I promised last time to write more about the ethics of taking photographs in difficult situations. I don't know how many of you remember the television comedy series Drop the Dead Donkey which chronicled the workings of a fictional TV news station. The thing I remember most was the reporter who carried a teddy bear with him to the scene of every disaster he attended. Eventually people realised that wherever he went in the world, every news story featured a shot of an abandoned teddy bear and reference to an unseen child who had lost it in the war/earthquake, flood, landslide and so on. The word on everyone's lips at the time was: Outrageous!
I was reminded of this when I was sent to Kuwait to visit the battlefields of the first Gulf War, five years on. I was taken to see an apartment block on the seafront in Kuwait City. Halfway up the building was a gaping hole and a large sofa hung out precariously. A warship had fired a single shell during operations to recapture the city and it had struck the building. I was invited up to take a closer look and stood on a landing between stairs and a jammed lift. At my feet was a pile of rubble and, as I turned, I noticed an abandoned child's dolly in the corner of the landing. I saw a picture opportunity immediately and went and retrieved it. Laying it on the pile of rubble, I took a photograph. The resulting image was disturbing with the decaying doll looking like a ravaged victim of war. Afterwards, I put the doll back where I found it.
I never published the photograph, but an artist did a watercolour painting of it. Even reproduced in another medium, it remained disturbing. I had and have had no qualms about taking the photograph. As an anti-war photograph, it carries the message I intended, but others less scrupulous might have passed it off as authentic .
This photograph reminded me of a difficult journey I made in Croatia during the Balkan Wars. Children from a orphanage that had been shelled and destroyed were relocated to a new orphange on the Croatian coast. I accompanied a newspaper reporter and photographer who were looking to publicise the story. When the children were shown, for the first time, photographs of their former home they cried. The photographer said: " Quick! Show them some more." He was pleased because it made the scene more heart rending . . . Now some might dismiss this as an 'apocryphal' tale, but it wasn't - I was there! I also heard a similar story from another photographer that one of his colleagues was not adverse to poking a finger in the eye of a happy looking child to make it cry and make his photographs more saleable! Now that is even more shocking. As consumers (viewers) of news photographs in the newspapers, I would be interested in hearing your opinions of this.