This astonishing week underlined for me why photojournalism matters. Why it cannot be replaced by crowd-sourced image gathering. Why it should be supported by all of us. And why we should be grateful to the likes of the Boston Globe photographers who were on the ground in that fine city when the two bombs went off.
I watched the event unfold on the web, the detailed images immediately available. And noticed the remarkable synchronicity of image-making by two Globe staff (mentioned already here), an image by David L Ryan showing John Tlumaki making his iconic image that has now circled the globe. Two professionals doing what they do best. When most of us hear a bang! we instinctively turn our backs, run away from it. They turned towards it. Faced it, instinctively.
There are also images of one the suspected terrorists captured in a photo essay by a former Boston University photojournalism student, Johannes Hirn, see article here on NPPA site.
APhotoEditor published a short piece tonight: ‘This Confirms The Need for Professional Photojournalists” – which immediately attracted several dissenting comments, dismissing APE’s assertion. It references an insightful article by Alex Garcia in the Chicago Tribune, ‘Tragedy and The Role of Professional Photojournalists’.
I don’t disagree with APE but I think there is a better example to underline the issue. It’s not so much about what was done ‘in the moment’, despite its obvious importance, but rather what had been done long before.
One of the most moving aspects I watched in online news was an on-the-spot interview with ‘The Man in the Cowboy Hat’. He was blood-spattered, his hands shook, he was obviously in shock, yet he talked coherently and with clear recall about what he’d witnessed, and done to help. He clutched a bloodied Stars & Stripes, something he had reached for and carried out of the ‘place’ he’d just been. It struck me how he held that flag, the reverential way he showed it to journalists. I was intrigued by his actions, this symbolic gesture.
I saw him in several images subsequently, most notably with his hands on the thigh of one victim whose leg had been destroyed, clutching a tourniquet as he and paramedics rushed the person to an ambulance.
Time carries this man’s story. He is Carlos Arredondo. No need to hunt for his back story. Photojournalist Eugene Richards had already photographed him several years ago, and since, in some depth, portraying some aspects of his life and circumstances, and the tragic story of his sons. It is here: ‘The Hero in the Cowboy Hat’.
Photojournalism is important because it tells these stories, but crucially because it makes these links, ties the disparate events of our past which might otherwise have gone unnoticed, to the events of our present. It takes fragments of time and amalgamates them, each piece adding its own depth and detail, the whole becoming so much more than the sum of its parts.
The legacy of America’s war in Iraq, its effect on a family, their commitment to effect change in their country, all underlined and given visibility by a senseless act of terrorism. And ironically one of the alleged terrorists himself recorded in considerable detail because a photojournalist in training did his job.
That’s why photojournalism matters.
“It took an obvious act of terror to get people to realize Carlos’ story. Reporters keep saying that his life has come full circle, but I never considered it full circle. They like to see it as something very positive, which is profoundly stupid. His protest, and the last several years, have not been in a vacuum. He’s in support groups, he contacts families, he attends funerals. Even when I was photographing him for War is Personal, Carlos was openly weeping for other people’s sons.
His story is an old story, and it’s embarrassing that we do not cover the consequences of war as we should. If a country is going to support a war, and if the media supports this country’s war, then we need to also examine the extent of this war at home and abroad. I hope this profoundly changes his life so that people give him the support he needs.
Maybe now people won’t spit on him or taunt him as they did before.”