit a connoted message that is a direct and cynical lie. Known colloquially as "The Children Overboard Affair", its official description is the sanitised "a certain maritime incident".

Why do we in western societies feel compelled to defend ourselves from images of violence, especially those that our policies create? One reason is the effective and sophisticated marketing of the political agenda: news editors are under constant pressure from governments not to publish content that could undermine their interest. Another is the effective and sophisticated marketing of the commercial agenda: the violence we see is often airbrushed in accordance with commercial interests. All this encourages, as it is meant to, our growing acceptance of brutality - by individuals and, by extension, by the state. Journalism, supposedly "centered on a set of essentially ethical concepts: freedom, democracy, truth, objectivity, honesty ..." [29], lets us down here. But journalists know that where an ethical approach conflicts with the interests of their employer, the latter must win. A journalist's employment depends on it. We, the audience, are participants, as Hanno Hardt and Bonnie Brennen explain:
"Audiences have become sophisticated participants in the mediated realities of the press, whose photographic coverage occupies a central position in explaining the world, while media have gained significantly in political power and cultural status with their complex technological capabilities of disseminating knowledge and information." [30]

We see here that contemporary Western democracy's use of censorship, propaganda, marketing etc strives to shape the public's interpretation of images' connoted meanings.

5. aspects of the culture of East Timorese society


"We have nothing left to lose. We are human beings and they have treated us like insects. We will never accept them here. Even if we have to die resisting, we will resist. We have our dignity and our own identity. And God is with us." [31]

"God is with us". While there are "small Protestant, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities" [32] in Dili, roughly 90% of East Timor's population is Catholic. In 1975, that proportion was about 30% [33]. The increase is hardly surprising given that the Catholic Church provided the only refuge that the East Timorese people had during the 24-year Indonesian occupation.

The Church treasures the safety and respects the culture of the East Timorese people:

"... we are witnessing an upheaval of gigantic and tragic proportions in the social and cultural fabric of the East Timorese people and their identity is threatened with death ... There is a Timorese culture that is made up of words, attitudes, emotions, reactions, behaviours, ways of being and ways of relating to the world. It is in these things that the people recognise their own culture and in it their own identity ... An attempt to Indonesianise the Timorese people through vigorous campaigns to promote pancasila, through schools or the media, by alienating people from their world view, means the gradual murder of Timorese culture. To kill the culture is to kill the people." [34]

The Church has allowed "many also (to) practise ancestor and spirit worship (animism)." [35] Thus "(The practice of animism) has largely been absorbed by Catholicism - a religion that has changed to accommodate indigenous beliefs." [36] In other words, "Catholicism is syncretized with aspects of the traditional religions (mainly animism)." [37] This was partly because Indonesian law, imposed on the people between 1975 and 1999, demanded that everyone declare allegiance to a monotheistic religion. Since traditional Timorese animism was not monotheistic, it did not qualify; hence it became absorbed into the official monotheism of Catholicism. [38] Such absorption was also seen in the Dark Ages, when the Catholic Church in Europe absorbed pagan culture. [39]

The following photograph (buffalo horns outside the Community Church of Maubisse, East Timor) [40] illustrates how Christianity and animism can blend harmoniously together:

buffalo horns

"Animism refers to the belief that personalized, supernatural beings (or souls) inhabit ordinary objects and govern their existence ..." [41]. It encourages people to respect these objects as well as the entire natural world: "(It) is the best example of integration between man and environment." [42] The animism-Catholicism mix in East Timor provided a strong base for the remarkable resilience of the East Timorese people during the horrors of the Indonesian occupation.

"Resistir é vencer!" ("To resist is to win!") exhorted the resistance leader (now President of East Timor) Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão. The people resisted, and - eventually - they won, despite Falintil (the military wing of the clandestine political party Fretilin) facing massive odds. In the process, and as a result, at least 200,000 people - possibly 300,000 or more - died. Abandoned by the outside world, the people had no choice but to be stoic, and patient.

