or

Is the ‘best’ story a war photographer can provide these days – the one that will get the most space – themselves?  Not just any photographer though. They need to be western and preferably English speaking. And not just any story. They need to be kidnapped, shot, sexually abused or blown up. If they want to hit the chat shows they also need to be a survivor.

Think about it.

How many actual proper photography based journalistic stories from Libya can you recall?

Did anybody follow a Dr for 24 hrs, as opposed to just firing off shots randomly in the hospital?  Did anyone hole up with a family for a few days? Did anyone track the journey of a migrant trying to escape, as opposed to just taking a few snaps of them waiting at the docks? They must have done, but I never got to see the pics.  Just lots of pictures of men (better if it’s a boy) firing rockets randomly into the desert and a few charred remains.

Isn’t there something really screwed about the fact that the people in the pictures, what’s happening to them in a conflict, now seems to be of significantly less interest then what happens to the person taking the picture?

It makes a mockery of the already daft concept of ‘objective journalism’. And its dangerous. Because it perpetuates the myth of the heroic war photographer, encourages other young people to go in search of the glamour of the gun and ends with mostly local people getting injured or killed. But for what?

Can anyone seriously argue that there was news value in printing Guy Martin’s Libya photos thirty eight days after he was wounded in Misurata? You can see a few of them here in the News section of the Telegraph. How can a series of photos be published in a News section and not even be dated? It’s inconceivable that they would have been printed as a six page spread if Martin had not been wounded. The message is simple. The photographer is the story.

The Telegraph carries an account of the day Martin was injured:

 

 

On April 20 a group of five photographers, including the Oscar-nominated British photojournalist Tim Hetherington and the Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Chris Hondros, came under fire in the besieged Libyan city of Misurata. They had spent the morning following rebel units as they fought at close quarters to clear Muammar Gaddafi’s forces from their town. That afternoon they were hit by a mortar attack.

 

 

Something is missing and that’s the Libyans who were also hurt in the attack. What happened to their stories?

The stories of the people that the photographers are risking their lives to tell have been written out of the picture.

And what about the medical team who saved Martin’s life? Nothing. The real heroes don’t count.

In some circles more has been made of a Libyan soldier or two groping a photographer than children being killed in Nato bombings. Again, how fucked up is that? How shameful of this scene that celebrates itself above all else.

Often when a war photographer dies the platitudes focus on the idea that they are involved in some selfless act; that in some way they sacrificed themselves for us. If you really want to make a difference in a warzone become a DR, a water and sanitation engineer, or a human rights observer working for the Red Cross. Yes the media are important but its nuts to be applauding people who turn up uninsured, without assignment and place themselves in the heat of a civil war, which is already well covered by the wires, newspapers, TV networks and content provided by Libyans themselves. Its nuts because it encourages others to do the same thing in the hope of making a name for themselves.

In the world of photojournalism to point out these facts is the equivalent of breaking honor amongst thieves.   The feelings of individual photographers, who have been injured, or whose friends have been injured, are seemingly more important than having an honest discussion about the photographers shifting place within the narratives of war.

That’s dumb and its two faced. No-one should point their lens at the world if they’re not prepared to have it pointed back at them.

Why I am writing this now? A few days ago I recieved an email from Sara Terry who runs the Aftermath Grant announcing a new grant of $20000:

We are able to offer this year-long grant to conflict photographers who want to pursue a project about the aftermath in their own lives of covering conflict. The subject can be approached in any way – portraits, landscapes, reportage, collaboration with a family of someone who has been killed, anything that explores the personal aftermath of covering war, whether that be PTSD, the aftermath of sexual assault, the aftermath of being wounded. This is a very open and fluid call for proposals on this subject, and we welcome any and all approaches. We are very interested in supporting a dialogue about this kind of aftermath – both for the photographer who wins the grant, and for the broader audience who we hope will engage with the work when the grant winner’s year is finished.

Like I say, forget the people in the photos. The biggest story is yourself. The more fucked up the better.

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White.We specialize in digital storytelling.

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  • http://www.pinku-enchantedlife.blogspot.com priyanka

    very valid points.

    though am not from the media I have been noticing this trend as well.

  • sam spickett

    Thanks for speaking out Benjamin. Sick of this glorified back slapping. Very important points that you have made, especially regarding Libya.

  • http://westcountrysnapper.blogspot.com Mike

    It’s great to see you speaking about this Benjamin. I think this whole process degrades real journalism. People are missing the real stories, the real lives they say they are trying to help! It seems there are some photographers who are so busy trying to be ‘somewhere’ and ‘someone’ that in the end they aren’t telling the actual stories – be it abroad or in their back yard.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      HI Mike,

      thanks for your comment.

      I don’t actually blame the photographers. Mainly they are are puppets on strings. It’s audiences and the media that put too much on the easy sell story of the photographer in trouble. If I was Guy Martin I would be glad for any space for my pics. Its just a shame the interview in the Telegraph wrote the Libyans out of the story.

  • http://christophersleight.com Chris

    I noticed this during the recent Belfast riots too. When the photographer was shot, it was the lead on the BBC News website. It really jarred. I feel bad for anyone who is shot, but sorry, that’s not the story. But I guess it’s an easy to tell, uncontroversial story with lots of images ready on hand to accompany it.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      I was surprised by that too. The headline made me think that he had been killed. The whole focus of the story shifted. Thats partly rolling news. Whatever happens next is what’s important.

  • http://Nowebsite Rikki Reich

    I have been waiting for someone to say what needed to be said for a long time. My thoughts exactly. Thank you….for opening the flood gates…..you are a wise one.

  • MIkal W. Grass

    Benjamin,

    Excellent commentary. The only time the photographers might become “the story” is when they are wounded and photos are taken of them in the hospital. In a war zone, even though every person has his or her own story, all wounded or dead are really fungible for picture / publishing purposes, except when it is the photographer whose mangled body winds up on the front page of a newspaper.

    The photographer should strive to be invisible, not the focal point of the fighting.

    Again, excellent commentary.

  • http://www.wix.com/bigbuloke/photography-page Jarrod

    I’d been feeling uncomfortable about all the War Photographer stories for while now but I couldn’t put my finger on what was not quite right. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Thanks for posting this one.

  • Alpha Newberry

    Very right to call news organizations out, but Re: Your comment that you don’t actually blame the photographers. Doesn’t come through in the article.

    It’s also not evident from this article how photographers get local people killed. That’s a statement you should back up.

    I for one am glad for the “thieves” as you call them and most frustrated by so many lifestyle photographs and promotional pictures taken to manipulate people into buying things they don’t need or imagining their lives as they are not. What’s the global cost of distraction? And how much are those photographers getting paid?

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Alpha,

      thanks for your comments. You can take what you want from the article. I’m comfortable with that. As I say I don’t blame Guy Martin but I do think its a shame that the Libyans have been written out of the story in The Telegraph.

      Its an unfortunate fact that the local people photographers work with (stringer, drivers, translators, other photographers journalists) tend to be in more danger than the internationals. There’s plenty out there on the web on this, but the obvious recent case is the NYT’s driver in Libya. Its likely that when they were pulled he was shot, whilst they survived.

      Not sure what how much people are getting paid has to do with this post?

      I’m not sure that distraction is the problem? More people are more clued up about what’s going on in the world then at any other time in history.

      Thanks again for your comment

      • Alpha Newberry

        And thanks for your speedy reply. I too think it’s a shame that the Libyans have been written out. Terrible, but I also think your writing is a bit inflammatory. I’ll take your word for the driver and helpers and be glad to have that to think about.

        You are right that getting paid isn’t so relevant. The question I should have asked was, “Who is calling them out?” Clued up to something and acting to make a difference are really two distinct things. How many people see the first two minutes of the news and then switch to American Idol and forget about it? Or how many people read only the first paragraph of any news article and then move on? How much more time do you think the average person spends looking at photographs meant to sell something than at photographs meant to convince them to change the world for the better?

        We take the photographers who sell us things for granted. Why not call them out too? What good do they do? Of course, you don’t blame the war photographers, but for those that do, I say at least the war photographer (even the “cowboy” type) has the excuse of trying to enact change.

        Anyways, thanks again for your reply.

        • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

          ‘A bit inflammatory?’ Fair comment. I didn’t write the post to make friends, I think this needs to be debated. Something is rotten.

          And we are totally on the same page about the importance of these events, just perhaps have different feelings about the need for so many people from the news to be present, especially freelancers.

          Other photography is not the focus of this post. As I say my problem is applauding war photographers as heroes whilst forgetting the people in the pictures.

          Also I am not too concerned with the motivations of the photographers. Like any bunch of humans they vary greatly. I’m concerned with the hyperbole that surrounds what they do.

          • Alpha Newberry

            All fair. I suppose I just want some perspective on photography in general for the people that like to deride war photographers when it suits them. I agree with your criticism of the media, and the business of telling the story of those in difficult conditions should always come first.

