Jan 13, 2021

Sight Unseen

As the attacks were unfolding on the Capitol, a steady stream of images poured onto our screens. Photo editor Kainaz Amaria tells us what she was looking for--and seeing--that afternoon. And she runs into a dilemma we've talked about before. In December of 2009, photojournalist Lynsey Addario, in was embedded with a medevac team in Afghanistan. After days of waiting, one night they got the call - a marine was gravely wounded. What happened next happens all the time. But this time it was captured, picture by picture, in excruciating detail. Horrible, difficult, and at times strikingly beautiful, those photos raise some questions: Who should see them, who gets to decide who should see them, and what can pictures like that do, to those of us far away from the horrors of war and those of us who are all too close to it?

Episode Notes:

To hear Kainaz Amaria talk more about the filter, check out: 

this post on ethical questions to consider around the sharing of images of police brutality and her interview on On The Media about the double-standard in many U.S. newsrooms when it comes to posting graphic images. 

Special thanks to Chris Hughes and Helium Records for the use of Shift Part IV from the album Shift

Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.    

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LULU MILLER: I'm Lulu Miller. This is RADIOLAB.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYPING)

LULU MILLER: And today we're going to start with...

KAINAZ AMARIA: Lulu?

LULU MILLER: I'm just recording your furious typing.

(LAUGHTER)

LULU MILLER: ...A very busy photo editor.

KAINAZ AMARIA: My name is Kainaz Amaria, and I am the visuals editor at vox.com.

LULU MILLER: Are you exhausted? Were you up late?

KAINAZ AMARIA: Yeah. I got to say, I'm not very lucid. So I was...

LULU MILLER: I caught her in this kind of bleary moment because the afternoon before, January 6, she had been sitting in her D.C. apartment doing her visuals editor thing, TV on...

KAINAZ AMARIA: We were covering the vote count.

LULU MILLER: ...Watching the live feed of the Senate floor...

KAINAZ AMARIA: And we knew that the protest was happening.

LULU MILLER: ...Keeping an eye on the photos coming in through Twitter....

KAINAZ AMARIA: Crowds getting closer and closer to the Capitol building...

LULU MILLER: Through the wires...

KAINAZ AMARIA: Barriers being torn down.

LULU MILLER: And at some point when she was looking at the TV...

KAINAZ AMARIA: The live feeds shut off. There was just a title slide. Congress is temporarily out of session.

LULU MILLER: As we now know, this was the moment that the people outside the Capitol got in.

KAINAZ AMARIA: Right.

LULU MILLER: And suddenly, Kainaz is staring down this vortex of photos coming in.

KAINAZ AMARIA: Thousands of images.

LULU MILLER: Damn. I mean, is it really? It's, like, thousands?

KAINAZ AMARIA: Yeah.

LULU MILLER: Photos of broken glass, smoke, angry faces - and her job is to start picking the very small fraction of them that will make it to our eyes.

KAINAZ AMARIA: And actually, the first image that really stopped me in my tracks was a pro-Trump supporter with a flag standing on the staircase inside the Capitol, and it's from a really low angle. And there's a look in his face - I'm not sure if he's cross-eyed or there was a flash - but there is a feeling in that photograph of we are here now. I mean, you know, good images show you what's happening. Great images have metaphor and make you feel what's happening and put you in that moment as if you're there, and that was the first photograph I saw that made me feel worried for the people in the building.

LULU MILLER: So she decided to run that one because she thought it gave audiences a clear sense of what was really going on.

KAINAZ AMARIA: But, you know, picture editing is very subjective. You know, there is this element of my own filter.

LULU MILLER: That filter is something Kainaz talks about a lot in her work. She writes and speaks beautifully about how, if you want to see deeper into a photo, you need to think about that filter. Ask yourself, who put this photo in front of me? What do they want me to see?

KAINAZ AMARIA: How am I implicated in what I'm seeing?

LULU MILLER: And she says that that day, her admittedly subjective filter was trying to show the rest of us an accurate range of what was going on and also...

KAINAZ AMARIA: What it feels like to be there.

LULU MILLER: So she said no to tons of photos that were too blurry, too busy...

KAINAZ AMARIA: You know, your eye doesn't have any place to land.

LULU MILLER: ...And yes to this very small handful that she thought captured the feeling.

KAINAZ AMARIA: Men scaling the walls, congressional members taking cover, people looting the Capitol but feeling completely OK with having their picture taken and smiling in a sense of, like, there was no fear of consequences for them.

