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The picture that fooled the world

video clip 464k (download time approx. 3 mins.)

The Broadcast Footage

The original picture was just one clip from a whole sequence of video footage shot by ITN on 5 August 1992. The broadcast film shows journalist Penny Marshall approach a barbed wire fence to find the emaciated figure of the now famous Fikret Alic on the other side.

To film these refugees, Marshall and her cameraman Irvin entered a compound next to the camp area. Inside this small compound were a kind of garage shed, an electricity transformer station and a brick barn. Before the war, horticultural products could be bought there and tractors and construction machinery had been housed in the barn. To protect all this from thieves, the compound area of approximately 500 square metres had been fenced-in with barbed wire a couple of years before. The erection of the barbed wire fence had nothing to do with the refugees, the camp or the war. The poles to which this barbed wire was attached are still standing today, and traces of the wire can be found on the west side of the compound.

When Marshall, Williams and Vulliamy entered the compound next to the camp, the barbed wire was already torn in several places. They did not use the open gate, but entered from the south through a gap in the fence. They approached the fence on the north side, where curious refugees quickly gathered inside the camp, but on the outside of the area fenced-in by barbed wire. It was through the barbed wire fence at this point that the famous shots of Fikret Alic were taken.

The barbed wire in the picture is not around the Bosnian Muslims; it is around the cameraman and the journalists. It formed part of a broken-down barbed wire fence encircling a small compound that was next to Trnopolje camp. The British news team filmed from inside this compound, shooting pictures of the refugees and the camp through the compound fence. In the eyes of many who saw them, the resulting pictures left the false impression that the Bosnian Muslims were caged behind barbed wire.

video clip 223k (download time approx. 1.5 mins.)

The unused footage (too long to reproduce here) shows how cameraman Irvin zoomed through the compound's barbed wire fence from various angles, apparently searching for the most dramatic shot. Most of the refugees in the camp were marked by their experience of the war, but few looked as emaciated as Fikret Alic. Yet he captured the camera's attention.

On her return, Penny Marshall wrote in the Sunday Times that 'Jeremy Irvin, our cameraman, knew he had come away with powerful images from Prijedor, but only when we screened them in our Budapest editing suite did we begin to sense their impact'. (16 August 1992)

Ed Vulliamy summarised this impact in his book, Seasons in Hell: 'With his rib-cage behind the barbed wire of Trnopolje, Fikret Alic had become the symbolic figure of the war, on every magazine cover and television screen in the world.' (p202)

Mike Jeremy, foreign editor of ITN, later called the picture 'one of the key images of the war in former Yugoslavia'. (Independent, 5 August 1993)