For most people, life in East Timor is tough: the scorched brown landscape of the dry season often threatens famine while the wet season produces raging torrents that make roads impassable. Desperately poor, the people are often plagued by famine and disease: malaria and dengue fever are common, and children die from conditions - intestinal parasites, for example - that, for a few cents, could be fixed (e.g. twelve-year-old Jalmira Babo recently died of asphyxiation caused by "hundreds of large worms that had travelled from her stomach up her oesophagus and into her mouth, blocking her trachea." [43] Enduring such harsh conditions, it is much easier for people to view photos of torture victims, say, than it is for soft Westerners whose cocoons of comfortable affluence are rarely pricked.

6. the photographers speak ...


Max Stahl, when asked what motivates him as an image-maker in places of conflict such as East Timor, replied:

"Curiosity ... I think the consistent theme that motivates me is curiosity ... in situations of crisis people's real motivations are revealed ... trying to use the camera to get behind the image ... the image is like a symptom of something, the stories therefore become the principle tool, because as any filmmaker will tell you ... one picture is a study, two pictures are a film because they are edited ... and one picture which you put on the other picture qualifies the first one, and in that way stories, visual stories, can be very revealing, and of course they can be revealing of the filmmaker as well as the subject"

Jon Lewis, when asked the same question, replied:

"... I suppose I have a vision of a big picture ... the big picture would be the acceptance and the understanding and the curiosity and the discovery of neighbours ... and what that concept of neighbours is, and I mean neighbours to Australia ... so I have a big picture ... I'd love to think that maybe in a decade that I could have a whole a series of images that dealt with the near neighbours of Australia, be they East Timorese, or Soloman Islanders, or Papua New Guineans ... one of the reasons I like that idea is because basically they're completely neglected, basically people don't want to know ... I get an enormous amount out of people that are different"


"I'm a big admirer of the ability of an image ... some people, practitioners of still photography, to extract from an image a kind of ... symbol or reverberation, which sometimes is harder to do from a film, if only because you're not contemplating the image in quite the same way ... different relationships ... It's not a question of being a good photographer, as far as I've observed it, is not so much a question of setting up a picture, or taking a good picture, it's a question of a constant relationship with your subject, with which you take many pictures ... and so I think there isn't such a big difference between movie-making and still photography ..."

Lewis on why he photographs, and on his role as a photographer:

"... to be humbled by people that I meet ... I try to let people know that I'm photographing them, I try to get some engage, the French would say. I'm not very good at stealing the photograph. I like the interaction ... I believe in photographs ... I believe that they help or change things ... The work that I do with people in Melanesia, East Timor and Bouganville specifically ... it's work that I'm trying to bring a sense of what our neighbours are, who they are through photography ... I'm trying to bring them to Australia as people, through the medium of photography ... I'm trying to give, with my work, a sense of interaction, a sense of understanding, a sense of perhaps love ... it's a bridging-the-gap role ..."

Clearly, these two photographers are deeply moral men with a keen sense of the ethics behind what they do. They strive to use their cameras to report honestly with as clear a denoted message as possible. Neither wants to invest his work with a skewed connoted message but to leave that as open as possible so that the viewer can make her/his own interpretation.

7. conclusion


Looking at Lewis's "Suai Loro Boys" and Stahl's "Santa Cruz Face" with Barthes' denotation/connotation analysis in mind, and appreciating the different cultural background of, on the one hand, Australian viewers and, on the other, East Timorese viewers, we can see why these images have been received so differently. Their connoted messages say different things to each group (and, no doubt, to different individuals within each group).

If the photographers had wanted to "invest" their work with a particular meaning, as did the photographer of the Kennedy image ("eyes looking upwards, hands joined together"), then there would be an encoding/decoding process going on, its fidelity dependent on the viewer's cultural background, general knowledge, politics etc. The following schematic would have applied:

the photographer
translation of intended message into image
translation of image back into original message
the viewer

Perhaps Lewis's "Suai Loro Boys" - clearly a posed photograph - could also be seen in this light, the fidelity of the decoding process here being affected by the cultural sensibility of the viewer. Stahl's "Santa Cruz Face", however, could not have been posed. There was no time for that. In this case the schematic looks like this:

Max Stahl
capture of scene into electronic form
translation of electronic image back into original scene
the viewer

We see what the camera saw. We receive the denoted message. But the connoted message differs from viewer to viewer.