            About numbers and freelancers though, if the world should see a picture, does it matter how many people take it? I’m sure you are familiar with the Fabienne Cherisma controversy. Not a war obviously, but until all photographs are free or all agencies/newspapers/networks are in intimate contact with each other, what’s the best way to distribute so much important information? I’m not being rhetorical.

  • http://www.tomwhitephotography.com Tom White

    While I agree that the photographer should not be the story, don’t forget that there are many dedicated, talented, sincere individuals who go and work as photographers and journalists in conflict zones who are not glory seeking. Many times they pitch in and help out, saving lives and working with other professionals there to assist with essential services. There is a problem with the media industry celebrating it’s own heroes and victims and to a certain extent I think that it is important for people to understand what journalists go through to bring them news to our kitchen tables in the morning.

    I was reluctant to read the Bang Bang club for a long time as everyone told me what a great story it was about these war photographers and frankly, I didn’t really care. However, when I did read it a couple of years back I was struck by how incredible a story it was, how lacking in grandiose posturing and how honest it was about the personal shortcomings and failings of these photographers. I came away from that book with a sense of how messed up these guys lives were in part because of the job they had chosen to pursue. Anyone who reads that book and thinks ‘wow, that sounds cool’ should have their head examined. Now, The Bang Bang Club is rare in that this is a story of photographers covering conflict mainly within their own country and immediate region, so there is an obvious personal connection to the story, and perhaps because of that I learned as much about the collapse of apartheid as I did about these individual’s lives.

    The reason I bring up this book as there has recently been a movie made and while I have not seen it, I find it interesting and disturbing that the trailer for that movie plays up to the stereotype of the fast living, hard drinking, sex and drugs and rock and roll image that the ‘war photographer myth’ seems to attract.

    I find it disturbing as most of the really good photographers – and I mean that both in their work and their approach – who have covered conflict that I have met have been humble, sensitive, concerned and sincere individuals. Many have their personal problems, sure and that should not be ignored, but they don’t go out of their way to make themselves the story.

    Often that is a by product. I think of Stanley Greene’s Black Passport book, which was compiled by Teun Van Der Heijden. Van Der Heijden was designing a book of Stanley’s work over many years but through looking at photos, edits and through conversations with Stanley he arrived at the conclusion that the range of work made more sense if it was put into the context of Stanley’s own life and experiences. Now, Stanley Greene has photographed some of the darkest stuff I have ever seen and is really committed to the projects he undertakes – check his work from Chechnya in the book ‘Open Wound’ and his work on the aftermath of hurricane Katrina for example – and I am familiar with a lot of his work. Personally, he is indeed a character and does attract attention. He looks like the myth, if you like. Though he is not a friend, our paths have crossed many times and I have spoken with him on occasion. When I look through Black Passport it is the personal interludes, the story of Stanley in between the projects that I believe in fact lend his work more weight. I actually feel more connected with the people in Chechnya, in Rwanda, in Afghanistan, because I am hearing their stories being told from a personal perspective, and not through what can often be the detached filter of the ‘objective’ report.

    Again, I’d like to state that I agree that it is absolutely not the photographer that is the story, but sometimes understanding their story can help us understand the stories they are trying to tell. The problem, and what we really need to understand is that the job of being a journalist is not adventurous, heroic or glamourous, it is not romantic, it is likely to get you seriously injured and even killed, and it probably makes it hard for you to relate to people who have not been in similar situations. It is not a job you should undertake if you seek personal fame, glory or recognition. It is too important for that. It is frustrating, often it seems pointless, it will make you question yourself, it will put you in difficult and terrible situations, it will lead to accusations of exploitation, predation and of being self centered. However, as long as there is conflict in this world it is a job the I believe needs to be undertaken, and as such and because of what it entails, it should not be undertaken lightly.

    While there should be a support system for journalists who volunteer to cover conflict, I don’t think giving them a grant to ‘pursue a project about the aftermath in their own lives of covering conflict’ is necessarily the best way to go about it, but I applaud Sara Terry for at least attempting to address the issue. The problem with this grant – as is pointed out here – is that it makes the photographer the story and so feeds the myth.

    To any photographer covering any issue I say make the story you are covering personal, yes. Don’t forget that just by being there, you are part of the story. Include your own point of view, sure, but remember that you are there primarily to tell the stories of others or better still, to help them tell their own stories. Use your voice to support theirs, to project theirs forward, not to obscure it.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Tom,

      great comment and I agree with pretty much everything that you write. Although actually some people get a real buzz out of going to warzones. It takes all sorts and the one’s that get something will keep going back.

      My post is really a comment about how the pictures have become so secondary. The journalism is not good enough to hold interest. Its easier to view the story some other way.

      If I was a photographer who had been kidnapped I would probably sell my story. But I would also hope that story didn’t get in the way of the really important ones.

  • http://www.tomwhitephotography.com Tom White

    I think there is a real issue with putting war photographers up on a pedestal. It is as if covering war is the pinnacle achievement of any journalist’s career. It’s the “if you want to get respect, go cover a war” syndrome. And it should stop. Any good journalism should be rewarded and respected, but too often we see people trying to use horrific situations to advance their careers. And I agree totally that we should judge the journalism on it’s merit.

    If you’ll allow me to be darkly flippant for a moment, I can see a comedy sketch on the horizon with an irate section editor looking at those second rate photos and saying “I just don’t think they’re strong enough, where’s the story?” when the picture editor pipes up “Well, the photog did get shot..” – Irate editor beams “Well why didn’t you say so! Brave journalist gives life to tell story! What a hook!….Wait… he did die right?” “No he’s ok, just shot in the buttock while running for cover.” Irate Editor looks crestfallen. “Oh well. Just stick them on page 10 then. Nobody gets that far anyway.”

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Tom you’re sketch is too close to the bone.

  • http://n/a Maggie Steber

    I thought you had some fabulous and very IMPORTANT ideas in your essay when you suggested that photographers follow a doctor for a day or stay with a family for several days in terms of their reporting…..so many pix of mainly men/boys shooting into the air or at each other doesn’t really tell us much beyond that. EXCELLENT SUGGESTIONS for all photographers. m.

  • http://n/a Maggie Steber

    one more thing—-if you think this is bad, read this link to a story by Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland—not only all about her but frankly, dangerous although she has been praised by some readers as being honestly and opening frank…..still, it’s not just photographers who make it all about themselves:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2011/07/01/mac_mcclelland_haiti_essay_it_s_fearless_not_offensive.html

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2011/06/30/why_are_people_most_interested_in_a_story_about_haiti_when_it_s_.html

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Maggie,

      I totally agree.

      I actually think photographers are on the whole very responsible and very caring. There’s been a failure in Libya to really tell the stories of the people on the ground. That probably wouldn’t grate so much if there hadn’t also been so much focus on a small number of photographers and there work. It all just feels very imbalanced. I just wish the work would do the talking.

  • http://n/a Maggie Steber

    And one last thing—-Since DuckRabbit brought up the point that maybe it is WE journalists who should be having these conversations, here is a link to a letter from 36 women who work in Haiti in reaction to another woman journalist’s article that made a Haitian woman’s rape all about herself and is connected to the 2 links posted above.

    maggie steber, photographer

    http://jezebel.com/5817381/female-journalists–researchers-respond-to-haiti-ptsd-article

  • photoman

    Yes. I have been thinking the same thing for some time. The story should be about the story not the photographer. Its so frustrating. I don’t even bother reading articles regarding the photographers. I just don’t care and as you say, it just glorifies the profession and attracts more often inexperienced people going to these places taking risks and endangering not just themselves. This profession seems to becoming more and more about fame and recognition which is disturbing. I would rather someone remembers my work than my name. I blame editors as much as anyone. They seem to be very close to the photographers and find them more interesting than the story itself. Also your point about not seeing other aspects of the war in Libya. I have been thinking the same, why haven’t there been more in depth photo stories of time spent with the rebels, families etc. Maybe they have been produced, I don’t know, and if so the editors have perhaps deemed them not as interesting as the heroic war photographer. Oh well, rant over, good on you for highlighting this issue.

  • Jenny Lynn Walker

    Ben,

    Did it occur to you that the reason that these journalists stories were so readily seized upon is because they add to the horror stories being bandied about re. the latest “big bad wolf” Colonel Gaddafi? I think the reality goes deeper, sadly, than puppets on a string in this war in Libya and the very purpose of journalism – sharing the truth as objectively as possible – is what is being sacrificed. Would wounded journalists or those who have been killed have received the coverage they have if it had been committed by “the rebels” that Nato is backing? I think not… The level of media bias in stories coming out of Libya is quite simply incredible. And this, in itself, is creating not less but more injustice in our world.

    I am deeply saddened by ALL loss of life – especially of dear friends who have gone with pure hearts and pure intentions – and all those who have been used.

