@VIIphoto agency, Ron Haviv and the world’s two largest arms producers

If you make an honest picture of war, it will be an antiwar photograph.

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.


Author — duckrabbit

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

Discussion (54 Comments)

  1. Jose says:

    No I won’t make money out of your poverty and disgrace….OH WAIT!!!

    Please people, don’t act now as if you didn’t know this was happening, please don’t be so absurd.

  2. AC says:

    Thank you.

  3. Jaap Arriens says:

    Recently VII Photo had their annual meeting, would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall there! Last summer I followed Don Weber’s grant writing workshop in Berlin and afterwards went for beers where I met a photographer who was then part of the VII Mentor program. He has since left for reasons as yet unknown but I do remember him telling me that there was a lot of pressure “to make money”.
    In a day and age where (especially) reportage photography is constantly itself in troubled (financial) waters I can imagine that photographers and agencies alike are finding new and “original” ways to finance their activities.
    Photography is after all no more than a “business” and like most contemporary businesses the fine line between what may be considered morally repugnant and what otherwise may just be a practical decision that ensures survival is fading.
    What is really going inside VII Photo (and other agencies) might well just be a sign of the times. Did anyone ever find out why James Nachtwey left VII?

  4. Ed Stone says:

    Ron Haviv is a disgrace.

  5. Mark Hull says:

    You’re trying to make a story / storm out of not much…….and it’s disgraceful to try and link somehow the death of a photojournalist (by accident) at the hands of an American helicopter to the topic of VII and Ron Haviv. I find that much ‘sicker’ than Ron taking a photograph used by Lockheed Martin.

    The fact that Ron has that picture displayed on his website and no-one else has complained adds further weight to the lame arguement. Ron’s work and stories are out there for all to see and I think overall it deserves praise much more than criticism. Ron is someone who springs to mind whose images actually have helped to invoke political change (Panama & Balkans images)

    Photographers need to make money; a photographer or any other supplier who does business with or works with Lockheed Martin in some way does not make them immoral or complicit in how some countries perhaps choose to use their products. Is a photographer commissioned to take some corporate portraits for a bank also at blame for the financial crisis???

    Interesting that on the duckrabbit blog last year there was a post entitled ‘Ron Haviv is a great and generous teacher’…… http://www.duckrabbit.info/2011/05/ron-haviv-is-a-great-and-generous-teacher/ …..I’m sure all those ‘young students of photography who look up to them’ will be much more interested in this kind of information as opposed to some tabloid-style attack on Ron and VII.

    • Stan B. says:

      “The fact that Ron has that picture displayed on his website and no-one else has complained adds further weight to the lame arguement.”

      That’s your defense- seriously? No one else noticed- so it must be OK? Really!?! Someone chose to point out the complete and utter hypocrisy of a man receiving awards for his noble, anti-war, humanitarian photography on one night, only to accept money from the makers of the arms that kills the innocents he may well be photographing on the next… and you chose to criticize not the person soliciting the blood money- but the person asking how on God’s green earth is this allowed to occur?


      Right, right- sorry… “photographers need to make money.”

      • Mark Hull says:

        I dont need to defend anything……what I was saying is in the big picture it’s not a huge deal, at least not to the extent that this duckrabbit makes it out to be.

        If he’d have just raised the question, then it may well have been worth some discussion. However the article was way OTT…….

        • Amgine says:

          The big picture is often made up of much smaller pictures. It is very hard, if not impossible, not to have some hypocrisy woven into all our puny lives but we should always avoid it, especially when we’re intentionally profiting by it. VII should welcome this opportunity to mend its ways. Journalism is somewhat intrinsic to uncovering hypocrisy. Sorry if this causes some discomfort; better out than in, perhaps.

  6. Doug says:

    I agree. Jaap. Yup, makes you wonder about founding member James Nachtwey leaving VII last year. All tradespeople, professionals, and artists mix business and art. In itself, that is not a bad thing. But there are lines.

  7. Matthew says:

    Now I wouldn’t go so far as to call anyone a disgrace, but this is the same sort of VII smoke and mirrors that has been going on for years. They’ve clearly attempted to make a product out of “the noble messenger” or “the witness” and yet fall in to so many of the tropes that we must attempt to undo.
    Whether you use your camera phone or not is of little consequence to anyone but yourself – you’re still an outsider making a buck off of the people you’re shooting. An iPhone doesn’t make you an insider. Pumping out a story about how Africa needs electricity during the Kony 2012 uproar?? Really? Stephen Mayes condemning the over abundance of photo essays of heroin addicts in Kabul? How many VII photographers have touched on the subject? at least 6 or 7… How many from Magnum or Noor? Who knows…

    These guys can make good pictures, they’re no fucking heroes.