Let Max Stahl have the last word:

"To some extent when you ... try to communicate with an audience that has no direct interest in that subject, they're not part of it, you have to find a means to make a link that's a straightforward story-telling fact. If you don't make any link with the audience, they're not going to be paying very much attention to you, and as a story-teller that's your job to make a link, in order to get them to pay attention, in order to communicate. Pity, compassion, suffering ... these are powerful ... common, human emotions. And yes, as a story-teller you will focus on those, precisely because they are there, and because they are powerful human emotions they will communicate, and if you are a story-teller with integrity you will do so with care and attention to the reason that lies behind that - you won't simply cut it off as if it were a sort of emotional pornography ... it would be divorced from the human, the reality, that's the difference ... an exploitation of those powerful emotions to sell something ... It's not a question of saying should you or should you not show somebody in extremeness, the question isn't that. The question is what do you mean? And do you make that meaning visible, do you make it credible, do you show the proper respect for that human being, would that human being afterwards, in a moment of calm, want to thank you? or not ..." [44]

8. bibliography


interview: Jon Lewis, Sydney, May 13 2004

interview: Max Stahl, Sydney, May 20 2004

Barthes, Roland: Image - Music - Text, trans by Stephen Heath, Fontana Paperbacks, London, first published 1977, third impression 1982

Belsey, Andrew, and Chadwick, Ruth (eds): Ethical Issues in Journalism and the Media, Routledge, 1992

Bernstein, Carl: History Lesson: GOP Must Stop Bush, USA TODAY, May 24 2004,

Brennen, Bonnie, and Hardt, Hanno (eds): Picturing the Past, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1999

Burnside, Julian: A bit about words, published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 2003 (exact date unknown)

Corona, David Dias Quintas: Open letter to FRETILIN, BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor,

Marks, Kathy: Australia casts a shadow over East Timor's future, Independent, June 03 2004

McMillan, Andrew: Death in Dili, Hodder & Stoughton (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1992

Molnar, Professor Andrea, Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University: The Republic of East Timor becomes Asia's Newest Nation on May 20, 2002, CROSSROADS - An Introduction to Southeast Asia,

Ramos-Horta, José on Enough Rope, SBS television, May 10 2004

Rivers, William: Planet Reagan, June 07 2004,

Scorcese, Martin: 20th Century Cinema

Sontag, Susan: Regarding the Pain of Others, Hamish Hamilton, 2003

Sontag, Susan: What have we done?, The Guardian, May 24 2004,,12271,1223344,00.html

Stahl, Max:

Ullman, Harlana, Senior Advisor of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, USA, on The 7.30 Report, ABC television, May 10 2004

An anonymous woman in East Timor, quoted in Archer, Robert: The Catholic Church in East Timor, in Carey, Peter & Carter Bentley, G (eds): East Timor at the Crossroads: The Forging of a Nation, Cassell, London, 1995


Cultural evolution: (from

East Timor's church stands with the people,

Statement issued in January 1985 by the Council of Priests, East Timor, Timor Link, No.2 (June 1985), quoted in Archer, Robert: The Catholic Church in East Timor, in Carey, Peter & Carter Bentley, G (eds): East Timor at the Crossroads: The Forging of a Nation, Cassell, London, 1995

The Unofficial Guide to East Timor:

appendix 1


Max Stahl []

Max Stahl is an award-winning cameraman, writer, director and producer who has worked in front of and behind the camera on television worldwide. For more than twenty years his films - for UK's ITV Channels 3 & 4, the BBC, and national broadcasters in France, Germany, Scandinavia, Australia, Canada and the USA - have been shown around the world. He has lived and filmed in Central America, the Far East, the former USSR, the Middle East and Europe. As producer, director, writer and cameraman he has worked with major US companies Discovery, National Geographic, and PBS, with NHK (Japan), NRK (Norway), ZDF & NDR (Germany), Gamma/AntenneII (France), RTP (Portugal) as well as the major UK & Australian broadcasters.