LULU MILLER: And then this one image came to her attention.

KAINAZ AMARIA: I did have one slight hesitation of the police drawing guns so close to a protester's face.

LULU MILLER: Is this the one that - it's the three policemen. Two of them seem to be pointing the gun just a foot or so away from this guy, his face through a broken window. Is it that one?

KAINAZ AMARIA: Yeah - or less than that. Yeah.

LULU MILLER: Yeah - really close.

And it struck Kainaz in that great-image way. It made her feel.

KAINAZ AMARIA: The closeness of that moment was really strong, and it gave a sense of how dangerous this was. It's a moment captured in time that's just before something, which gives you that sense of tension and fear.

LULU MILLER: And the true sense of, yeah, I guess, like, no one knowing how this is about to go down.

KAINAZ AMARIA: Exactly.

LULU MILLER: But on the other hand...

KAINAZ AMARIA: I mean, what if this was the moment right before that man died?

LULU MILLER: And you didn't know yet?

KAINAZ AMARIA: I did not know yet, but what if the family saw this photograph?

LULU MILLER: Right. And is the moment right before potential unknown, but if a person's living, is that - it's like an ethical call versus a legal call? Like, if the person were dead, that would be something you couldn't do or couldn't do without permission? Is - how do the rules work right there?

KAINAZ AMARIA: Yeah. I mean, this is the thing with ethics, right? There are no rules.

LULU MILLER: Yeah.

KAINAZ AMARIA: There's conversations.

LULU MILLER: Kainaz said she had a lot of conversations about that image with her team, with herself. And eventually...

KAINAZ AMARIA: I felt that his face was sufficiently sort of ambiguous.

LULU MILLER: ...She decided to publish it.

KAINAZ AMARIA: Yeah.

LULU MILLER: Are there images you think just shouldn't be shown, that we shouldn't see?

KAINAZ AMARIA: It depends on the story. It depends on the time. And that's why I think there are no black-and-white lines.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LULU MILLER: Talking with Kainaz made me look at all the images that have been coming in the past few days with new questions, I guess. And it also got me thinking about this piece that Jad did a while ago that is about those lines - that crawls under them, twirls them, throws them in a blender, all toward this question of what is OK to see? And who should really be deciding that? And I'm going to just play it for you now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JAD ABUMRAD: OK. So here's how I got to you.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: OK.

JAD ABUMRAD: I have a former producer and now a good friend, Pat Walters.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Oh, yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: You know Pat.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Yes. We corresponded, and then he came to see me speak in San Francisco.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yes. And it was based on something he saw you talk about, which is why I am now contacting you.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Interesting. OK.

JAD ABUMRAD: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is RADIOLAB. And today, a story about a set of pictures.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Pictures.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah. And a set of questions about those pictures regarding who gets to see the pictures and who gets to decide who gets to see the pictures.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Do we get to see the pictures?

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, that's kind of the question...

ROBERT KRULWICH: (Laughter).

JAD ABUMRAD: ...So I'm not going to answer that yet. But I should say that there are some moments in this story that get a little - what's the word?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Heavy.

JAD ABUMRAD: Heavy, yeah - so be forewarned. But we'll start with the picture-taker.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: My name is Lynsey Addario, and I'm a photojournalist.

JAD ABUMRAD: She's been covering war for the last 15 years.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I've done military embeds, infantry units patrolling, going in house-to-house searches.

JAD ABUMRAD: She's worked in - well, everywhere - Sudan, Libya, Lebanon, Pakistan, a million places. She's been kidnapped twice. She's won a Pulitzer, a MacArthur, and she's been called one of the most influential photographers of the past 25 years.

In any case, this particular story, can you set it up a little bit?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Sure. So in December of 2009...

JAD ABUMRAD: She was taking pictures for Time magazine. She was in Afghanistan, Garmsir district, Helmand Province, stationed at a base in the middle of the desert.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I was embedded with the medevac team. And their role is to go in and pick up injured troops out of the theater of war.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is a small team of, basically, helicopter pilots, medics, doctors.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Basically, whenever there's an injured soldier, these teams are called - whichever team is closest to the injured.

JAD ABUMRAD: We're talking, like, helicopter dropping into...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Oh, yeah. I mean, this is fast.