  8. craig says:

    Photo agency specialising in conflict photography, with overt anti-war stance, helps market the very weapons responsible for much of the death and destruction they feel so strongly about.

    Probably about as poor as it ever gets.

  9. Brian says:

    Why are these photographers from Vii celebrities? How did this happen? There are much more accomplished and talented photographers than some of these guys. Only decent work you now see from them are self congratulatory pictures (of each other) at their annual meetings circulated on social media, oh and their expensive $3K workshops.

    So what, if they are masters at promoting themselves? What does that have to do with quality journalism?

    Have they produced any worth while work recently and before Vii was formed? Some, not all.
    Is it about photographers becoming celebrities or should it be about the stories that we do?

    10 years ago, this would not be an issue, everyone is now scrambling to find income and survive, and jumping on the commercial work bandwagon. Vii is no different from everyone else.

    For photographers generally this would not be an issue, but as photojournalists we need to be more careful, especially if you are trumpeting “integrity as a war journalist” thing, then to turn around and do an ad for a defense contractor doesn’t look right.
    Its not illegal but it shows bad judgement. Stuff like this hurts their credibility.

    • Mark Hull says:

      Hi Brian, Ron just did a 4 day workshop in Switzerland……the price was 500chf ($550) per person! And I attended an 8 day workshop in a far-off country last year with 2 of VII’s most celebrated members for all of $1,800! Now go and look round at how much workshops cost with other both famous and non-famous photographers and tell me that’s expensive lol

      • Brian says:

        Who and what qualifies someone as “most celebrated?” I just see a good Vii pr machine, and clearly from this they have lost focus on what photojournalists do? I suggest you open your eyes beyond Vii and you will see a whole world out there, same for workshops.

        • Mark Hull says:

          Thanks for the comments; actually I did have a really open (and sceptical) mind about workshops after seeing lots of average photographers charge the earth for not alot. That was my point originally to you, to challenge the ‘expensive $3k workshop’ statement of yours, because in the scheme of things it offered great value especially in comparison to others out there.

  10. Lalbandor says:

    I have met Ron 2 years ago at the Foundry Foundation Workshop in Istanbul. He struck me as a decent person. Why don’ t we ask him what his point of view is?

  11. Yoram says:

    Could anyone pls explain what is wrong with a (war) photographer shooting an ad for a weapons maker? What if he shot an ad for Mcdonald’s for example or KFC, would you also criticize him? Fast food makers kill and maim many more people than missiles and tanks do. The weapon industry was always here and will always be here. and they will continue to market their products and produce ads. Why does the rabbit make a big deal out of it?

    • Stan B. says:

      Yoram- In your world it is perfectly ethical for a photographer to shoot fast food campaigns while also garnering praise, awards and recognition for photo essays on obesity and diabetes. There is nothing “wrong with a (war) photographer shooting an ad for a weapons maker” if that photographer’s purpose is to promote, prolong and profit from the wars that he shoots.

      “The weapon industry was always here and will always be here. and they will continue to market their products and produce ads.”

      Yes, wars continue for one reason- they are profitable. And our fellow humans will always find creative ways to make a buck off of people dying, and even more ways to rationalize it.

  12. Peter says:

    I’d be interested to know whether the Lockheed Martin ad picture was staged or if there are actually people cooking up in the moving target that has ‘met it’s match’. Got to be staged right?

  13. Donald Weber says:


    You have completely taken a conversation out of context to suit your own needs to fit a perception of how you think something is run. Not fair to the photographer you mention and not fair to me who was also in on that conversation to speculate on a so-called moral and ethical decline. I was there and you’ve grossly distorted and offered up innuendo to join in on slamming something you don’t know anything about. I’m all for critical thought and critique of our industry, heaven knows we need it, but I hope we can refrain from shrill rumor and gossip to discuss very serious issues of our industry and our place in it.

  14. As a photojournalist myself, I was very intrigued by the uproar in the community. Sounds like Ron’s agent didn’t sell him to the right people but here is Ron’s response

    Shoot great stories and make money at what you do….just do so wisely

  15. Thank you for bringing up such an interesting topic. Ron Haviv makes his position absolutely clear on his blog. He believes weapons to be necessary and it is for this reason that he can both stand up for victims of war and conflict with a humanitarian outlook and also for weapons manufacturers at the same time. It is a reflection of his personal point of view.