Max won a scholarship to Oxford University, then began in the theatre as actor and director in the UK. He presented the BBC's most popular children's program, Blue Peter, for two years. Then he formed an independent company and made documentaries, news and features for UK, European and Worldwide TV, in Latin America, the former communist countries , the Caucasus, Baltic and the Balkans, and wrote scripts for feature films.

Max is perhaps best known worldwide for films on Indonesia and East Timor. He filmed the 1991 Dili massacre when more than 400 peaceful demonstrators were killed by Indonesian troops, 'breaking' the East Timor story internationally. His images in four major documentaries there over ten years and scores of news reports played a key part in forcing the referendum eventually granted - nine years later - to East Timor. His images from the mountains - where he alone stayed in September 1999 when all other TV journalists fled the murderous attacks of Indonesian-sponsored militia - played a key role in forcing the UN intervention which finally brought an end to Timor's occupation.

In 1999 Max taught film-making and produced a series of short films made from different perspectives in the Balkan conflict authored by local people from different communities in conflict. 2000 through 2002 he has been backed by NGOs working in the area on a project examining Justice and the UN role following the killings there.

In that year and the next Max won a series of major awards at the New York Film festival and at the UK Royal Television Society, and then won the world's premier award for independent camera journalism, the Rory Peck Award, backed by UK and world broadcasters.

major awards:

Walkley Award (Australia)
Rory Peck Award (UK International)
RTS 'Technician (Cameraman) Of The Year' Runner-Up
Royal Television Society Award (RTS, UK) Best Feature Documentary
Amnesty International Film Award
Kagoshima (Japan)
Barcelona documentary prize (Spain)
Oporto (Portugal)
Festival Of The Americas Grand Jury Prize (US)

gold awards:

New York Film Festival (two gold, two silver, three bronze: 1982, 98, 99, 2000)
Houston International
Houston International
Houston International
San Francisco

documentary films and key work:

2003 BHHRG (Uzbekistan) UNESCO (Max Stahl Award-winning Audio-Visual Archive, Timor)
2002 Justice Denied (Channel 9, Australia); New York Film Fest Gold Award 2003, Timor Rise (UN)
2001 Terror In Reserve, Ming (feature script), Investigative News for ITN (contract)
2000 ITN, APTV) runner-up, Royal Television Society Cameraman of the Year; winner, Rory Peck Award for Independent Camera Journalism; investigative filming in Indonesia and East Timor on The Reconciliation and Terror In Reserve
1999 The Return (28 mins) (Kosova/Macedonia); exec producer: six films in Macedonia; series of prize-winning news stories for ITN Channel 4 News in Albania, Macedonia, Kosova (two awards, New York Film Festival 2000); East Timor Mountains, Aug-Oct
1998 fiction scripts, news stories in Kosova (Channel 4) (finalist in France, and Rory Peck Award UK)
1996-7 Sometimes I Must Speak Out Strongly (52' 26", NRK, Norway, Australia, prod/dir/cam, portrait of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Bishop Belo of East Timor); news: Channel 4 (UK ITN)
1994 The Second Massacre (East Timor, ABC Australia, 20', prod/dir/camera)
1994 Death Of A Nation (Central UK, 78', prod/camera, Indonesia and East Timor)
1993 Out Of The Shadows: Shevardnadze (52', prod/dir/cam, Georgia, Chechnia, Fuji (Japan), ORF (Austria), Discovery (USA))
1992-3 The Hunt For Red Mercury (prod/dir/cam, ex-USSR KGB and nuclear materials)
1991-2 In Cold Blood: The Massacre Of East Timor (52', YTV (UK) & worldwide, dir/cam)
1990 Plunder (looting archeological cities, Guatemala's jungle, C4 (UK)); Dispatches (WGBH (USA), NDR (Germany), 52' & 40', prod/dir/camera)
1988 Hashish Connection (drugs & war, Lebanon, C4 GammaTV, France, Nat.Geo (US))

Also: Labour of Love (Thames TV); BBC War Series: Irregular, Front Line (78') & El Salvador's Crucified Church (C4 (UK), WGBH (USA), G (Fr)); Poor (series, King TV (USA))

Max speaks and works in six languages and has written a number of feature film scripts, at various times in development in the UK, USA and Portugal involving international stars Emma Thompson & Martin Sheen. He has also written extensively for newspapers and radio in Britain, US, Canada, Australia and Europe.

appendix 2


Jon Lewis []

Jon Lewis first exhibited in 1974. He was a member of Sydney's "Yellow House" in the early 70's, went on to make experimental video with "Bush Video", and started Greenpeace Australia, which led a successful campaign to end the slaughter of whales in that country. His interests are reflected in his photography, and when not on the hop, photographing or teaching, lives in the Southern Highlands of NSW, where he schemes for sponsorship, reads, writes and hunts wild pigs.