JAD ABUMRAD: So Lynsey had been embedded with this team for a couple of days, and not much was happening.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: So you're just sitting around reading magazines and then rereading the same magazines.

JAD ABUMRAD: And one night, really late...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: But I think I was lying in bed, and I was totally - like, if I wasn't asleep, I was on the verge of sleep when they - someone ran and was like...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYNSEY ADDARIO: ...There's an alpha.

JAD ABUMRAD: Alpha is like...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Alpha means the most gravely wounded. Like, you have seconds to get there. I mean, it's life or death.

JAD ABUMRAD: So she grabs two cameras, her helmet, body armor, runs out to the Black Hawk.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I strap myself in, and we take off. And I think it was about a two-minute flight, which is so fast. And I remember I was shooting the fields as we flew in because I was trying to focus and see what I can see. Luckily, they had lent me a set of night-vision goggles, which was really nice of the military because you can't see anything without them in the middle of the night because they are using night vision, so they don't ever turn on the lights.

JAD ABUMRAD: So if you were to look through the camera directly, you would see...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Nothing.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Just blackness.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Nothing. So what you do, for a photographer, is you put the night-vision goggles in front of the camera lens so it looks green. It's fluorescent green.

JAD ABUMRAD: Does that mean that the picture you get is green?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Yes.

JAD ABUMRAD: Huh. So they fly for two minutes through the pitch black, land the helicopter - she has no idea where.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: And everything is happening extremely fast. I'm trying to focus as I'm looking out the helicopter door. And suddenly, in my view finder, I see a man sort of wrapped - I think he was wrapped in a blanket. And he gets put right in front of me on the floor of the Black Hawk. The first thing I thought is, I think he's already dead. He seemed completely unresponsive. And he seemed so young. I just remember looking at his face and thinking, God, what are we doing here?

JAD ABUMRAD: Within seconds, they're airborne again, flying back to the field hospital. Lynsey takes pictures on that brief flight back - grainy fluorescent green images of the medics tending to the soldier, checking his vitals.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: We land at the field hospital.

JAD ABUMRAD: They rushed him on a stretcher into the hospital tent.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: And the whole team of medics, Navy nurses, the anesthesiologist - everyone is there. They carry him inside and put him immediately on the table, cut his clothes off. They're cutting his pants off, open up his shirt. And the room starts filling up with everyone because everyone has heard that there's an alpha. And so troops come in from across the base sort of in support.

JAD ABUMRAD: She says within minutes, the room went from just a handful of people - five, six - to a dozen, 20.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: And it's - you can hear a pin drop. I mean, the room is silent except for the doctors. You know, they're trying to resuscitate him. He had lost, I think, eight or nine pints of blood. They're bringing in blood. They're bringing in all sorts of things. And I...

JAD ABUMRAD: Are you shooting this whole time?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Well, yeah, of course. You know, I'm basically trying to be invisible because it's so sensitive to be a photographer in that situation. What I do - I don't shoot like, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. You know, I shoot one frame, and then I put my camera down. And I shoot another frame. Because you can hear the click of the shutter, and it is, like, exponentially louder than normal in a situation like that.

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, did you get - did anyone give you a look of, like...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: So...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Back off or anything like that?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Well, at one point, I was shooting for probably, I don't know, five or six minutes maybe. And an officer walked over to me. And he said, hey, stop photographing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYNSEY ADDARIO: And...

JAD ABUMRAD: Really?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Yeah. And I put the camera down. And I looked at him, and I said, I have permission.

JAD ABUMRAD: She had worked all that out beforehand as part of the conditions of her embed.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: We had had all these conversations. You know, what happens in the case of this? What is my access? What can I do?

JAD ABUMRAD: But at this point, she says, the room was full of people from across the base who didn't know any of that, didn't know who she was, that she had permission. And so she was sort of at this fork in the road.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: There were those, like that officer, who clearly felt...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Put the camera down.

JAD ABUMRAD: Stop.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Obviously, this is not the time to argue or to be disrespectful. So I didn't say anything else. I put the camera down.

JAD ABUMRAD: But she says the moment she did that...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Several other troops said, no, let her shoot. This has to be documented.

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, that's interesting. So you have one guy who says, you can't take a picture of this...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Right.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Almost like, anything but this.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Right.

JAD ABUMRAD: And then another guy is like, no, this especially.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Right, right. First of all, the guy who said no was being protective. It made perfect sense for me. But I think the guys who stood up and said this has to be documented - I think at some point, everyone realized, like, look, this war is not going away. We are losing so many lives and limbs, and no one is seeing it.