    I think your story ideas are good. It is a pity you are not a commissioning editor.

    Jenny

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Jenny,

      I actually don’t really believe in journalistic objectivity. I want to see passion and commitment to telling stories and I want those stories to be authentic and true and I want them to bring audiences closer to what is happening on the ground.

      Honestly, if NATO had killed the journalists I think there would have been more outrage. That just me feeling on the matter.

      I agree about the bias. The rape as a weapon of war story is a clear example.

  • http://www.tobiaskey.co.uk Tobias Key

    I think one of the things that is problematic with war photography is that in a pure photographic sense it’s quite easy. It may be difficult to get into a country and dangerous while you are there, but strong images (or what we imagine to be strong images) are everywhere. Dead bodies, blown up buildings, soldiers firing guns and getting injured all the cliches of war photography are present and correct. If you have the balls to do it, it’s easy to do an OK job, and produce striking images for your portfolio. On the other hand, the UK is going through its biggest economic upheaval since the 30′s, but how do you convey indebtedness visually? How do take an engaging picture of a housing crash? Sounds difficult (unless there’s a riot) it’s much easier to go to Libya.

  • Jenny Lynn Walker

    Hi Ben,

    I also don’t believe in “journalistic objectivity” but that is a million miles from trying to get to the bottom of a story or reporting accurately on a conflict. How is this goal achievable when reporting from one side? Whether siding with “the rebels” in Libya or embedding with the US or UK military in Iraq and Afghanistan? It is simply not possible.

    This comment piece by veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn is unusually instructive, particularly on the matter of media bias relating to Libya. Even the BBC reported the story about mass rape which turned out to be total fiction – fiction contributing to, if not directly resulting in, an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court. Such stories are out of the ball park when it comes to any consideration of objectivity. Propaganda is the word. And spread around the world by countless publications. I have not seen a single apology or retraction for appalling lies that have been circulated:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/patrick-cockburn-dont-believe-everything-you-see-and-read-about-gaddafi-2302830.html

    Thanking the Lord for people like Simon Norfolk.

    Hope to see you in Arles.

    Jenny

  • http://www.andy-sharp.com/blog andy sharp

    Great post and thoughtful comments. We are not the story and need to do everything in our power to go beyond the obvious images that only scratch the surface. Many of the photos coming from conflict zones, at least the ones I’m seeing, are cliche regardless of how much danger the photographer put her/himself in to get the pictures. War zone photography is important, but where are the in-depth picture stories? Maybe I’m missing them, but I don’t think so.

  • VW

    Very good points, Benjamin. Let’s try to answer your question: “How many actual proper photography based journalistic stories from Libya can you recall?”

    Libyan Weaponry – Bryan Denton/NYT – http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/05/03/world/africa/20110504_MISURATA.html

    Let’s make a list.

  • Andyjey

    Same with journalists. There was a flood of young wannabe war reporters to Iraq in 2003. They were then exploited by the nationals who didn’t want to send their own people into danger zones. Remember the story about the kid who was kidnapped. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3562034.stm.

  • colin

    Has anyone totted up the column inches on the photographers killed in Libya – including Tim Hetherington, Chris Hondros and Anton Hammer. How does it add up as a percentage? How much was on screened television reports? I’m not sure there is as much as you imagine.

    I googled Libya for the Guardian and came up with 6,595 results

    I searched for Libya and Photographer and came up with 162 results.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/search?q=libya+photographer&target=guardian

    Many of these relate to random references to ‘stills photographers’. Another refers to a Guardian magazine on photographers in conflict zones, an excellent story where photographers put into words what it means to photograph dreadful things. And even though the photographers are doing the talking, I don’t get the feeling they are putting themselves centre stage.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jun/18/war-photographers-special-report?INTCMP=SRCH

    I don’t think any of the photographers are making themselves the story, I don’t think any of them are putting themselves centre stage and I think that the coverage of photographers in the mainstream media is very much on the fringes and not at the heart of coverage.

    In photographic media and for photographic organisations (including Aftermath) there is a different focus – for obvious reasons.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Colin,

      Thanks for this. I don’t disagree with much of what you write but if you re-read my post I’m not arguing stories about photographers have become the major story of what is going on in Libya. My comment was simply that when one of them gets injured, or kidnapped, that becomes more of a story then their photos.

      No-one need google Libya and Photographer to work out the vast majority of column inches are not going to be about photographers. News rolls. There’s thousands of inches written everyday and the war has been ongoing for several months. If you want to be slightly scientific about it you would need to examine the days in which the photographers were wounded and killed. After that it’s not just the column inches you would need to look at (a single story will only be written about so many times) but where they appear in running orders, and the number of page views. If you did that you’d be aware that, for example, Tim Hetherington’s death led the news agenda on that particular day. Infact just a few days ago a photographer getting shot at a protest in Northern Ireland also was the number one story on the BBC website, despite it being a secondary story, in comparison to the harder to explain troubles themselves.

      You write that ‘Even though the photographers are doing the talking, I don’t get the feeling they are putting themselves centre stage.’

      Colin people don’t appear on a chat show, in a video, or in an interview in a newspaper by accident. Do you really think that the Telegraph would have run Guy Martin’s pictures (over 6 pages) 35 days later if he hadn’t have been injured? Do you think the New Statesman would have done the same, with their photo editor writing that they were running it as a tribute to him? Maybe you didn’t see the video the NYT’s ran about their photographers when they came back, or the article in the NTY’s about Guy Martin and his young war photographers friends that claimed he is now a ‘veteran’? Maybe you didn’t see the article by someone high up at Human Rights Watch, in one of the newspapers, that talked about how they all belonged to a group titled the Vulcher club? Maybe you are unaware of the television news and chat show appearances made by the NYT’s photographers?

      My point is that the experiences of the photographers generate more attention and interest than the photos themselves. I don’t blame the photographers for that, I would have done the same.

  • Lucas Jackson

    Ben,

    I think that you raise some very important points here although I believe this is the heart of the issue here:

    ” Yes the media are important but its nuts to be applauding people who turn up uninsured, without assignment and place themselves in the heat of a civil war, which is already well covered by the wires, newspapers, TV networks and content provided by Libyans themselves. Its nuts because it encourages others to do the same thing in the hope of making a name for themselves.”

    First, I agree with the general thesis of your post that it seems photographing war is a career milestone and if you get injured while on the job it seems to be a massive recognition boost. I also agree that this is an unfortunate reality that has recently really gained steam and gotten a bit out of control.

    Western journalists who are in these situations on assignment are an important part of the journalistic coverage in conflict situations. I have seen from first hand experience that a lot of times the local photographers have a hard time telling more nuanced stories that are away from the front because it’s daily life for them and they feel it uninteresting. I do however think that for these outside journalists it is IMPERATIVE that the safety, security, and financial well being of the local employees (fixers, drivers, etc) they use be a very high priority. This is usually standard operating procedure for large organizations (most of them) and is one of the real shortcomings of freelance/young/spec photographers who decide to work in these regions. It should be their responsibility that if they have insurance for themselves they should have it for the local nationals that they work with while in country.

    That burden could be put on the photographers but in my opinion the majority of the fault in this web of relationships around war photography actually sits on the editors for magazines, newspapers, agencies, and any other company that says “yes” when called by a random photojournalist who says “I am in Libya, I got here on my own and plan on covering X, Y, and Z and wanted to know if you want to buy pictures.” I say that if the company cannot pony up for the flight, insurance for the necessary parties, expenses, and logistical support that they are at fault for anything that happens, not the photographers. If there were no financial support for un-assigned war photographers by cheap or lazy organizations then the problem would sort itself out. The unfortunate reality is that there seems to be no shortage of agencies who will either pony up $200-500 a day, or even more reprehensible, take images on spec and offer the photographer a 50/50 share of resale while offering no support whatsoever.

    I also want to make the distinction here that there are exceptions and someone who moves to a country like Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya and commits themselves to telling long-term stories in the area should be supported because that is a commitment and not an ‘adventure.’ It’s a very fine line though, and the photographers are often only trying to ‘tell the story’ damn the consequences and are most likely not consciously going to become famous or infamous or anything like that. The media’s attraction to stories about these individuals also comes from a place that is most likely not nearly as narcissistic as it seems for a few reasons.

    1: It’s easy to get the victim’s story because they often speak english or some other easily translatable language.

    2: The media can talk to the other invested parties, the family, wife, co-workers, etc because they are easily accessible.

    3: The public has an interest in people that do this for a host of reasons and these stories garner a lot of interest.

    4: If your friend were shot or killed and you were in a position to highlight their story because it could help them wouldn’t you?

    Lastly, I am making all of these arguments about still photographers. TV news is an entirely different and much uglier monster that I cannot even begin to discuss.

    Great post though,

    Lucas

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Lucas,

      thanks for your comment.

