before i even began reading morris’s believing is seeing (observations on the mysteries of photography), i noticed the iconic “hooded man” abu ghraib. i had a brief flashback to sitting in a lecture hall when i was 18, listening to artist daniel heyman, who had done an installation exhibit based upon this photo. i had found it particularly memorable because he had also silkscreened the “hooded man” image on top of various other images, which left an impression on me.
morris’s chapter on the hooded man photographs focus primarily on the identity of the hooded man. media outlets initially believed ali shalal qaissi (also known as “the claw” because he had a disfigured hand) was the man under the hood- he was a detainee at abu ghraib and his story seemed to fit. he was in the right place at the right time, however, he later admitted that he was not the actual “hooded man.” he could have been A hooded man, but not specifically the one photographed.
in reality, a man named abdou hussain saad faleh is the hooded man. morris points out that “it is important to remember that faleh’s existence continues outside the frame of the photograph. he is a real person” (95).
in contrast, what strikes me the most about hayworth’s inclusion of the hooded man in his 2005 installation is the fact that photo of a tortured faleh standing on a box becomes a repeated image. faleh does not exist as a person in this installation. he is, instead, a defining symbol of abu ghraib.
he is not a “real person” in this specific piece. the image becomes obscured. it is forced into becoming an “icon,” just as warhol’s repeated marilyns become “eyes, smile, hair, beauty mark.” the meaning of the actual content is lost, even though it is extremely recognizable. in the case of warhol’s marilyn, all stories related to marilyn, tragic, beautiful, or otherwise, are absent from warhol’s image. the emotion is erased, and in its place is the idea of marilyn monroe. her name. a basic image.
and it is only an image. the abu ghraib image, then, makes the reality of reading the interviews with the detainees and viewing of their drypoint print images all the more harsh. yes, these are drawings, but they are capturing the reality of the people involved. these are the people represented by the single image of one man that hayworth has pushed to the point of almost non-meaning.
it does not matter that these people are not the hooded man. the hooded man becomes a symbol that represents the horror that these people faced.
many of these prints can be viewed here, which explains this in terms of heyman’s silkscreen prints of the hooded man: “By this point, the image has been significantly deadened—flattened and stylized into angry, well-intentioned iconography, the stuff of editorial cartoons and T-shirts. In becoming a symbol, it’s been detached from the gut-wrenching detail of its own origin story.”