JAD ABUMRAD: And keep in mind, this is 2009. This is just the tail end of an 18-year ban where the news media couldn't even photograph military coffins. In any case, the officer let it go. Lynsey continued to take pictures for about another 20 minutes. She took pictures of the doctors cutting open the boy's chest, massaging his heart.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: At some point, I remember someone - one of the doctors looked up and said, does anyone else have any suggestions basically for how to save him? And everyone said no. And they sort of disconnected the - I mean, he died.

People were looking down, and then they were looking at each other. And someone went to go get a flag, an American flag, to drape over his body. I continued photographing. And there was a moment where the whole room was silent and people stood around his body draped with a flag and said a prayer. That, to me, is one of the most powerful images that came out of this whole series.

JAD ABUMRAD: There's this old idea in photography called the decisive moment - that the world is filled with these far-off realities. But every so often, a photograph can capture a moment that, boom, takes you there. This is one of those photos. In the picture, you see all these men and women standing in kind of a loose semicircle. Some of them still have their blue surgical gloves on. They look totally spent. They're all looking in different directions. And they all look like they're not even there, like they're totally lost in their own thoughts.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Their attention is clearly inwards.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I'm sure all those troops were like, God, that could have been me. Why couldn't we save him? What are we doing here in Afghanistan? Is this war worth it? And to read the expressions on their faces. Like, it's even - you can be at war as a journalist, but never actually get to the heart of the war because we don't have access or people don't open up. And I felt like I really had reached a - like, the crux of the war.

JAD ABUMRAD: Interesting.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: It was war.

JAD ABUMRAD: You'd see an essence of something.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: But then came a problem. Any photos that she had taken that included that soldier's face or any other identifying marks, like tattoos - and he did have tattoos - according to the rules of her embed, she couldn't use those photos without the soldier's permission.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Right.

JAD ABUMRAD: And you never got to speak to him?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: No.

JAD ABUMRAD: So was it days later, weeks later, months later, where you began to ask yourself, can I...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: No...

JAD ABUMRAD: Who do I talk to?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: ...It was minutes later.

JAD ABUMRAD: Minutes later.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I mean, it's - the military does not let a journalist cover something like this without coming directly to that person. And so literally, like, I followed the young man's body out to the morgue. And they had to walk him outside. And I remember it was - the moon was so bright that night. And I was shooting with the moonlight as he was being carried outside. And then I went back to the tent where I was staying. And within minutes, the military PAO, the Marines' public affairs officers, came and said, you know you can't send those images out without permission from the next of kin.

JAD ABUMRAD: That's the rule. If a soldier is unconscious and then dies before giving permission...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I have to then go to the next of kin. And I said, of course, I understand. You know, I'm not doing anything with those photos in that moment. I signed this piece of paper. When I give my word, I keep that word, you know?

JAD ABUMRAD: Sure.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: But then the other side of me was like, fuck, you know? In Vietnam, no one was signing pieces of paper. And in Vietnam, no one had to go to the next of kin before they published anything. And that's why the American public, I think, rose up against the war in Vietnam because they saw the most graphic, devastating images that were uncensored.

JAD ABUMRAD: So then what do you do in that circumstance? I mean, I imagine you go to the next of kin, right?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Well, you're not allowed as a journalist to reach out to the next of kin. They asked me, are you interested in being contacted by the next of kin, if they're willing to speak to you?

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, so you can't even actually call?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: No, no. They will not give you the information.

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: But I said, you know, of course I would like to be contacted by the next of kin, and please pass my information on. And I was sort of just waiting.

JAD ABUMRAD: I mean, at this point, were you thinking the pictures would ever see the light of day?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I had no idea. And...

JAD ABUMRAD: A few days later...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: ...Maybe less than a week.

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Her embed was over. She was flying to JFK on her way to meet her family for Christmas.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: And I had voicemails on my telephone.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LYNSEY ADDARIO: And I listened. And it was his father.

And he left me a voicemail. And he said, I understand you were with my son when he died, and I would like to talk to you. And this is my phone number.

JAD ABUMRAD: Wow.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I sort of choked up just listening to his voice, anticipating how difficult that phone call would be.

JAD ABUMRAD: That phone call and all the fallout is coming up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: Hey. I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is RADIOLAB. So Lynsey Addario, the photographer, has these photos, these intense photos of a soldier dying, but she can't use them without getting permission from the next of kin.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Right.

