Sorry to have disappeared for awhile, the start of school coupled with some of my projects got to be a bit overwhelming. Add to that some events have occurred recently that have drastically shifted my outlook and my focus as a photographer. I am not yet in a position to clearly articulate this outlook just yet, so I will have to elaborate on that more completely in a future post. As for today I wanted to talk about news photography, and specifically a blog post on the New York Times Lens blog that questions the number of photographers showing up to events these days, and specifically, the tragedy in Haiti. First though, my exhibition in Japan just wrapped up, and I was sent some images of the space. Unfortunately they did not take photos while the exhibition was open, but I still think the space was pretty cool, and it’s seriously cool (in my mind at least!) to see my images with Japanese captions! So here’s a few:
Ok, time for serious talk. A friend sent me a link to a post from the New York Times blog concerning the amount of photographers covering events these days. Link is here: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/04/essay-13/, and here ere are my thoughts.
There is absolutely a need for these guys (and gals) to be there documenting these tragedies. I completely understand that in a time of tragedy, or a time of war, or any other time human suffering is involved, there is perhaps an overabundance of reporters there to cover it. I get it, and I certainly get that it is possible that the last thing many of these people want during these times is to have hordes of cameras shoved in their faces. Despite this, I feel strongly that the rights of history supersede the rights of those suffering. These journalists are serving an important function to history, and it is one that desperately needs to be served. Keep in mind that many people deny the existence of the Holocaust. The photographic evidence makes that argument a little difficult for the majority of the world to swallow. We need documentation of the ills that befall our world. It allows future generations to learn from and glean insight into our era, and there is inherent value in that. The presence of journalists, and specifically photographers, has allowed my generation to witness and learn from many events in history that would otherwise lack the impact that they naturally possess.
Now the second question becomes do we need that many photographers over there? The answer to that is, in my mind, a resounding absolutely not. The vast majority of photographers over there are mediocre at best, and their images will serve no function at all in history. My opinion is very strong in that I think the vast, VAST majority of news photographers working are not very good at all, and so I do not think what they are doing in Haiti will be of much benefit to society as a whole. I also do not buy that every news organization on the planet needs there own people there. The truth is a handful of photographers could sufficiently cover the devastation and relay it around the world for news purposes. That said, there is no objective way to decide which photographers should go, nor is there any objective way to determine how many should go. Therefore we have little choice but to allow whoever can get there to cover it.
My hope is that these journalists will remember while out in the field that they not only have a responsibility to history, but to their subjects as well. You are not there to get an image at the cost of another human beings dignity. You are there to shed light on their plight, and should do so as respectfully as possible.
I personally cannot do this type of photography. To begin with I am not a huge fan of “news” photography. I see its value, but it isn’t for me, and so I do not do it. Secondly, I cannot do wars, natural disasters, and other such events that inflict horrible human suffering. Again, I see the value in this work, and I am glad there are people out there who do it, but I cannot. I remember talking to Dennis Stock about this not too long ago and he said he could never do wars because he wouldn’t be able to press the shutter because he would rather be sticking his hand out to help that person. That conversation stuck with me, and is fairly close to how I feel about these scenarios. Before I move on, please do not misunderstand me and think that I feel I am in some way better than those who do this work. I absolutely do not, I am simply articulating why I would suck at this work. I personally know one photographer who nearly died trying to save a man who had been hit by missile shrapnel, and I have the utmost respect for him. I also know another photographer that I know for a fact took photos of a man who had his legs blown off and then abandoned him despite there no longer being an immediate threat. He I have no respect for. In either scenario, I couldn’t do it and therefore choose not to. I’ll let those who are good at it handle it.
So in the end I agree wholeheartedly that these people should be there, and while I wish there weren’t so many who go, I get it. Again, I just urge those that choose this career to treat their subjects with dignity and respect. Thoughts and comments appreciated…