“Deadly sniper shot through the lens.” That’s the title of a photoblog entry published over on Reuters last week by staff photographer Goran Tomasevic, who’s covering the deadly conflict in Syria. The photo above was accompanied by the text, “A tank fired a couple of shells onto the top of the building and rubble fell down around us.”
The images offer a grim first person view into what it’s like to find oneself in the midst of the fighting. They also sparked debate over the ethics of putting photographers directly in harms way for the purpose of journalism. At least one news outlet is now taking a strong stance: The Sunday Times is reportedly refusing to receive photos from freelancers due to the risks involved.
Editors have always been wary of sending photographers into war zones since the practice began in the early 20th century, but the speed at which the Internet distributes photography is increasing both the danger to photojournalists and the reluctance of the backers. The British Journal of Photography has an interesting look at the costs of conflict photography:
This situation, said [Jon] Jones, had led to a catch-22 in which young photographers are unable to get assignments because magazines and agencies refuse to take responsibility for the risks involved. “I think there’s a reluctance to send people into conflict zones. It doesn’t mean it’s right, but it’s the economic reality.” But that’s nothing new, he added. “When I went to Bosnia [in the 1990s], I didn’t have any support. I went with no money, then went back with £300, then again with £400, and built it up each time. It takes a while. But the initial step was just to go. Today, you get the same answer I was given 20 years ago: ‘Great. I’m not going to assign this to you, but I’d love to see you when you come back.’” And somewhere down the line, after a young photographer has proved his worth, it changes, he explained.
“You basically have to earn the right to get an assignment,” Knight added. “Nobody is going to assign you to a conflict zone right out of college. They want to see what you’ve done and what you are capable of. When I started it was the same. Once you’ve done that enough times, they might give you an assignment,” he told the audience. “When I started, I had to sell my own blood to eat.”
“I had to sell my own blood to eat”… Now that’s dedication to photography.
Photojournalism: The cost of covering conflicts [BJP via APhotoEditor]
Image credit: amc_in_bosnia_mid_1990s by U.S. Army Materiel Command
Here’s a fascinating video in which Italian photographer Ruben Salvadori demonstrates how dishonest many conflict photographs are. Salvadori spent a significant amount of time in East Jerusalem, studying the role photojournalists play in what the world sees. By turning his camera on the photographers themselves, he shows how photojournalists often influence the events they’re supposed to document objectively, and how photographers are often pushed to seek and create drama even in situations that lack it.
You might start looking at conflict photos in the news a lot differently after watching this.
Photojournalist João Silva lost his legs to a land mine in Afghanistan at the end of last year, but — after months of intense rehabilitation — returned to work in July, landing a photo on the front page of the New York Times. On August 2nd, Silva visited the Bronx Documentary Center and gave a talk on his thoughts and experiences.