JAD ABUMRAD: A few days later...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I had voicemails on my telephone. And I listened, and it was his father.

JAD ABUMRAD: His father's name is Todd Taylor. His son's name was Jonathan Taylor. And just to jump ahead for a second, as we were talking about the phone call and the fallout from that phone call, I had all of these questions about what Todd Taylor was thinking, questions about his son - things that Lynsey couldn't possibly answer. So at a certain point in the interview, she just told me...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I don't know. I mean, you could maybe interview him.

JAD ABUMRAD: Do you think he would? I mean, is that...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Well...

JAD ABUMRAD: Is there any prohibition on me talking to him?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Well, I'd be happy to give you his information.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, I'd be - I'd love to talk to him.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Yeah. I mean, you can try.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: Lynsey put us in touch, and I'll just tell you about the visit for a second. Todd Taylor was willing to talk. He had two conditions.

Two, right.

One was like, if I'm doing a story about these photos of his son, I should at least get to know his son a little bit. And the second was that I come down to Florida to meet him and his family personally.

COMPUTERIZED VOICE: The destination is on your left.

JAD ABUMRAD: All right.

So I did.

Hey.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

TODD TAYLOR: Good morning.

JAD ABUMRAD: Good morning. How are you?

TODD TAYLOR: Doing good. Doing good.

JAD ABUMRAD: Good to meet you.

TODD TAYLOR: Did you have a...

JAD ABUMRAD: The Taylor family live in a section of Jacksonville that's near a naval base, so there are a lot of military families there.

TODD TAYLOR: Come on in, meet all the doggies.

JAD ABUMRAD: Todd is actually ex-Navy himself.

No, no, no. No jumping.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG WHINING)

JAD ABUMRAD: He introduced me to his three giant boxers. No jumping.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG WHINING)

JAD ABUMRAD: Or they sort of introduced themselves. And then...

TODD TAYLOR: This is my daughter.

LAUREN TAYLOR: Hi. Nice to meet you.

JAD ABUMRAD: Good to meet you.

TODD TAYLOR: My youngest, that's Lauren. Yep, Jad.

LAUREN TAYLOR: I'm the youngest, yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: Met his daughters.

LAUREN TAYLOR: I am Lauren Taylor. I am 16, going on 17.

SUE TAYLOR: Oh, God. You had to add that in.

(LAUGHTER)

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: My name's Mackenzie Taylor. I am Jonathan's other sister, and I'm 20 years old.

JAD ABUMRAD: That little voice you heard in the background is Easton (ph). He's about 2.

TODD TAYLOR: That's one of the babies she watches. Hey, handsome.

JAD ABUMRAD: Mackenzie works as a nanny.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY COOING)

PAIGE LARSON: My name's Paige Larson. I'm Jonathan's stepsister, and I'm 21.

SUE TAYLOR: My name's Sue Taylor, and I'm Jonathan's stepmom.

JAD ABUMRAD: And then, of course...

TODD TAYLOR: I'm Todd Taylor. I'm Jonathan's dad. We're here in my house in Jacksonville, Fla. And today is Jonathan's birthday. It's April 8.

JAD ABUMRAD: 2015 - so he would have been how old today?

TODD TAYLOR: Twenty-eight years old today - 28.

JAD ABUMRAD: When I got there, they pulled out photo albums of Jonathan. We all sat at the kitchen table and looked at pictures.

TODD TAYLOR: Right there.

JAD ABUMRAD: Pictures of him as a baby.

TODD TAYLOR: Of course, that was very young.

JAD ABUMRAD: Toddler.

TODD TAYLOR: This was on the Disney cruise I took them on.

JAD ABUMRAD: Adolescent.

TODD TAYLOR: Kennedy Space Center.

JAD ABUMRAD: Teenager - see him running track.

TODD TAYLOR: He liked cross-country.

JAD ABUMRAD: Going to prom.

TODD TAYLOR: That was Jonathan's girlfriend.

JAD ABUMRAD: The thing you notice immediately in all the pictures...

TODD TAYLOR: He had big blue eyes.

JAD ABUMRAD: He's got these eyes that are not just blue - they're really blue, like if you boosted the brightness in Photoshop or something.

SUE TAYLOR: Yeah, that's - I forgot. I think we're on vacation here. But...