    My own point of view is entirely different. I feel that all killing is wrong, so I could never allow my work to be used to promote the sales of arms by any weapons manufacturer.

    Since it is so rarely discussed, it would be very interesting to hear where many more photographers and photojournalists stand on this topic. Thank you, Duckrabbit.

  16. hasifleur says:

    God bless these companies! I came to the USA from an oppressive government and culture in the muslim world. Trust me when I say that these people respect and fear the USA because of this technology. If there wasn’t that fear, there would be many more 9/11’s and such happening right here on this hallowed ground of America. This country is not perfect. No country is or can be. All countries are a manifestation of men/women humans, and all humans are fallible and imperfect. If these weapons were not in place, and being used America would be overrun with terrorists and muslim extremists, and the good citizens of the USA would then be screaming at the government and arms manufacturers for failing to develop weapons to protect us from the many different manifestations of zealotry and bigotry.

    • Stan B. says:

      Yes, we can all see the good and wonder that these companies have wrought upon Irag and Afghanistan! Had the US built schools and hospitals in Afghanistan after Russia left (at a fraction of the cost of military weaponry) we would not need troops or arms there- the Taliban and Al Qaeda would simply not be tolerated. The same if we didn’t prop up repressive regimes in oil rich countries with those same weapons.

  17. It is a poor response from Ron Haviv. It is a completely meaningless. The Lockheed does humanitarian intervention, it sells weapons and help increase the level of violence in the world. It’s more a self-justification than an explanation.

  18. correction: The Lockheed DOESN’T humanitarian intervention,

  19. Mitja Licar says:


    I found it interesting to read this article. Nevertheless it all might make a strong point and bring oneself a strong moral dilema I would be more carefull with the accusations. What about the stuff we make that are immoral? We buy gas to drive in our expensive cars not realizing wars are fought over it. We buy chinese products becouse they are cheaper not thinking about the people who make it in the factory for almost no money. And we pay the photographers to go and bring back the images so we can look at the suffering that is being done for the stability of our luxurious lives and then we condem them for being immoral. Warm homes dont just exist. The warmth is produced by the coal energy or electricty – they too polute somebodys enviroment making them die early. Not even mentioning the miners that dig the coal. The list of explotation could go on and on… Im not defending anybody. Im just bringing up the question that everybody should ask themselfs before acusing somebody of being immoral. Taking money from somebody that is doing something that your “fighting” against.. sure, strange indeed. Bur aren’t we all? If you’re against war and you’re a commercial photographer taking a photo of a car selling it to a car or oil company… How is that any different? Just becouse it isn’t so frontline-obvious it doesn’t mean people don’t die over it. Sure I disagree too. But I wouldn’t go so far and call somebody a disgrace. (This applies to a comment below not the whole article).

    I belive its good to alert people of this kind of things. But if we really want things to change we should start by ourselves before acusing anybody else.

    Take care, Mitja

    • Mitja, I think it is two different levels of problem. One thing is to collaborate in a generic way for evil in the world consuming harmful products. Another thing is to be a war photographer and work for advertising campaigns for gun manufacturers. It would be like an environmentalist and photographer working for Monsanto’s advertising campaigns.

      • Mitja Licar says:

        I totaly agree. I was just pointing out that this problem has different levels of reality. In no way I think it was a good decision Haviv made. I was just pointing out that it’s nothing new to our culture and that we all do it in a metaphorical sense (usualy thinking there is nothing wrong with it).

        Best regards, Mitja

  20. donkybhoy says:

    Another myth busted, who would’ve thought!

    Similar to all those the myths at magnum eg that HCB only shot with a 50mm and 1 camera.

    Building myths in photojournalism is building brand.

    Lockheed are about as needed in the world as nuclear weaponry.

  21. Matthew says:

    Now let’s do a survey of the photo media sight that have turned a blind eye to their VII babies. Where does PDN weigh in? BJP?

    Closest thing seems to be an advertising award in the 2012 PDN photo annual…

  22. EN says:

    I didn’t realize tabloid tactics are considered similar to intrepid journalism. if you appoint yourself the morality police in journalism, then maybe apply some of those ethics in your own article before starting a witchhunt and tainting someone’s career. oh right that was just an opinion piece. I suppose nowadays, following breitbart and the likes, opinions can be formed with half truths. what does the truth matter anyway as long as there is more traffic on your site.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi EN,

      ‘If you appoint yourself the morality police in journalism, then maybe apply some of those ethics in your own article before starting a witchhunt and tainting someone’s career.’

      What do you actually mean? You haven’t actually referred to anything in the article.