      I agree 100% with everything you write. I think it is bang on.

    • Teru Kuwayama

      Lucas, thanks for bringing up the issue of local employees, but I have disagree on one point you make:

      “I do however think that for these outside journalists it is IMPERATIVE that the safety, security, and financial well being of the local employees (fixers, drivers, etc) they use be a very high priority. This is usually standard operating procedure for large organizations (most of them) and is one of the real shortcomings of freelance/young/spec photographers who decide to work in these regions. It should be their responsibility that if they have insurance for themselves they should have it for the local nationals that they work with while in country.”

      Unfortunately, this is not true. It is not the standard operating procedure for large organizations to take responsibility for local employees (fixers, drivers, etc) or to provide insurance for them. A case in point is the New York Times, which specifically carries insurance their foreign/western freelancers, but not for the drivers, fixers, translators, etc who work for them. As long as major news organizations maintain the pretense that it’s too complicated or expensive to treat local employees as equals (or that they do take care of them, but only in secret) it’s unlikely that many freelancers will maintain a higher standard.

      When it comes to responsibility for locally hired employees, and freelancers in general, there simply is no “standard operating procedure” in the news industry.

      • Lucas Jackson

        Teru,

        I have no direct experience with the NYT, and I am well aware of the specific instances that you have mentioned several times, but the NYT is not all large organizations. I know for a fact that Reuters and AP take excellent care of their local employees, up to and including relocating them within the company if security becomes too serious an issue. I cannot speak for anyone else but the bigger organizations tend to take a lot more responsibility than the agencies who take images on spec or single freelance photographers who rarely have the monetary ability to do so. I also know that a number of magazines and newspapers provide insurance for photographers on assignment.

        I do however agree that local employees/contacts are not mentioned enough or given their true credit. I wish everyone who went into situations like this did so with a full understanding of the risk that they not only take upon themselves but the risk they put anyone who helps them into. Is there too much amnesia in regard to locals lost in the name of journalism? Probably. It is a problem and the best we can do at this point is highlight it and hope that things change as time goes on.

        Lucas

  • http://www.theaftermathproject.org Sara Terry

    wow, ben,

    there’s some really impassioned writing here – and i can’t tell you how much i agree with most of it.
    what disappoints me is that you chose to take the aftermath project to task for offering a $20,000 grant to a conflict photographer to cover the aftermath in their own lives of covering conflict, and completely failed to mention some VERY important things:

    1. in the same announcement we offered a $5,000 honorarium to a fixer/translator who wanted to tell their story — noting that the aftermath project’s specific mission is supporting photographers, but that we felt strongly about the fact that fixers stories are almost never told, and took this modest step as way of bringing attention to the story.

    2. for five years now, the aftermath project has supported the telling of the stories that don’t get told, that the media never covers. in fact, we’ve given grants worth more than $200,000 to photographers to cover post-conflict stories that would never see the light of day — and on top of that, we’ve published a book every year of those stories, and distributed more than 500 copies for free to journalism schools, peacebuilding programs, museum curators, every US senator, and more.

    it was only natural to extend a special, one-time grant to a conflict photographer NOT to cover conflict, but to examine an aspect of the aftermath conversation we’ve been promoting for more than five years.

    as i said, many of your comments are spot on. but you’re way off target in the way you characterized the aftermath project. and what’s more disappointing to me, is that i know you know that.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Sara,

      First off this post is not really about the Aftermath grant (which we have written good things about on duckrabbit). Its about a much wider issue.

      That aside I think there is a contradiction at work here. It seems from the grant press release that it is some kind of response to Tim’s death. Well why not fund work that reflected the things he cared about?

      I also don’t get your ‘I know you know that’ comment? If you think that then you are wrong. Maybe you are not aware of how some people might read the press release?

      ‘When Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed, I found myself listening to the conversations and reading the postings that poured out from photographers and colleagues about the incredible sense of loss we all felt, and also about the many costs of covering conflict. It occurred to me that it might be the right time to offer a grant for conflict photographers who wanted to engage in a conversation about aftermath.

      It is a testament to how deeply moved people were by the loss of Tim and Chris that I was able to raise $16,000 in the first 72 hours after I asked a handful of people to support this grant, people who had never even met Tim and Chris. Another $4,000 quickly followed, bringing the total to $20,000.

      And so we are able to offer this year-long grant to conflict photographers who want to pursue a project about the aftermath in their own lives of covering conflict. The subject can be approached in any way – portraits, landscapes, reportage, collaboration with a family of someone who has been killed, anything that explores the personal aftermath of covering war, whether that be PTSD, the aftermath of sexual assault, the aftermath of being wounded. ‘

      What didn’t I get?

  • colin

    “My point is that the experiences of the photographers generate more attention and interest than the photos themselves. I don’t blame the photographers for that, I would have done the same.”

    Maybe you’re right. In the UK though, I have never seen a conflict photographer on a chatshow. Perhaps Don McCullin has swapped double-entendres with Jonathan Ross, or maybe James Nachtwey has had a laugh about Romanian orphanages on Alan Carr, who knows, I don’t watch many chat shows so I probably am wrong.

    Even when Tim Hetherington was killed it was a main news item in the UK, but certainly not the main news item and certainly not even on the front page of most newspapers.

    If you asked British people to name one war photographer, I would guess about 70% would not be able to name one. But I think that if you showed some particular images that something around 70% would recognise them (Nick Ut’s napalm picture and perhaps one or two more).

    Sometimes a news organisation will put them centre stage but ultimately, war photographers are just not that important to most people.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Colin,

      I’m sorry but on Hetherington I don’t think you’re right. By a country mile the BBC news website is the biggest news site in the UK. Tim Hetherington’s death became the lead item, both on the front page of the BBC and on the BBC News website. He was also featured on the front page of a number of broadsheets (it would be rare anyway for all the broadsheets to have the same top story). Orla Guerin reported from outside the hospital he was taken to live on the BBC ten o’clock news which is the biggest provider of international news in the UK. That’s a major story by any standard.

      Whilst your chatshow examples gave me a good laugh we know that they wouldn’t be dealing with Libya, full stop.

      Again I think you need to re-read the post. I make no argument about how important individual war reporters are to people. Your straw poll deals with a separate issue.

      The question, again, is would Guy Martin’s pictures have got so much attention if he hadn’t been blown up? Would the picture Editor of the New Statesman be writing a tribute to him if he hadn’t been blown up? What’s the distinguishing factor between Guy, who no newspaper or magazine was prepared to sponser whilst he was in Libya, and other photographers who were producing deeper work (subjective I know)?

  • Andre Liohn

    Ben, I agree with your reflections and I’m happy that finally someone with a strong voice is taken it into debate. But I think it is unfair to mention Guy as an example that will need to carry alone the weight of this problem.

    I saw how Guy have been working in Libya, and Egypt and he has been doing a great work. If the Telegraph decided to use his pictures only because he was wounded or not is not more than expeculation. Maybe you are right, but that is not his fault. Guy is represented by Panos and they are the ones dealing with the commercialization of this pictures.

    I think that young photographers are seeking inspiration in wrong sources, unfortunately. The market’s obsession about finding “the new ways of telling stories” makes people forget that war journalism is the research of the old human behavior of making war.

    Photographers coming to war zones with Iphones is in my opinion, at least a disrespect to those they photograph. With some dollars, a camera and the illusion of bravery, anyone, today, can realize the dream of becoming a photographer. The question is when will those new photographers understand that they may be realizing a dream, but those they are photographing are experiencing they worst nightmares.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Andre,

      please read the post again. At no point do I attack Guy Martin as an individual or a photographer. I’ve never met him. Good for him for getting his photos published. I am pointing out the reason why, in this instance, his pictures were published. This is not speculation since the Telegraph made it perfectly clear.

      You bring up PANOS. Isn’t it true that they didn’t represent Guy Martin until after he was blown up? They, like all the other media outlets, had no responsibility for Guy when he found himself in the most awful situation, even though they were selling his pictures. This needs to be pointed out, because too many people think they can go to war and make a name for themselves without understanding the potential consequences.

  • http://www.tinaremiz.co.uk Tina Remiz

    Valid point, although, in my opinion, this comes from the fact that every subject has been covered in one way or another, so the only way to make a unique piece of work, when you are surrounded by a dozen of shooters, is focusing on a personal experience.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Yes Tina agreed, but personal experience doesn’t need to be your own, it can be somebody else’s.

      • http://www.tinaremiz.co.uk Tina Remiz

        Can be, although it’s not always possible to document someone’s else experience, as this requires for a deep engagement with the person.
        You can also document the experience of the experience…
        As each person is unique, focusing on your own response to the subject seems to be the easiest way to images that are different from everyone’s else (this is not to say that this is the only way of course)

  • Edward Beck

    Photojournalists have obviously been in the news quite a bit over the last few months. I did find it strange that they often became the story and sometimes the self-promotion bordered on distasteful in light of the suffering of demonstrators in the Middle East. There are some brave photojournalists out there but clearly others have focused on themselves more than the issues.