JAD ABUMRAD: The other thing you notice...

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: His facial expressions are really funny in some of these.

TODD TAYLOR: Yeah, he was a big class clown.

JAD ABUMRAD: A lot of goofy faces.

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: Very goofy.

SUE TAYLOR: Oh, big goof-off.

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: Yeah. Goofball, yeah. Definitely knew how to make anybody laugh.

TODD TAYLOR: Full of energy, always into stuff. He kept the boys away, too (laughter).

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: Definitely. Most definitely. He made sure if I had boyfriends, he'd call them just to see what grades they had.

JAD ABUMRAD: Really? He would check on their grades?

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: Yeah, kind of give them a little interview.

LAUREN TAYLOR: I do remember he was very protective. If I had a crush, he'd be like, oh, no, you're not going to have a crush. No, no boys.

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: There was one time before he left for Afghanistan I got really sick with a fever, and I remember him holding my hand just so he can make sure that I was OK and took care of me.

JAD ABUMRAD: They told me story after story about how he doted on his sisters, how he loved to read and wanted to become a history teacher after his four years in the Marines. And inevitably, the conversation turned to the day that they found out he died - December 1, 2009. They get a call from Jonathan's mom saying - it's that classic scene - oh, my God, there are two Marines at the door.

SUE TAYLOR: And we just kind of, like, left everything.

JAD ABUMRAD: Sue, Todd, the girls jump in the car, race over.

SUE TAYLOR: They all wanted to get out. And we're like, no, because we didn't really know what was going to happen.

TODD TAYLOR: Yeah.

SUE TAYLOR: So we made all the girls stay in the car.

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: And I remember walking in the door, and everyone just had this look on their face like the world had just ended. And (crying) I remember asking what happened when my mom had told me he was gone. The first thing I did was run to his room because everything was the same before he had left. I remember opening his closet and grabbing one of his shirts and just holding onto it because it still had his scent on it. That night was really hard.

JAD ABUMRAD: One thing that had never occurred to me - totally caught me off guard in thinking about those pictures - is that when those Marines came to the door and told them the news, well, they didn't actually give much news.

TODD TAYLOR: This right here was one them. This is what was read.

JAD ABUMRAD: Todd actually read me the circumstances-of-death statement.

TODD TAYLOR: Hostile action result of multiple traumatic injuries received as a member of a dismounted patrol that was struck by an IED while conducting combat operations in the Helmand Province. That was it - on patrol, night patrol. That's all I had.

JAD ABUMRAD: So you didn't know anything?

TODD TAYLOR: That's it.

JAD ABUMRAD: Jonathan's unit was still in Afghanistan, so he couldn't talk to anyone. He had no clue what happened to his son. So when that casualty assistance officer told him, actually, there was a photographer in the room with your son when he died...

TODD TAYLOR: Automatically, I was like - I wanted to call her.

JAD ABUMRAD: Earlier in my conversation with Lynsey, I'd asked her.

What do you remember of the call?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: So the call - I went to my mother's house in Connecticut, and I asked my mother to be left alone, which in a big Italian American family means...

(LAUGHTER)

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Does not happen very often.

JAD ABUMRAD: It's not a small request.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: No. She sort of looked at me like, what? And I went up into the guest bedroom, and I called him. And he picked up. I think he thanked me for calling him. I don't remember exactly what we said, but I said, you know, I was with your son when he died, and I will give you as much or as little information as you want. And he said, I want to know everything.

TODD TAYLOR: Because I wasn't there. I was here.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: He said, I want to know every single thing. I want to be with my son.

TODD TAYLOR: Just to lose him and not be there for him - that was hard, really hard.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: And I felt sort of very awkward because I felt like, you know, why was I privy to this moment, and he as the father could not be privy?

TODD TAYLOR: The most important question to me was, did he suffer? Do you think that he suffered?

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I said no.

TODD TAYLOR: She told me, Mr. Taylor, I don't think he suffered. I think he was in shock.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I told him everything - how much blood his son lost, how long did they try to save him. And at some point, I said, look; I have these pictures. I have all of these pictures. I shot everything. And I need your permission to publish the ones that show his face.

TODD TAYLOR: Oh, yeah. She asked me for my permission. And...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: He was quiet.

TODD TAYLOR: I said - I told her yes. But...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: But he said I - can I see them?

