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Spread from Toppled

Toppled by Florian Göttke

Two weeks ago, Foto8’s Guy Lane reviewed Toppled by Florian Göttke. The review is what it is – a description of Göttke’s “(mainly) pictorial study of the destruction, desecration and mutation of many of Iraq’s plentiful statues of its former dictator.”

Lane’s conclusion points to the significance of Göttke’s study:

“Perhaps this might all appear somewhat peripheral, an iconographical diversion from the real business – invasion, subjugation, and expropriation – of Occupation. But from amongst Göttke’s collated written testimonies and reports, it is possible to sense something of the importance that was attached to the Coalition’s iconoclasm. For example, a BBC account of British activities in Basra concluded that ‘the statue of Saddam is in ruins. It is the key target of the whole raid.’ Meanwhile, in Baghdad a US army captain was ordered to delay destroying a statue until a Fox TV crew arrived. Most famously, the Firdous Square episode appears to have been – to a degree – choreographed for the benefit of the foreign media based in the overlooking Palestine Hotel. ‘American and British press officers were indeed actively looking for the opportunity to capture the symbolic action of toppling statues and have the media transmit these to the world,’ writes Göttke. As such, Toppled’s events and pictures correspond tellingly and damningly to the Retort group’s analysis of our ‘new age of war’.”

Would I buy the book? Probably not. The book is a concept. I understand the concept. And, the images are essentially props to the concept (illustrations of the new biographies of statues, of things).

Besides, I can get my fill elsewhere. The best (most ridiculous) image – James Gandolfini meets the Butcher of Baghdad – is on the accompanying Toppled website.


Göttke’s work leaves me wondering how Saddam’s personal photo-album fits in?

Similarly, these images were found and taken during the invasion of Iraq: “On the night of June 18, 2003, the soldiers in the 1-22 Infantry stormed a farm in Tikrit, Iraq, hoping to find a fugitive Saddam Hussein. They didn’t find their target, but they did find a consolation prize: Saddam’s family photo album […] When he returned from Iraq, Lt. Col. Steve Russell, the commander of the 1-22 Infantry, donated the album to the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Ga.” (Source)

This is a reversal, no? Not the effigies of megalomania, but personal snapshots. Not public monstrosities but flimsy two-dimensional depictions. Would these have got pissed on and slapped with sandals? Would they have been torn up/burned up had Lt. Col. Steve Russell not slipped them into his luggage?

Also, to describe the collection (for media publication) as the dictator’s “personal album” is one thing, but to what extent were these Saddam’s photo-memories? Are these really the contents of an album he valued? Are we even glad that Saddam’s images still exist?

One final thought, how do we distinguish between the staging of Saddam’s images to the staging of the images in Göttke’s survey?


On a less-grander scale, Jamal Penjweny is attempting (with his Iraqi subjects) to make sense of the spectre of Saddam. The series is called Saddam is Here. It’s not great photography but I don’t think this type of playful exploration needs to be.

© Jamal Penjweny


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