    It would be interesting to get some comments on this article- an especially the photo gallery- that came out recently. It has an odd photo gallery of photojournalists staring out in somber black & white photos.

    http://nymag.com/news/features/war-photojournalists-2011-5/

  • http://www.eintauchen.net/ Theodor

    Thank you – words that need to be said!

  • http://christophermorrisphotography.com Christopher Morris

    Year after year, decade after decade. Photographers have documented war. Rarely are they in the news, rarely do they become the story. For a generation now they have provided a glimpse into humankind at it’s worse. They have done so at great personal sacrifice, they have set out to do this work for a multitude of personal reasons.
    Armchair photojournalist can sit back and criticize the motives, they can find many faults with the industry, that on rare occasion, speak about men and women who risk everything to document history.
    This is not sports photography, nor fashion photography, not your average form of photojournalism. This is photography that requires the photographer to face the fact that when he leaves for his assignment, there is the chance that the will not come home. With the added stress of knowing that he may be maimed for life.
    How many of you do that when you pack your camera bags to go off to work?
    I say leave them alone. If someone wants to do a story on them, if someone wants to write a book or make a movie about them. Then so bit it.
    Talk to Jaoa Silva, laid up in a hospital. Talk to him about sacrifice. Criticize him with your pompous accusations. Criticize the media that wrote stories about Hetheringon and Chris. You think that is fair, you do the real injustice to them. They bled to death in some foreign shit hole. Doing what they loved. Leave them alone. Admire their pictures and their courage. Stop judging them and the ones that want to write about them.
    Do you think the photographers that put themselves out there on the extreme edge of society. Do it so they can get a write up in the media about themselves. For this… all of you are totally wrong.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Christopher,

      thanks for your comment. I’ve posted it on the blog with a response from Asim Rafriqui (that armchair photojournalist who was awarded the Aftermath Grant in 2009) Here’s an excerpt:

      ‘There is something hideously ironic, if not hypocritical, about self proclaimed journalists asking others not to criticize, not to examine, not to question and not to investigate.

      Morris seems to want us to, despite all the evidence to the contrary, continue to simply accept the myth that war photographers are individual moral crusaders out to act as witnesses to man’s inhumanity to man. Yes, a group of veritable Mother Theresas with zoom lenses, they are the moral conscience of our modernity, bringing back for us documents of history …’

      Full post here: http://www.duckrabbit.info/2011/07/christopher-morris-shut-up-stop-thinking-for-yourself-and-kneel-before-the-almighty-war-photographers-pictures-rafriqui-err-maybe-not-tonight-chris/

  • Olivier Laurent

    I’ve been wondering for several day whether I should comment on this or not, and to what extent. Benjamin, you raise two points in this post: one about the work that has emerged from Libya, and the other on the fact that the community is, maybe, “idolising” war photographers.

    I think these two points should have been addressed in different posts because they will draw very different reactions, and are, in essence, not truly related.

    You are right – the imagery that has come out of Libya has been very disappointing, in my opinion. Of course, there have been some good work (Yuri Kozyrev springs to mind, mainly because he’s able to capture the rawness of war. He’s not the only one, don’t get me wrong, but he’s the most memorable to me). But considering the huge number of photographers that went to Libya, I would have expected a lot more context to emerge about this conflict. I still don’t know who, fundamentally, are these people that dared to risk their lives to oppose Gaddafi. I’d love to know what drives them. I’d also love to know what impact this conflict has had on communities that live away from the front line (especially in the south of the country). Are they even aware of what’s going on? I just don’t know. I think there are so many stories that have gone unreported. Now, who’s fault is it? Is it the media for focusing on the grittiness of war (explosions, guns, power, oil, blood), or the photographers for banding together (I have to say, I do understand why they’d want to travel in groups, though)? Or is it our own fault as viewers and readers?

    I think we could go on and on in an attempt to explain this, but fundamentally, potential insightful stories have not been told so far.

    Now, when it comes to the idolisation of war photographers – I’m not terribly surprised and I don’t think it’s something new. If my memory serves well, when Gerda Taro died covering the Spanish Civil War, she received a state funeral in Paris and a monument was built in her name. Robert Capa’s life and ultimate death sparked the careers of many young photographers who chose to risk their lives to emulate what he had done. Larry Burrows springs to mind as well.

    I’m not comparing the likes of Guy Martin and others to these “giants” but I don’t think the reaction of our communities (photojournalists, journalists, writers, directors, etc.) is unwarranted or even excessive. I think it’s logical considering today’s world – and here, I’m thinking about the fact that we are now all connected to each other via emails, Facebook and Twitter (hell, the majority of us learned of Tim and Chris’s death on Twitter and Facebook). How are we to react to this? As Jean-Francois Leroy said in an interview I had with him (I know, it might not be the smartest thing to do on this blog: quote JFL) but after their death the world of photojournalism stopped for a few days. He’s right. When I logged into Facebook and Twitter, that was the only thing I was reading about – and that was true of Duckrabbit as well.

    But, my point is that there’s nothing new about this. It has always been the case to a degree or another (the life and death of Kevin Carter is another example – this time with both positive and very negative sentiments being expressed).

    Now, are these discussions, this “idolisation” of fallen photographers causing lots of reckeless, young photographers to pack their bags and go unprepared in a war zone? Yes. But is it new? Is there anything we can say or do that will prevent them from going? We might talk to them about the risks (and I’d love to say that all universities do talk to them about that, but we all know that’s not the case). Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should not talk about it. That we shouldn’t express our concerns about the perverted effects our “idolisation” of these fallen photographers can have on young photographers that are just starting out. But I think there is a fine line between having a debate and calling out on these photographers – I’m far more interested in learning why so many big name photographers went to Libya and came back with barely anything that has had a strong visual impact on people (Chris Hondros once told me the same thing about the Iraq war and how there was a lack of defining imagery – many now agree that the most powerful images to emerge from that conflict was shot on mobile phones by the guards of Abu Ghraib – and not by photojournalists).

    So, just to come back to your point (the intense focus on photographers versus the rest of the conflict) – there is one aspect from my [american] journalism education that springs to mind – proximity. A story will have its biggest impact on the persons that are directly affected by it. In this case, as well as in the cases of many photographers, journalists, or even soldiers, the people who died and were injured were our friends and co-workers. Reacting so strongly to the news of their death or injury is, I want to say, only human.

    Now, if these friends and co-workers – the photographers that are now going back to Libya – can bring back some powerful imagery and stories (with as much context as possible) I’ll be happy.

    One last point – one that applies directly to us back at home – I think it’s our duty to help these young photographers assess the risks that they take. We shouldn’t demonise them (who’s to say that one of these photographers won’t be the one that brings sense to this conflict) or discourage them. We should encourage, help and train them. That will truly be more productive.

    Olivier Laurent

    PS: I’m surprised at the number of people who commented “thanks for speaking out, I’ve been thinking the same thing.” Why, in the world, did they have to wait for you to speak out before speaking their own mind? Is it for fear of being politically incorrect? Come on – it’s not helping the debate and is actually hurting it. Next time, I hope they will speak their mind without being “pushed” to do so.

    • http://www.tomwhitephotography.com Tom White

      Amen Olivier – what you wrote here I couldn’t agree with more: “I think it’s our duty to help these young photographers assess the risks that they take. We shouldn’t demonise them (who’s to say that one of these photographers won’t be the one that brings sense to this conflict) or discourage them. We should encourage, help and train them. That will truly be more productive.”

      While I was at college I took a workshop with Ron Haviv, who gave a huge amount of sound advice and important information related to his experience being in some of the most difficult situations a photographer could possibly face. His attitude towards the seriousness of making a decision to go to a place where you could be putting your life at risk was admirable. The problem I think that was raised in Ben’s original post is the feeding of the myth of the heroic war photographer and the fact that some people think this is what they need to do, without being aware of the possible consequences of their actions.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Olivier,

      Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated as ever. Some great points.

      ‘you raise two points in this post: one about the work that has emerged from Libya, and the other on the fact that the community is, maybe, “idolising” war photographers.’

      Actually my main point is that the experience of the war photographer has become of more interest to many audiences than their photos. Maybe if the photos had been better, if photojournalism maintained its importance, then this would have outweighed the personal stories of the photographers.

      As it stands we need to accept that in the digital media, on the whole, a phone video is going to get the most play. That’s what’s new (as you point out). That’s what’s changed the game.

      There is less of a demand and more supply of the kind of war photographey that talented photographers like Guy Martin are offering. So where you might have gone and made your name its now far less likely, unless something really awful happens to you or you get lucky with a shot (luck has always played a major part). Things have shifted. We should acknowledge that and talk about it, not ignore the facts.