Solo Exhibitions:

2003 Campbelltown City Art Gallery
2001 Retratu Timor Lorosae, Stills Gallery, Sydney
2000 Entertainment Centre, Darwin
1999 Coventry Gallery, Sydney; Sturt Gallery, Mittagong
1993 Musee National des Arts de l' Afrique et de L'Oceanie, Paris, France
1992 Stills Gallery, Sydney; Coventry Gallery, Sydney
1989-93 Fnac Galerie Photo, Paris and throughout France and Belgium
1988 13 Verity Street, Melbourne; Taman Ismail Marzuki, Jakata, Indonesia; Solander Gallery, Sydney; Coventry Gallery, Sydney
1987 Coventry Gallery, Sydney; 13 Verity Street, Melbourne
1985 Coventry Gallery, Sydney
1978 ANZ Gallery, Sydney
1976 Coventry Gallery, Sydney; Pentax Brummels Gallery, Melbourne
1974 Bonython Gallery, Sydney

Selected Group Exhibitions:

2003 Citigroup Portrait Prize, Art Gallery of NSW; Ulrick/Schubert Award, Gold Coast City Art Gallery
2002 Ulrick/Schubert Award, Gold Coast City Art Gallery
1999 Yellow House Now, Michael Nagy Gallery
1997 Sherman Gallery, Sydney; London Photographers Gallery, England
1996 Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney
1995 Sydney Photographed, MOCA, Sydney
1994 National Portrait Gallery, ACT; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
1992 Portrait of a Nation, Mitchell Library, Sydney
1991 La Galeria, Amsterdam, Netherlands
1990 Collection Photo de la Fnac, Paris, France
1989 Stadtishe Galerie, Erlangen, Germany; Yellow House Exhibition, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Portrait Photography, Australian National Gallery, ACT
1988 Black & White at Coventry, Coventry Gallery, Sydney; A Changing Relationship, S.H. Ervin Gallery
1986 Five Years On, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
1985 Macquarie Galleries, Sydney
1984 Lady Fairfax Awards, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney
1975 Hogarth Galleries, Sydney
1974 Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney


Australian National Gallery
Art Gallery of New South Wales
National Museum of Australia
Parliament House, ACT
Health Commission, ACT
Philip Morris Art Purchase
Bibliotheque Nationale, France
Fnac Collection
Centre Regional De La Photographie
Nort Pas - Des Calais
Musee National des Arts de I' Afrique et de I' Oceanie
Polaroid Collection, Germany
Private Collections in Australia, France, England, Netherlands & USA

Video/Film Production and Direction:

1974 Dolphin Dreamin' - stills photography for film and television production; Bush Video productions, Australian National Gallery Collection
1972 Yellow House Tapes - stills photography for film and television production
1986 The House on the Coast, Deadalus Production; The Marsupials - Howling 11, Bancannia Production; From the Mountains to the Sea, Bozado Production
1985 Eora Corroboree, Corroboree Films
1984 From the Neck to Knee, Albie Thoms Production
1983 The Secret Discovery of Australia, Edgecliff Films
1982 The Disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain, Edgecliff Films


Goulburn TAFE
UTS and Goulburn TAFE
College of Fine Arts, UNSW, Sydney
Parsons School of Design, Paris
European Graphic Design, Paris
Resident Artist, All Saints College, Bathurst