  23. Carlos Cazalis says:

    It’s fascinating to see how some people can so quickly wish to destroy someone’s reputation. It’s nothing new that people come onto these chat rooms and project their egos as if they had always done what others think is right and therefore can go ahead and have the authority to say who is wrong.

    It is the public who, including those all listed here who have put these photographers on a higher ground and now demand them to always be pure and if they slip the noose is ready to swing.

    Ron Haviv inspired me to do things with his images of the Balkans. Yes, period. You can’t touch that, that work is a done deal. Whatever happened afterwards is your choice to have an opinion but who are we to denounce all the other members of VII because of this and in doing so then you might as well denounce all other photojournalists who know or have been affiliated with some wrongdoing. Who will cast the next stone?

    I believe there is always more time to look inside oneself and see what one needs to do to be a better person than to waste your energy destroying other lives. Easier to destroy than to create.

    Finally it is Ron that has to live with what he does, not you.

    • Stan B. says:

      Hopefully, the majority of Haviv’s photography will forever continue to inspire others to do equally brilliant work. That said, the fact that he has also inexplicably chosen to play both sides of the fence (working for companies that kill, while documenting the people their products kill and maim) could very well inspire others to make their livings based on such an insidiously hypocritical circle of cynicism and death- without ever “looking inside oneself.”

  24. Agata says:

    I guess it’s normal mechanism of how the crowd behave… But, in the end of the day what counts is YOUR decisions and the choices YOU make. And if your work is somewhat public (as in Ron’s case), people WILL and CAN ask questions.

    I, personally don’t like the rhetoric based on theory that someone who made something significant can do now more, cause all this will be excused.

    Also the link between the death of Namir Noor-Eldeen and this advert is exaggerated. I am not a fan of this way of writing. But on the other hand I respect someone asking question noone dare to ask.

  25. AM says:

    Is an interesting and controversial topic – although the article is a bit sloppy with tenuous, gratuitous links that seem egregious? But never-the-less a topic that more could be made of in the realms of photography – especially this kind of photography/photographer – it always seems so sacrosanct and criticism is often greeted with loud squawks of self-righteousness, noble causes, life for truth etc. – am just saying when criticism is not greeted by intelligent conversation we are in trouble. And this apparent contradiction VII/Ron Haviv is rather puzzling.

    So, has VII been hoisted with its own petard ‘ to use photography for “positive change.” Or maybe “positive change” = killing hostile forces? (“The problem is that sometimes their weapons don’t just kill hostile forces”) Is that OK in your book? Would Ron Haviv been noble if the weapons were more precise? It’s unclear from your article.

    Anyway, would have made for a fascinating and important interview had you given VII and Ron Haviv a chance to respond. Maybe you can set up an interview with them, sure you would have a captive audience.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi AM,

      I would say its ‘sloppy’ to talk about ‘tenuous, gratuitous links’ without pointing out what they are and exactly why you find them to be this way.

      Haviv has responded. He’s happy to help Lockheed Martin sell bombs. VII have responded. They are happy for Haviv to help Lockheed Martin sell bombs.

      • AM says:

        Ah yes you are absolutely right re: my remarks – tenuous, sloppy etc, I definitely should have referenced the areas I found to be so in my opinion – will get to that if you wish but not now as am running.

        interesting seems that their spokesman needs some work on the art of diplomacy: “Happy to help sell bombs”” does not seem to be a very measured tone to take. But I was thinking more along the lines of an interview so one could ask “So, why does it make you happy?”, “What is happy about selling bombs”

        “Are you happy because it really is quite the stunning business development plan in this terrible economic downturn; it ensures, by your active promotion of bombs, that there will always be a ready market of suffering – so you’ll never be short of a paycheck?

        More a give and take not a quote from a spokesman which really serves to make everything even more nebulous.

  26. Pueblo says:

    Just for information, you can find the same Haviv’s photo on the cover of CD Tank – Asian Dub Foundation.

  27. Jon says:

    Be careful Ben or someone from VII will punch you again.

  28. Mark Pinder says:

    Ron Havivs’ response in the single post on his blog to the criticism raised here is possibly the most breathtakingly cynical, self serving nonsense I have read in a long time. So Haviv separates his news photography from his corporate work, that’s ok then.

    He obviously has the right to run his affairs as he sees fit, but by the same token, we are free to brand him a cynical opportunist.

    Why has Haviv disabled comments on his sole blog posting? I thought as journalists we welcomed free discourse, or has free speech become another slave to to the convenient expediency of separating your corporate work from your journalistic work, and all that entails including the adding of elements that weren’t in the original photo.

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