      Sincerely Olivier I’m interested to know how anyone in this post has been called out or demonised? Are you referring to Guy Martin, because I don’t buy that. I think its dangerous that some people are of the point of view his photographs should be published but at the same time questions can’t be raised as to why they are being published.

      A responsible teacher will balance encouragement with understanding risk. Better to warn people about cliffs then encourage them to run alongside them.

      Again thanks for your great comment. By the way the reason people don’t say anything is because they fear it will harm their career. I think that’s indicative of the way photojournalism is something you do but don’t dare debate.

  • Steve Grey

    Fantastic article , hits the nail on the head and reflects what I have been saying for decades.
    I must admit I have not the slightest interest when I see some report of joe bloggs ‘war photographer’ getting kidnapped or killed covering some conflict or other, all as I see is some jumped up ego maniac trying to make a name for him/herself in what is in reality – the easiest [although dangerous ] and quickest route to recognition.

    I have spoken to friends in the SF and most of them have expressed the opinion that so many so called journalists covering these conflicts deserve everything they get and that ” I get so ‘pissed ‘ at having to risk my life on rescue missions for arse holes who can’t handle the shit they get themselves into ”
    It’s all about ego and getting your pics on ‘World Press Awards ‘ and all the other self indulgent ego pumping hyperbole back slapping garbage.
    If you cant get dramatic images in a conflict zone . you shouldn’t be carrying a camera !
    How many of these guys could shoot powerful images of a mundane job like a flower show or a sports event ?
    And that old cliche of the concerned photographer desperate to high light the plight of the suffering…….. go get yourself a medical degree or volunteer for over seas charity work…….and do some real good and quit this ‘hero ‘ bullshit, cos nobody but your families gives a toss if you live or die !

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Harsh Steve.

      The truth is lots of people are interested in the personal experiences of war photographers, which is why we get that angle.

      I also don’t recognize the majority of them as ego maniacs. Most of the photogs I work with are lovely people. Sure there are some asseholes but thats the same in any business. Photography is very insecure and I think that accounts for some ways in which they act.

      I agree though some can be totally reckless.

  • Steve Grey

    Duckrabbit,

    Sorry! I guess I’m becoming what I hoped I would never become ….cynical !

    I remember my days at college at Newport on the Doc.Phot. course under David Hurn. There were several wannabee ‘war Photographers ‘ there and there was a feeling amongst myself and other students that all these guys were chasing were their Don McCullin war photographer filter !

    At least Don has proved himself as a versatile and gifted photographer in a very wide field of photography.

    The days when a picture could change anything I feel have ended , people are inured to images of suffering – unfortunately .

    However , your right , I was probably being too harsh ! But my sympathy only lies with the Forces and to a greater degree – the innocent civilians .

  • http://africanlens.com Victor Acquah

    Duckrabbit,

    The first few paragraphs of your post highlights another interesting observation for me – something that I see a lot of. ( And perhaps, the subject of another post). The fact that true stories are missing in a lot of photojournalism reportages today. This is my personal opinion. I am not a photojournalist. I am simply approaching this from an end user perspective.

    Many “stories” I have come across simply lack substance and context, telling me very little. As you say, I would have been interested in the stories of migrants as they hustled out of the country – challenges, support e.t.c Rather, I am used to seeing pictures which depict a typical war zone and thats it.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Victor,

      thanks for your comment.

      I am of the opinion that if photojournalism is to exist in any meaningful way outside of the scene that celebrates itself then more than anything else it needs to listen and engage with audiences. What do most audiences engage with? Beautiful pictures, yes, but more than that, stories.

      Thanks for your comment. And by the way Africa Lens is a great thing.

      Benjamin

  • http://africanlens.com Victor Acquah

    Asim Rafiqui nails it for me with this quote:

    how we can produce works that are something more than voyeurism and sensationalism. that is, how can we produce reportage that informs, educates, and elevates itself to a genuine understanding of the many political, social, human and historical forces that go to make something we can call history.

  • guest

    At last !

    There is nothing to debate here, you spelled out the truth loud and clear!

    Nice to read about the grant, but it is the wrong one! it reads to me the total opposite on what you are trying to convey in your essay! a good example of what photographers should stay away from. No, we do not want to become the story! thank you

  • Christopher Anderson

    Ah, self-righteousness…always so heart warming
    I propose another topic that “needs to be debated”:
    self-serving bloggers who use tragic loss as an opportunity to drive up traffic to their sites by writing unnecessarily inflammatory postings (yes, its possible to address these issues in a much more constructive and less douche-y tone) and passing it off as intelligent debate.
    Here is another suggestion: get off your ass and go do that story about the doctor for 24 hours instead of sniping at others on your blog for not doing it.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Christopher,

      First off I’m sorry you lost a friend, but this post is not about that.

      I think Asim’s response to Christopher Morris is equally fitting here,

      ‘There is something ironic, if not hypocritical, about a self proclaimed journalist asking others not to criticize, not to examine, not to question and not to investigate. Our proclaimed ethics do not seem to apply to us.’

      Thanks for your suggestion about getting off my arse, we could compare CV’s but I think ‘concerned’ photographers who play the ‘what have you ever done card’ demean themselves.

  • Christopher Anderson

    Why don’t you start by rereading my post carefully. I don’t ask anyone to not question or examine or even debate. I do suggest that the way you go about it is self serving and undignified.
    And my suggestion that you actually put your money where you mouth is had nothing to do with comparing cv’s. Just a suggestion that maybe you could contribute something more constructive than nastiness. It might even add weight and credibility to you criticism in the future. And you might get the chance to learn more about what you talk about.
    As an aside, bloggers who play the “you’re demeaning yourself” card every time someone disagrees with them, demean themselves.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Chistopher,

      You seem to be arguing that unless you’ve flipped burgers in MacDonalds then you’re not qualified to comment on the quality of the food.

      Once again I really feel you cheapen any argument when you play the ‘your opinion doesn’t hold weight because you haven’t, been there, seen it, done it’ card. And again I think it demeans you because it suggests you can’t actually engage in the details of what is written, as opposed to throwing about generalizations about ‘nastiness’ and ‘self-righteousness’. Can’t you be a bit more specific about what is actually written?

      If you do want to play the ‘being there’ game then read Andre’s (who was in Misurata) comment on the post. Or maybe he’s not qualified because he hasn’t shot as many wars as you, seen as many dead bodies as you, or been featured in the New Yorker like you?

  • Christopher Anderson

    “Sparks will fly!” That’s what your really selling, isn’t it? Controversy. You must be scoring big with this one. Glad the tragedy of colleagues could be of service.
    You see there is perhaps a worthwhile discussion to be had. One that I imagine Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington would welcome and even participate in. But this here isn’t it. You just start arguments. You’re just whipping the mob into a frenzy and passing out the pitchforks and torches. You create a train wreck so you can attract as many gawkers as possible to come see the carnage. You decry sensationalism by sensationalizing.
    The now-infamous appearance by Jon Stewart on CNN’s Crossfire comes to mind. The two hosts of the show stood in self-righteous indignation at the suggestion that what they do does not contribute to the greater good by seriously debating the issues. But all they really do is add to he deafening noise that divides people into camps.

    You can keep putting arguments in my mouth all you like. If insisting that I am waving my resume in your face helps divert attention from my criticism of what you do, fine. But the reality is that I am not arguing with you. I am just suggesting if you don’t like the fact that all the photographers go to Libya and don’t do stories about a doctor, then why don’t YOU go and do it? That might be something helpful and constructive you could offer. You might even learn something. And it might inform your criticisms. That has nothing to do with saying you are not allowed to discuss a topic or criticize someone unless you have been there.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Christopher,

      Why are you becoming increasingly hysterical about this post?

      If its just rubbish, written to whip up a storm, why even bother to respond?

      Is it asking too much to ask you to address in a meaningful way specifically what is actually written in the post?

      Throwing around accusations of whipping up a mob is just another very silly way at trying to shut down debate. We’ve seen that card played many times at duckrabbit. It doesn’t do you justice.

      You keep coming back to this absurd idea that to criticize the imagers that has come out of Libya you have to have gone there yourself. It’s like saying how dare someone be critical of Transformers 3 unless they’ve actually made a Hollywood blockbuster themselves. Isn’t that just a bit daft?

      This idea that you’ll dismiss someone’s criticisms unless you’ve seen their CV just plays into the stereotype of the arrogant and shallow photographer. I hope you’re neither of those because I admire much of your work. But as it happens Christopher I spent ten years at the BBC in news and then documentaries, working internationally. At duckrabbit we were nominated for the Amnesty awards two years running for projects on conflict so somebody obviously thought we could craft a story. I don’t think though I should have to point these things out to justify having a voice or entering into a conversation. Article 19 of the convention of human rights tells me otherwise.