TODD TAYLOR: ...I wanted to see them first.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Before I give permission, I want to see every photo. And I said, you know, I'm not sure you want to see these photos because they're graphic. But he wanted to see the - he wanted to see every photo.

JAD ABUMRAD: All of them?

TODD TAYLOR: Yeah.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Course, we were on the phone. I couldn't show them pictures. And legally, I needed permission from Time magazine to show them anything because, you know, as a journalist, you can't show anything to anyone until it's published. You don't show people pictures of journalism before you publish them.

JAD ABUMRAD: This is one of those cardinal rules that's drilled into every journalist's head. If you show a subject the raw stuff before it's out there, you're kind of giving up the only independence you've got. That's why she says, ordinarily...

LYNSEY ADDARIO: I would never, ever, ever show.

JAD ABUMRAD: Just to play it out for a second, if he - to be cynical about it, if you show him the pictures, he might take away permission that he might have otherwise give you.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Yes, exactly. Exactly. You can say as a publication, no, I won't show you those pictures before. You have to just say yes or no, do you give your permission?

JAD ABUMRAD: Like, in a way, if you get down to it, I feel like one of the fundamental layers here is just, like, a question of whose rights, when it comes to that information, is more important?

ROBERT KRULWICH: I could hear an argument that says the battle is important. It was authorized by public figures. It is carrying America's message into the world. And shouldn't Americans see what goes on?

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah, but I could hear an argument that says, shouldn't a dad be able to protect who sees his son in that situation?

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yeah.

JAD ABUMRAD: In any case, Lynsey called her editors at Time. They had a series of conversations that went all the way up to the editor of Time.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: We had a very intense conversation, and we collectively made a decision to show him the photos.

JAD ABUMRAD: To say that decision was unusual from their perspective would be severely understating it.

TODD TAYLOR: When I first got these from FedEx, I knew they were coming, and I was actually scared to look at them. And I saw my son there, and I just kept looking and looking. You can see these were the - in the medevac when they got him on. You can see the night-vision lens. There's Jonathan's body, chest. There's his face. There's the oxygen - still had his watch still. See his eyes closed there? That was...

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah.

TODD TAYLOR: So many hands in there working. You can see they're doing CPR there. Now, here you see - right leg is really mangled and broken. That's really why he lost so much blood. It was all right in here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Some of these pictures are...

TODD TAYLOR: Oh, there's some of them that are...

JAD ABUMRAD: ...Really hard to see.

TODD TAYLOR: Yeah. But even though they show the ugliness of war, I've got a piece of Jonathan. This is my treasure.

I'll show you one of the pictures that - to me, it's - it always stands out.

JAD ABUMRAD: He brought up the picture of the prayer - all those people standing in a semicircle with faraway eyes.

TODD TAYLOR: Right here. You can just see a little different in their faces here. I mean, he meant something. He was somebody.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah.

TODD TAYLOR: He wasn't just a number.

JAD ABUMRAD: Todd said he wanted people to see this picture and the others.

TODD TAYLOR: To convey what's happening over there - this is going on every day.

JAD ABUMRAD: And he says, for him, it's not a political thing. You can feel however you want to feel about the wars we're in. For him, it's about people seeing what is actually happening.

TODD TAYLOR: I mean, I wanted to let people see the sacrifice that these boys do.

JAD ABUMRAD: It took Todd and his family over a month to decide what to do about those pictures, whether to grant Time permission to run the photos or not. He says, ultimately, he called Jonathan's mother over.

TODD TAYLOR: Her and her husband and my wife and I, we all discussed it.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: And ultimately, he said no. And it was a lot of back-and-forth.

JAD ABUMRAD: He said no to showing any pictures at all.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Well, he can't say no to any pictures because those...

JAD ABUMRAD: Oh, because there was pictures without the face.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: Yeah, exactly. He said no to any pictures with the face or identifying marks.

TODD TAYLOR: We decided really that we didn't want these pictures to get out for fear that his sisters - somehow they would get back to them. And that was the big thing. I didn't want them to be able to see this yet. As their dad, I want to protect them from seeing certain things. So we decided not to do it.

JAD ABUMRAD: Time had planned to run a whole photo spread on the medevac team trying to save Jonathan Taylor's life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: But since they now couldn't use most of those photos, they had to make the photo spread more general.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: What had been the - basically the death of a soldier ultimately became a photo essay on the medevac team. And those pictures were maybe two pictures or three pictures in that spread, but they were not the focus.

