War is Beautiful

powerHouse Books, 2015


Yes, of course, from Homer to Mathew Brady to Robert Capa, war photographers have aestheticized war, but nothing prepared me for the hundreds of full-color pictures that appeared on the front page of The New York Times from the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 until now. At least once a week I would be enchanted and infuriated by these images, and I wanted to understand why, so I recently spent many months reviewing every page A1 war photo over the last 4,500 days. This is what I learned. This is why I no longer read The New York Times.



“There is no more interesting writer in America at the moment than David Shields. This is an amazing ‘art book’ whose point is to prove the aestheticization of photos of war in the New York Times and, by implication, the complicity of the press with violence, oppression and horror. . . . A unique and startling book, which is commonplace for Shields.”
Jeff Simon, Buffalo News

“Darkly beautiful and incisive.”
The Stranger

Noam Chomsky

War Is Beautiful is a powerful and important work of visual poetry: its polemical challenge draws the reader, the viewer, the citizen into its sometimes mysterious, often confounding, always disturbing sinuosities.”
Lawrence Weschler

War Is Beautiful is an extraordinary and imaginative endeavor. … A provocative undertaking. A remarkable achievement.”
Ross McElwee

“Hugely brave, persuasive, evocative, War Is Beautiful places us inside our skins as the semi-conscious, complicit witnesses we’ve been for these past fourteen years now. Shields’ appropriative gestures have led up to something outer-directed and crucially relevant, making a great argument for their strength as a device for inquiry. The result casts a beautiful light back on everything that got him to this point. An astounding accomplishment.”
Jonathan Lethem

“War Is Beautiful is beautiful, brilliant, and very important. The spaces between objects are more important than the objects themselves. It’s hard to make people pay attention to what’s invisible.”
Milton Glaser

“A work of perilous ambiguity. No one will go Don Quixote against the Times (aren’t we clever?), but Shields has. It’s quite an extraordinary task he has set for himself here by squarely taking on NYT war images—the aestheticization of horror. The trouble is that the glamour doesn’t go away. The quotes accompanying the pics become, effectively, orphans, because—whatever they say—you can’t unsee what you see. Shields is totally on point that the NYT is 1) our newspaper of Glorious Carnage, and 2) the soul of photography itself. Shields’ book is, woe unto all of us, beautiful, even while it shreds your soul in slo-mo.”
Andrei Codrescu

“I first consciously apprehend how violence can look beautiful when Apocalypse Now came to the big screen—or, rather, I watched this movie feeling horrified, haunted, and in a dream, until I asked the woman beside me what she thought, and she replied, “It’s beautiful.” This would never have come from my mouth before. I had just seen brutality and atrocity; how could I say that those things were beautiful? But of course, they were, or could be made so. Unlike David Shields, I don’t feel called upon to renounce The New York Times for frequently presenting an aestheticized view of our self-defensive follies, imperialist misadventures, and unjust wars. But the images that he has curated and subcategorized until their candy coatings linger uneasily on the palate after we swallowed the rest do raise this question: Whose interest do they serve? When war becomes entertainment and invasion looks fun, who benefits? Shields has done an important thing in making this question so palpable.”
William T. Vollmann

“Shields forces us to experience our complicity in creating the mythology of war. In the process, he exposes how violence and pathos are packaged to elicit what we must admit are pleasurable, even inspiring sensations.”
Douglas Rushkoff