      I think we reached a situation in Libya where the stories of the photojournalists became of more interest to the editors and readers than the stories of the people in the photographs. That’s a failure.

      I’m sorry you find that so threatening.

  • http://christophermorrisphotography.com Christopher Morris

    Ohhhhh….. no……. another story of a war photographer. For most of your duckrabbit readers, he went there so he could get a write up in the New York Times. Where you can accuse them trying of tying to glamorize War Photographers.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/09/world/europe/09duley.html?ref=global-home

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Christopher,

      My point, and your link is further evidence, is that the media and readers seem to be more interested in the stories around the lives of war photographers, then what is happening to the people in the pictures.

      Lots of Afghani’s bombed by us lose their limbs.

  • http://www.pbase.com/zidar James Mason

    This is the same old whine “news should be what I think is news and not what the reader thinks is news.” Do the readers want a story about some Arab they’ve never heard of who dies fighting in a town they’ve never heard of or do they want to read about a handsome photographer whose pictures they’ve admired in National Geographic? It’s an unfortunate reality that the media consumer decides what’s interesting. So all you Leninists can take a hike. The British answer to this post is “fucking fat yanks don’t know anything about the rest of the world.” Sorry guys, in my world the reader is king. Sure a lot of people with too much time on their hands around here….

    James Mason
    Dutch Harbor, Alaska

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi James,

      Maybe you’ve not been able to place your own foreign stories (did they tell a compelling story?) but I think what you write is simply not true.

      Many years telling stories to very large audiences on the BBC has taught me that they enjoy well told stories, irrespective of the nationality, or fame of the person telling the story.

      Check out some of the winners of best Oscar in the documentary category over the years.

      What the media consumer (of which there are lots of different types) finds interesting is largely down to the skills of the storyteller. So yeah badly told foreign stories will die a death.

      By the way I’ve never voted for a socialist party yet.

  • andrew

    Duckrabbit, you frequently reference your connections to the BBC as if this granted an additional weight of validity to your opinions. But let’s be frank about this, the BBC shoulders as much responsibility for the dumbing down of journalism as, say, Fox News. There’s certainly more complexity and thought in the current work of the two Christophers on this thread than there is in a typical BBC news report or feature.

    If you want to point fingers at a culture of “look at me” journalism, where do you stand on Fergal Keane’s showboatingly lachrymose output from the 90s? He kickstarted a generation of TV journalism that seemed to believe that bogus emotion was a legitimate substitute for straightforward reporting. Or John Simpson crassly bellowing that he was “liberating a city” when he lumbered into Kabul in 2001? Compared to these characters, I’m struggling to think of a single photographer who can compete in the vanity stakes.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Andrew,

      ‘you frequently reference your connections to the BBC as if this granted an additional weight of validity to your opinions. ‘

      Actually I never mentioned them in this post. I put them in the comment for reasons that don’t need explaining to anyone reading Anderson’s comments.

      I think its a bit pointless (and off topic) arguing wether FOX news and the BBC are equally dumbed down. There’s lots of crap on the BBC, as there is anywhere. Sometimes I’m sure I was responsible for producing some of it but if FILE ON 4 isn’t consistently good journalism then I don’t know what is.

      As for more complexity in Christopher’s comment, shall we test that theory?

      Read his first comment. Then read the lead story on the BBC.

      Like I say not much point argueing on this one is there?

  • andrew

    Duckrabbit, you don’t seem to have actually read my post.

    Firstly, I never said that “Fox News and the BBC are equally dumbed down”. I said that the BBC shoulders as much responsibility for the dumbing down of journalism as Fox. By that, I mean that the BBC is genuinely influential, whereas Fox is treated within the industry as an ethical joke – so where Fergal Keane leads, Anderson Cooper follows, and turns the emotionality knob up from ten to eleven.

    Secondly, I referred to the “current work” of Morris and Anderson as having more complexity than a typical BBC broadcast, not the comments of either on this thread. And I really don’t think it’s controversial to suggest that My America or Capitolio is more complex than the output of, say, Ben Brown or Orla Guerin.

    If there’s no point in “arguing” with me on this it’s not down to shortcomings on my part (at least not shortcomings that you’ve identified). It’s bizarre to kickstart a debate and then get petulant when people respond.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Andrew,

      you’re right I misread your post, my mistake.

      If not wanting to get into a debate about wether the BBC has dumbed down journalism as much as FOX (in a post about War Photography) is petulant, then I plead guilty. Or a (to me) pointless debate about wether a photographers work in a book over 3 years has more complexity than news reports turned round in a day, again guilty.

      If you’re serious about making a comparison though you could compare Orla Guerin’s reporting in Misruata against the photos provided by the war photographers present. I think she made more sense of it then many of them did, and I think sadly her skills are more relevant to many audiences, but that’s just an opinion.

      The same can be said of Ben Brown in East Africa at the moment (and he’s a reporter I can’t stand!)

      Again though, and with all the petulance and tantrum throwing I can muster, this is probably a debate for another post.

      • andrew

        “Hi Andrew,
        you’re right I misread your post, my mistake.”

        You might have done well to stop right there.

        “If not wanting to get into a debate about wether the BBC has dumbed down journalism as much as FOX (in a post about War Photography) is petulant, then I plead guilty.”

        The petulance that I referred to was in the tone of your response to me; there’s not a lot of dignity in ordering me to read Christopher M’s initial comment (I had) when you hadn’t actually extended the courtesy of reading my comment. Your connections to the BBC are relevant to the debate because you introduced them. My point is that there is no media high ground, we’re all scuffling around in the gutter, and your position (a position that I’m not even unsympathetic to) would be stronger if you acknowledged this. Given how blurred the boundaries have become in recent years between different media sectors (footage is shown regularly on both Fox News and the BBC that has been recorded by people who identify as being stills photographers) it’s totally artificial to maintain that the debate should be confined to “War Photography”.

        “Or a (to me) pointless debate about wether a photographers work in a book over 3 years has more complexity than news reports turned round in a day, again guilty.”

        Look, the entire life’s output of a BBC presenter like Ben Brown is going to struggle to match the complexity of a single-celled organism, never mind the bodies of work I referenced. It’s not about duration, it’s about intent and vision.

        “If you’re serious about making a comparison though you could compare Orla Guerin’s reporting in Misruata against the photos provided by the war photographers present. I think she made more sense of it then many of them did, and I think sadly her skills are more relevant to many audiences, but that’s just an opinion.”

        Guerin, like other TV reporters, has the luxury of being able to shape her reporting within the wider framework of footage, plus personal observation, plus rumour, plus a smattering of “facts”; photographers can only present what they see. It may well be the case that the scrappy looking coverage from photographers has provided a more accurate portrayal (and made “more sense”) of events than the superficially rounded packages from Guerin. TV doesn’t offer the option of not making “sense” – Guerin’s editors are going to reject a report in which she simply, and possibly honestly, states “I’m confused and I don’t know what’s happening right now”. TV provides neat little vignettes of a chaotic world that might be easy for the audience to digest, but without unduly worrying about veracity.

        “this is probably a debate for another post.”

        Spoken like a broadcaster. Sadly, the complexities of the world (including this discussion) don’t sit easily in neat delineated packages.

        • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

          Hi Andrew,

          as I said in my last comment, I plead guilty.

          Your analysis of Ben Brown gave me a good laugh.

          And I take your point about Guerin. TV news is not the place to go for much more than a reporter yacking at the camera. You’re right, mainly it’s poor.

  • Christopher Anderson

    Duckrabbit,
    I think think you have mistaken me for someone engaging in the debate about war photographers.
    I do appreciate the kind words about my work, really, but this isn’t about me. I haven’t mentioned my credentials (you seem to be fixated on this…i guess if you repeat it enough times it will become true). And I am happy that you have had some success…I do think it is great you have won awards etc, but this is not about your CV either. I never brought it up (you are the only one who seems to feel the need to state and defend your credentials).
    And I am not defending war photographers. The likes of Chris Hondros, Hetherington and Joao Silva dont need me to defend them (there lives and work speak pretty loudly for themselves).

    You see, the point is that I don’t even care about this debate (I guess I just don’t find it surprising that a spike in the number of journalists killed, kidnapped and seriously wounded gets press. I am just not surprised that Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros’ death makes news. After all, Tim was kind of a public figure already. I mean he was just on the red carpet for an Oscar 2 weeks before getting killed. That doesn’t make him more important than the civilians of Misrata, but it is kind of obvious that that might generate a headline or two). But my disinterest doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t debate it or even criticize. Go right ahead. There seem to be a lot of people who are interested in having that conversation. Fine. Nor am I saying that you shouldn’t be allowed to have this debate or criticize unless you have certain credentials. You can have my mother on here debating it for all I care. I’m sure that if I took the time to read some of this conversation, I might even agree with some of the points. I’m sure I might even agree with some of YOUR points.
    I don’t know how I can make it any more plain to you that I don’t have any problem with the debate itself or anyone who engages in it.
    I have just one problem with all of this: the WAY you (and I mean YOU in particular) go about it. You are disingenuous, self righteous and self serving. You are a shallow opportunist. You are knowingly taking a tragedy and turning it into a sideshow for personal gain. You sensationalize. You write a big bold mock headline that quotes Christopher Morris as saying someone should shut up. He said no such thing, he just disagreed with you. You aren’t like Fox news, you are Glen Beck himself.

