Tuesday, 12 May 2009

News Photography - Some thoughts on the subject Part 2

In a previous post - Getting Involved - Owen Phillips of the Magic Lantern Show blog raised a question about the behaviour of the photographers at the scene of Princess Diana's fatal car crash. In that post, I had been discussing the behaviour of the press at the Aberfan Disaster and how they dropped their notebooks and went to help, something that is very rare today.

While most people are quick to condemn the actions of the paparazzi who photographed her dying moments, there are a number of things to think about. These weren't staff photographers working for a particular newspaper or magazine. They were freelances whose income comes from getting the shot and selling the photographs to the highest bidder. Being in that line of work leaves the individual freelance photographers with little choice but to take the photographs, especially as no freelance present would agree to one taking the photographs and sharing (pooling) them with the others, while the others would try and help the occupants of the car.

I'd like to make it quite clear that I am not condoning what the photographers chose to do. I am just giving a few thoughts on it and leave it for readers to think about themselves. I'd be interested to here what others think so post your comments here. Thank you.

Monday, 11 May 2009

News Photography - Some thoughts on the subject Part 1

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.