Carlos Arredondo holds a photograph of his son Alex. From Eugene Richards' September 2010 book War Is Personal. © Eugene Richards
Carlos Arredondo holds a photograph of his son Alex. From Eugene Richards’ September 2010 book War Is Personal. © Eugene Richards

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.”

Eugene Richards



  • Good article John. Thanks. It often seems to me that in today’s ever increasingly surreal world, things that should be of value, such as photojournalism, have become as junk to the populace at large; whereas, things such as TV talent shows, that in any sane world would be treated with the contempt they deserve, are lauded beyond belief. The Murdoch effect?

    • Thanks Tony. Sadly what ‘we’ve’ apparently lost to some extent is a sense of the magic of the ordinary – the individual stories we’ve all got and just need a way to tell. All of which are more exciting than any talent show.

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 27 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

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