    You ARE the media, and yet you are criticizing the media for writing sensational stories about war photographers instead of reporting on the real human tragedy. And what is your tactic for carrying out this criticism? By writing more sensational stories about war photographers instead of telling the story of the humans who are suffering in Misrata right now. And somehow this irony is totally lost on you. Somehow you think that puts you on higher moral and intellectual ground.
    The debate is fine. It is being self righteous while using the tragedy of my friends to sell tickets to your blog (and thus to your workshops) that I find nauseating.

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Christopher,

      I’m not convinced when you state ‘I don’t even care about this debate’.

      Clearly you are in an angry space and no wonder having lost a close friend.

      But if I am so evil what does that say about the people who have commented here, of the hundreds (described by you as like Gawkers) who have shared this post and those who have blogged about it? Are they all naive because they can’t see the post for the Glen Beck tirade you know it to be?

      Read back. I didn’t criticise ‘the media for writing sensational stories about war photographers’. I didn’t criticise them for writing about Tim’s death who was not even mentioned. I didn’t criticise photographers for telling their own stories. I didn’t write about ‘sensationalism’.

      I criticised the media for publishing Guy Martins photos because he had been blown up. I criticised the fact that there seems to have been a lack of good photographic journalism coming out of Libya (which of course is a subjective opinion.) I criticised the fact that some audiences and some media are more interested in stories about photographers then the people in the pictures. Why do you feel so threatened by that? Why is that so controversial?

      I don’t feel the need to go to Libya to make a judgement (as if you never judge photographs about places you have never visited). I don’t need to be a photographer to have an opinion about photography.

      You write that I am knowingly taking a personal tragedy and turning it into a sideshow for personal gain. Isn’t that just an attempt by you to dictate what can and can’t be talked about?

      Have you not sold pictures of the dead and the dieing during your career for financial gain? Were those pictures not published in for profit magazines and appear alongside adverts for perfume and cars? Did you not agree to publish pictures of your family recently in the NYT Lens blog for personal gain, selling workshops off the back of them? Did you not notice the ads on the Lens Blog page, selling Forex trading alongside the beautifully taken pictures of your son? Isn’t that all part of the same media machine that we trade in some of the time, because we want to bring the way we think and feel about the world to audiences (and make a living) and now because it has come so close to home you expect the rules to change? It can’t work that way Christopher. For me or for you. This is no criticism, just stating facts.

      There are no tickets on sale for this blog. There’s nothing dark going on here, its as straight forward as it comes. You can’t dictate what people write about by descending to insults. You are just pouring fuel on the fire and ensuring more people come and read the post.

      If people like duckrabbit, then they can come onto a workshop where we will try and challenge the way they might think and at the same time have our own thinking challenged. Nothing cynical about that. And to be honest Christopher it’s our production work that brings people to our workshops, not the fact that someone upset you.

      The sad thing is that the sideshow, has become you getting angry and throwing insults at me. That’s what some people are coming here from twitter to laugh about now, instead of thinking about the importance of people seeing the photographs of conflict that really matter. What’s the point in this argument between me and you? In your insults? Where does it get either of us? It certainly doesn’t seem to make you feel any better and it won’t make a difference to your loss.

      You say the debate is fine, so live with it and the post from which it stemmed.

      I say you have much better things to do in life than get angry about what someone on the internet has written. Let it go. It’s not worth it.

  • Christopher Anderson

    “Who are you trying to convince when you state ‘I don’t even care about this debate’?”

    Noone. I really do find it uninteresting. I am being honest when I say I haven’t read most of it. And none of my posts have been about the debate itself.

    “Clearly you are in angry space and once again condolences for the loss of your friend Tim Hetherington.”

    Not angry. Yes, I am mourn my friend, but that is not what I am calling you out about

    “If I am so evil what does that say about the people who have commented here, of the hundreds (described by you as like Gawkers) who have shared this post and those who have blogged about it? Are they all naive because they can’t see the post for the Glen Beck tirade you know it to be?”

    You’re not evil. You are an opportunist. And now a quite defensive one. But that doesn’t say anything about anyone else. Like I said, I really haven’t read it. And like I said, I am sure there have been many points made that I might agree with. I even agree with some of your points. I just don’t like the WAY you make them. And I imagine Glen Becks viewers don’t see the Glen Beck tirades for what they are either.

    “Read back. I didn’t criticise ‘the media for writing sensational stories about war photographers’. I didn’t criticise them for writing about Tim’s death who was not even mentioned. I didn’t criticise photographers for telling their own stories. I didn’t write about ‘sensationalism’.”

    ok

    “I criticised the media for publishing Guy Martins photos because he had been blown up. I criticised the fact that there seems to have been a lack of good photographic journalism coming out of Libya (which of course is a subjective opinion.) I criticised the fact that some audiences and some media are more interested in stories about photographers then the people in the pictures. Why do you feel so threatened by that? Why is that so controversial?”

    I am not sure why you keep repeating that I am threatened by that. I didnt even say that I disagreed (or agreed) with that. Once again, I am not debating with you about the whether or not you are right or wrong. I am not engaged in the substance or merits of this debate. I am saying that your deliberate attempt to conduct this debate in the most sensational and inflammatory way possible is self serving. And that would normally be fine (well still annoying) except that this time you are using someone’s tragedy to serve yourself. But while we are at it, why are you so threatened by the fact that some magazine published Guy Martins photos?

    “I don’t feel the need to go to Libya to make a judgement (as if you never judge photographs about places you have never visited). I don’t need to be a photographer to have an opinion about photography.”

    Who ever said the opposite anyway?

    “You write that I am knowingly taking a personal tragedy and turning it into a sideshow for personal gain. Isn’t that just an attempt by you to dictate what can and can’t be talked about?”

    Huh? Again, you can talk about anything you like. I just really wish you didn’t have to be so self righteous about it. And I am not even trying to say that you CAN’T be self righteous…mostly just pointing out that you are…and opportunistically sensationalist as well

    “Have you not sold pictures of the dead and the dieing during your career for financial gain? ”

    fair enough, but I do try to stay away from writing misleading and sensationalistic headlines with my pictures like, “Christopher Morris tells people to SHUT UP, wants to quell all criticism!!!!!!”

    “There are no tickets on sale for this blog. There’s nothing dark going on here, its as straight forward as it comes.”

    Tickets is a figure of speech. But otherwise I agree with you. it is as advertised: sparks may fly. maximize the controversy. get more readers.

    “You can’t dictate what people write about by descending to insults.”

    I am still unsure why you think I am trying to dictate anything to you. I am criticizing you.

    “The sad thing is that the sideshow, the freak show has become you getting angry and throwing insults at me. That’s what some people are coming here from twitter to laugh about now, instead of thinking about the importance of people seeing the photographs of conflict that really matter. What’s the point in this argument between me and you? In your insults? Where does it get either of us? It certainly doesn’t seem to make you feel any better and it won’t make a difference to your loss.”

    your pity that I am a freak show is noted and appreciated. I thank you

    • http://www.duckrabbit.info/members/duckrabbit/ duckrabbit

      Hi Chistopher,

      What is any photographer, any journalist but, in part, an opportunist?

      You say you are not engaging in the debate in one breath, and then in the next you’re asking why I feel so threatened by Guy Martin’s pictures, which is engaging in debate.
      I actually commented that if I was a photographer in the same (terrible) situation I would sell my story the same.

      Maybe you forgot you wrote that I should get off my ass and go to Libya, ‘It might even add weight and credibility to you criticism in the future. And you might get the chance to learn more about what you talk about.’ So I’m sorry if I, or anyone else missread that as implying that for the criticism to have weight or value you have to be in Libya taking pictures.

      I think you descended to the same lows you accuse the post of, all it seems now to make the point you didn’t like the tone. Its a fair point. I didn’t think expect everyone would be clapping. Sometimes though I’m sure you’ve created drama in an image to make a point. And I do believe in the point I was making.

      Why did we bother having this argument? What a monumental waste of time.

  • Mike

    Brilliant! I can’t agree with you more, and you have really helped put words to something that’s been bothering me about war photography. I’m writing a research paper along these lines and this really sums up my point. I especially like your bit ” If you really want to make a difference in a warzone become a DR, a water and sanitation engineer, or a human rights observer working for the Red Cross”…AMEN!!! Thanks for posting!