Blognotes from a photographer life...

Dec 28, 2010


This is a post that will move some reaction, and probably many will think there is something personal.. My intentions wish to go much further then individual photographers experiences and stories.
When I see war images nowadays I mostly see stories shoot while embedded within an Army, or escorted by some force. There are some personal and regional exception, of course, and sometimes I see a story as "seen and told" from the "other side".
In certain cases it might be the relative facility to access a difficult situation (and also the relative safety) to induce the photographer to go this way, but the larger reality is that the big guys have learned the lesson and are avoiding the old mistakes.
It's well known that the US lost the Vietnam war more for the protests back home then for the Vietcong fighters. They just don't want this to happen again. So they will not allow photographers and journalists to go too close to certain realities, and even less to tell the story from the opposed side. This is understandable, but not acceptable.
We hear frequent reports of civilian victims in Afghanistan due to mistaken military actions, but I have never seen photos of those victims. In Vietnam the Mylay massacre on the contrary sparkled open discussions and criticism on certain behaviour of the army toward the population.
Even worse, introducing the concept of privacy (in a war? Please! nothing is private for a soldier in a war!) the governments are now asking not to publish images of wounded or dead soldiers (even their coffins going back home were off-limits to reporters). Again, you may remember how impressive were the photos of actual wounded and suffering young Americans in Vietnam.
The worst part though is the general assumption that there are no doubts on the rightness of an action or a war, or better, no doubts should be stated in the media. Of course I'm not defending the Talebans, or Saddam Hussein, but I have never read of any possible argument the other side could stand for. There was open criticism on the rightness of the Iraq intervention, but never a discussion on principles.
Going back to war photography today. I see very good images of "our" soldiers in action, their tensions, some interactions with civilians. Some of these works are really strong (think of the Restrepo documentary), and telling these stories is good. But it's an incomplete panorama for most of the reportages I see: where are the civilians? Where are the enemies? Where are the consequences of the fights on both sides?
If photojournalism will not fight to get it's independence back it will lose all it's credibility and, in the end, all the interest from the narrow market left for it. But, above all, it's a matter of intellectual and human freedom that is at stake here. We criticise China for it's media control without seeing that the Western media are even more "controlled". We have to get it back! Us, the photographers.


  1. there's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, recent int'l journo of the year, and the others in the book "Unembedded".

    Philip Jones-Griffiths shares your same perspective in his intro to the book, but it's a little harsh to me. Teru Kuyuwama gives a good insight on embed photography in a recent Lens blog interview with Michael Kamber. It is good to get that view, and as news consumers we have to look to the Abdul-Ahads, Bilal Husseins and Laith Mushtaqs for the same level of intimacy on the other side.

  2. Hi Rick,
    yes, I agree with you on the need to pay attention to the many voices around. (Through collateral channels, though).
    My main concern is more on the media then the photographers. It seems that to publish stories that are not following the mainstream of the public opinion is not good business, so they just don't do it. (On the other end publishing mainstream opinion is considered obvious. So they publish very few interesting subjects.)
    I think what we are really loosing for good is the open view of the press that made Time, Life and NYT so important.

  3. My documentary Restrepo actually contains rare images of wounded and dead Afghans in the immediate aftermath of an Apache helicopter attack on a house in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. The movie has plate widely across the US, and when these images were first broadcast on ABC' Nightline and repeats, an estimated 22 million people saw them according to broadast figures. While still not perfect, it's something considering the difficulty in accessing Afghan casualties that are often inaccesible owing to their remote locations.

  4. Hi Tim,
    in fact I was mentioning your work as being outstanding, probably the best work done in Afghanistan. But also exceptional, in the literal sense of the word.
    What really moved my post were the reportages that I keep seeing in many media (I'm Italian, so I pay special attention there) that were, well, "soft".
    But I still think the general problem of access and reporting exists, and for few good works (like yours) that makes sense, there are many that are just filling the pages.

  5. Thanks - I was just clarifying in case people didn't know that about my film and assumed otherwise.