JAD ABUMRAD: The prayer photo is in the news spread because in that photo, you can't see his body because it's covered with the flag. There are no identifying marks. But somehow in that context, it's not got the same impact, weirdly.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Because you're seeing the after without the before?

JAD ABUMRAD: Exactly. And, you know...

TODD TAYLOR: Let's see here.

JAD ABUMRAD: Todd showed me the original photo spread because they had sent that to him.

TODD TAYLOR: You know?

JAD ABUMRAD: Again, super unusual.

So this is the - this is the feature they wanted to do.

TODD TAYLOR: Yeah. And see, the pictures are so much more clear. This is kind of the layout that it's going to be. They call it 29 Minutes, graphing it out...

JAD ABUMRAD: Minute by minute.

TODD TAYLOR: ...This whole process.

JAD ABUMRAD: So there you see all the before pictures that lead up to the prayer. And what it seemed to me is like if you don't see all that stuff, the wounds and the blood and the tenderness as they tried to comfort him and then the emptiness they feel when they couldn't save him - like, if you don't see all that, you're not really standing with them in that prayer at the end. You're still seeing them across a space.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Yeah, that's interesting.

JAD ABUMRAD: In the original spread, you are there in that room.

TODD TAYLOR: And they did a - they did a great job, you know?

JAD ABUMRAD: It's really powerful. And I couldn't help but think that, like, maybe this would have created that conversation that Lynsey talked about just a tiny bit and, like, how weird that I'm one of the only people to see it. And to know that, like, I - the only reason I can describe it to you is 'cause I'm on the radio.

LYNSEY ADDARIO: You know, I will always feel like journalistically we sacrifice - you know, we did not tell the story as powerfully as we could have. But we had integrity, and I feel like we treated everyone with respect, and we kept our word.

JAD ABUMRAD: Lynsey and Todd now stay in touch over email once or twice a year. And in terms of keeping your word, Todd has made a deal with his daughters that they can see the pictures when they turn 21. But interestingly, the three of them don't agree as to whether they want to. Paige and Mackenzie, who are about to turn 21, say they don't want to see the pictures.

PAIGE LARSON: I just couldn't handle it.

JAD ABUMRAD: Yeah. Do you feel the same way?

MACKENZIE TAYLOR: Yeah, I think for me, I just don't want to see him in pain, you know?

JAD ABUMRAD: That's Mackenzie.

PAIGE LARSON: Yeah. My thing is, I just don't want to see it because I'd rather just remember him in one piece how he was. I'm just too sensitive.

JAD ABUMRAD: That's Paige. Now, Lauren, the youngest...

LAUREN TAYLOR: For me...

JAD ABUMRAD: She says she needs to see those pictures.

LAUREN TAYLOR: Because I want to know what he went through. And I like constantly knowing things. And I don't like things being kept from me. And I just want to - I guess I just want a visual of...

JAD ABUMRAD: It sounds like a...

She says she knows he's gone, but she still somehow needs proof - not that it happened, she knows it happened - but so it feels real.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JAD ABUMRAD: OK. So big thanks to Pat Walters, Kira Pollack, the Taylor family, and, of course, Lynsey Addario. She has a book out now called "It's What I Do," which is sort of a memoir about her war photography and how it's changed her life. And that book is filled with her photography.

ROBERT KRULWICH: Anything like the ones we didn't see?

JAD ABUMRAD: Well, there's some amazing pictures in there, but nothing like these ones. So, yeah, that's it. I'm Jad Abumrad.

ROBERT KRULWICH: I'm Robert Krulwich.

JAD ABUMRAD: Thanks for listening.

LULU MILLER: And Lulu here again. Big, big, big thanks to Kainaz Amaria for making time for me during a really busy moment. To find out what she's up to, you can follow her on Twitter. And I highly recommend you listen to her interview on "On The Media," where she talks about a really troubling double standard in a lot of U.S. newsrooms. Big, big thanks to her. That's it. Goodbye. Thank you for listening.

CAROLINE: Hi, it's Caroline (ph) from Nashville, Tenn. RADIOLAB was created by Jad Abumrad and is edited by Soren Wheeler. Lulu Miller and Latif Nasser are our co-hosts. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Jeremy Bloom, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Matt Kielty, Tobin Low, Annie McEwen, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters and Molly Webster with help from Shima Oliaee, Sarah Sandbach and Jonny Moens. Our fact-checker is Michelle Harris.

 

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