Professional Summary

2002 Bougainville
2000-01 East Timor
1994-99 Teacher of Photography: COFA UNSW, University of Technology, Sydney; Illawarra Institute of Technology, Goulburn College
1990 visited Paris, France, for six months; returned to Australia
1989 travel & photography in outback Australia
1987-88 photography work in the outback Australia; travel and photography, London - Paris - New York; Polaroid 20" x 24" self portraits N.Y.C.
1986 photography work in Indonesia; commercial studio portrait project
1984 commercial photography at Bondi
1979-83 commercial photography
1979 travel & photography in Central Australia
1975 Dolphin Dreamin' - experimental film on dolphins
1974 founder of Greenpeace, Australia
1972 Bush Video - resident artist
1971-72 Yellow House resident

footnotes [click on number to return to text]


1 Australian clarinettist Ros Dunlop and others

2; also, see appendix 1

3 X, for clarinet & computer [1999], and Welcome to the Hotel Turismo, for bass clarinet & computer [2000], both by Martin Wesley-Smith

4 the East Timorese national song "Kolele Mai" (on All in the Family, Timorese Association in Victoria, MDS DOC8000)

5; also, see appendix 2

6 Barthes, Roland: Image - Music - Text, trans by Stephen Heath, Fontana Paperbacks, London, first published 1977, third impression 1982, p15

7 ibid, p17

8 ibid

9 ibid, p19

10 ibid, p22

11 Gernsheim, Helmut: Creative Photography, 1962

12 Bernstein, Carl: History Lesson: GOP Must Stop Bush, USA TODAY, May 24 2004,

13 quoted in Scorcese, Martin: 20th Century Cinema

14 Lucsante: Tourists and Torturers, The New York Times, May 11 2004,

15 Sontag, Susan: What have we done?, The Guardian, May 24 2004,,12271,1223344,00.html

16 Ullman, Harlana, on The 7.30 Report, ABC television, Australia, May 10 2004

17 Kazan, Elia, in Scorcese, op cit

18 McMillan, Andrew: Death in Dili, Hodder & Stoughton (Australia) Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1992, pp157-160

19 Dunn, James: East Timor - a rough passage to independence, Longueville Books, Sydney, 2003, p292

20 Ramos-Horta, José, Nobel Laureat, Foreign Minister of East Timor, on Enough Rope, SBS television, Australia, May 10 2004

21 personal interview, Sydney, May 13 2004

22 personal interview, Sydney, May 20 2004

23 Sontag, Susan: Regarding the Pain of Others, Hamish Hamilton, 2003, p 90

24 Belsey, Andrew, and Chadwick, Ruth (eds): Ethical Issues in Journalism and the Media, Routledge, 1992 (exact page number unknown)

25 Leith, Denise: Bearing Witness, Random House Australia, Sydney, 2004, p381

26 personal interview, op cit

27 Rivers, William: Planet Reagan, June 07 2004,

28 A bit about words, published in The Sydney Morning Herald in 2003 (exact date unknown)

29 Belsey & Chadwick, op cit

30 Picturing the Past, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1999, p3

31 an anonymous woman in East Timor, quoted in Archer, Robert: The Catholic Church in East Timor, in Carey, Peter & Carter Bentley, G (eds): East Timor at the Crossroads: The Forging of a Nation, Cassell, London, 1995, p120

32 The Unofficial Guide to East Timor,

33 Dunn, James, op cit

34 Statement issued in January 1985 by the Council of Priests, East Timor, Timor Link, No.2 (June 1985), quoted in Archer, Robert: The Catholic Church in East Timor, in Carey, Peter & Carter Bentley, G (eds): East Timor at the Crossroads: The Forging of a Nation, Cassell, London, 1995, p124

35 The Unofficial Guide to East Timor, op cit

36 East Timor's church stands with the people,

37 Molnar, Andrea: The Republic of East Timor becomes Asia's Newest Nation on May 20, 2002, CROSSROADS - An Introduction to Southeast Asia, Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University,

38 East Timor's church stands with the people, op cit

39 Cultural evolution, (from


41 Animism,

42 Corona, David Dias Quintas: Open letter to FRETILIN, BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor,

43 Marks, Kathy: Australia casts a shadow over East Timor's future, The Independent (UK), June 03 2004

44 personal interview, op cit

2004 Alice Wesley-Smith