On the Trail of a War Photographer

February 13, 2009

bloodtrailRichard Parry’s astonishing documentary, Blood Trail, follows the career of American Photographer Robert King as he covers conflicts in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, and Iraq. Chasing a dream of capturing Pulitzer Prize-winning photos, King stalks the bloody battlefields of war-torn cities. He knows that pictures of dead bodies sell the best.

We first meet King in 1993 when he is a naïve twenty-four year old living at the Sarajevo Holiday Inn.  Clueless about the conflict but eager to get his hands dirty, he was mocked by veteran reporters for his inexperience. Oblivious, King smokes endless cigarettes and keeps a journal of his ambitions in the candlelight of his modest room: a romantic prelude to the ensuing violence.

When King gets his first taste of the frontline, he is visibly terrified; the camera follows him as he runs across an empty field, armed with only his Nikon, as sniper fire flies overhead.

In a Tennessee drawl, King describes his motivation to photograph wars, citing his self-destructive tendencies and attraction to extreme lifestyles as key factors. When he’s not out in the trenches, he self-medicates with drugs and alcohol.  After witnessing brutal attacks in Chechnya, he is understandably shell-shocked. In moments of peace in downtown Grozny, he sets off firecrackers and cackles hysterically.

Parry intersperses graphic footage of battles with interviews with King taken on a hunting trip in Tennessee. As King recounts his experience covering wars, he frequently stops to take aim at deer grazing nearby.  Dressed in camouflage, with a shotgun in hand, King explains how hunting in the woods provides him with the solitude he needs to “decompress”.

King is certainly a contradictory character, but he comes across as honest, humble, and genuinely interested in understanding himself and the bloodthirsty world where he makes his living. He has become desensitized to horrific violence and that disturbs him. He is the American everyman thrust into exotic foreign countries to record death. We get a sense that King himself doesn’t know how to process what he’s seen, and he’s taking photos for a public that doesn’t want to look. When Parry asks him if he’s cynical at the end of the film, King doesn’t know how to answer. He merely says that he’s had to step over hundreds of dead bodies during his lifetime.

Written in September 2008 at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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One Response to “On the Trail of a War Photographer”

  1. Mouhanad said

    Hi there,

    I saw Blood Trail today and met Richard Parry! I loved them both 🙂

    I hope that you read my review on my blog Not Sure…
    http://mouhanad.wordpress.com/

    Mouhanad.

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