James Nachtwey, founder member of VII Photo Agency.
On the 5th of Apil 2010 Wikileaks released a classified video that showed ‘two Reuters staff members (a photojournalist and driver), and many other civilians, shot and killed in a public square in Eastern Baghdad. The group were apparently assumed to be insurgents. After the initial shooting the video shows an unarmed group of adults and children in a minivan arrive on the scene and attempt to transport the wounded. They are fired upon as well.’ (text from Wikileaks)
Most of you probably won’t remember the name of the photojournalist. It was Namir Noor-Eldeen. Remember that name.
An American Apache helicopter was used to carry out the attack (more on that later).
This week the highly respected VII photo agency (who specialize in conflict photography) were in the UK for their AGM and to hold a series of events at London’s Frontline club. During that time Stephen Mayes, the CEO of VII has given a series of interviews. According to Mayes the photographers in the agency have been selected for having the ‘highest standards of journalistic and documentary integrity’ and that the mission of VII is to ‘ to use photography for positive change.‘
It’s a thought echoed by many of the renowned photojournalists who are owner members of the agency. In a interview for the Guardian Marcus Bleasdale, said : ‘”the reason I take pictures is because I get angry about things that are happening. And I want them to change. ”
VII photo agency make much of their work in the field of human rights. In 2009 they partnered with the Red Cross to produce an exhibition that traveled to forty countries examining the impact of war on civilians.
This is how the then deputy Director of communications at the ICRC wrote up the project:
ICRC and the photographers Ron Haviv, Antonin Kratochvil, Christopher Morris, James Nachtwey and Franco Pagetti unite in this exhibition to bring individual stories of loss and suffering in war to the forefront of the world’s attention …
Ultimately, the exhibition aims to inspire people to act on behalf of victims of war.
As James Nachtwey explains: “Whatever else one might see or feel when looking at a picture of human suffering — outrage, sadness, disbelief — I think an essential reaction is a sense of compassion. Compassion humanizes issues, helps us identify with others and requires us to correct that which is unacceptable.”
Like bombs, right?
During VII’s time at the Frontline Club Paul Lowe , who heads up the excellent MA in photojournalism at LCC (on which I’ve occasionally taught) hosted a panel that included one of VII’s founders Ron Haviv. Paul ‘asked the panel whether research prior to shooting a project was important. All agreed that it was essential, with Haviv asserting that the journalism aspect of photojournalism is often ignored, but that in fact it is essential:
“the more knowledge we have of what we’re photographing the better”
He’s spot on. So here are some things Ron Haviv and the management of VII should know about the arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
According to figures in the Guardian in 2010 Lockheed Martin were the biggest seller of arms in the world, with sales exceeding $35 billion. They are the biggest supplier of arms to Israel. Their tanks, missiles and fighter planes were used in Israel’s 2008-09 assault on Gaza, in which in excess of 1400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis (including 10 soldiers) were killed. Their weapons are also used extensively by the US army.
This poster is found here on Ron Haviv’s website. Haviv is one of photojournalim’s greats and is a founder and owner of VII. The caption to the poster reads Lockheed Martin (c) Ron Haviv, VII.
Maybe the good people at BAGNEWSNOTES can have a go at analyzing it. Personally though I just find it sick.
The text on the poster reads:
“It’s PNAV (precision navigation). A key feature of Lockheed Martin’s Small Diameter Bomb. Providing corrected GPS coordinate so weapons can strike targets with twice the accuracy of traditional GPS. With its data link, PNAV can give Smaller Diameter Bombs and other strike weapons the all-weather ability to hit moving targets and also provide warfighters an ability to monitor weapons after launch. Small Diameter Bomb. PNAV. Proven technology. Only from Lockheed Martin -the low risk solution for the U.S Air force.’
Lockheed Martin are very good at talking up their weapons. This comes from a press release about their technology that is employed in helicopters.
“Attack helicopter (apache) missions require extraordinary targeting and navigation capability as well as reliability to meet their defining moments. We will continue to work diligently to help Army Aviation be successful in its mission to get into the battle area, find, target and defeat hostile forces and return safely.” From a press release by arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
The problem is that sometimes their weapons don’t just kill hostile forces. Sometimes they kill civilians. And sometimes they are talented young photojournalists like Namir Noor-Eldeen. Shot down in Iraq by an US Apache helicopter almost certainly using Lockheed Martin technology. A company Haviv appears to be so proud to work for their poster is on his website, having been made downloadable so you can print it out and pin it up on your wall. I hope Noor- Eldeens parents never find out.
This is not the only work for the arms industry credited in the caption to VII on Haviv’s website. You’ll also find that he has been helping to sell BAE systems, the second largest producer of arms in the world.
I don’t know exactly how VII works but it is possible this work is booked through Haviv’s commercial agent and not VII directly. Given this there is a possibility that Stephen Mayes might not even know which other, (if any) members of VII photography are working for the arms industry, which is perhaps why he hasn’t responded to that specific question. That does seem a bit far fetched given the fact that VII is included in the copyright of the work.
Whatever the truth (we’ll probably never know) the company stands to gain from a share of the revenue generated by such projects and it is astonishing that a photo’journalism’ agency set up with such noble aims does not appear to have a policy restricting where their photographers draw income from.
If this is the future of photojournalism, I hope someone from VII will come out and say so. They ought to tell all those young students of photography that look up to them.