Activity: Photography and…
Conflict has presented countless opportunities and difficulties for photography. For the past 150 years, photography has been used to highlight the horrors of war, promote the success of war and assist in the action of war.
Photography was still in its infancy when Roger Fenton travelled to the Crimea in 1854 to record the events of the war. His coverage was very much limited by the nature of the equipment he was using., He was not the first photographer to be drawn to conflict, but he was arguably the first photographer to offer ‘coverage’ of a war. In the same year, photography was first used as a ‘weapon of war’, with Gilbert Elliott commissioned to photograph views of the Russian fortifications along the Baltic coast.
Roger Fenton L’Entente cordiale 1855 © Musée d’Orsay, dist. RMN / Patrice Schmidt Link
There are countless iconic images that have come from conflict. Rather than focus on the ethics of photography in war zones, or the effect photography has had on conflict (the Vietnam War often cited as the first “living room war”), I want to consider an alternative angle raised in this month’s Royal Photography Society Journal. In his article, freelance photojournalist Rick Findler Link (who I have had the pleasure of knowing since he was a young boy) discusses the merits and pitfalls of being ‘a freelancer at war’. At a time when photographers and journalists were increasing seen as viable targets, their death toll in conflict areas became a matter of concern for press agencies. To that end, many potential outlets for their articles and photographs were stating that they would no longer accept work from freelance journalists who travel to places that they would not send their own staff.
Rick comments, ‘is it not our decision as a freelancer to decide what risks we are prepared to take? If publications continue to accept pictures from local photographers but not western freelancers what makes their lives more expendable than ours?’ For someone whose bread and butter is war photojournalism, this approach from agencies is hugely debilitating.
Raqqa, northern Syria 2017 ©Rick Findler Link
If conflict reporting is left to those outside the profession of journalism, are we as consumers able to trust the content (and, since this is a photography forum, endure the ‘quality’ of mobile phone reportage)?
Do we have a moral responsibility to restrict any photography (or journalism) that puts the life of the photographer, journalist, fixer or driver in harm’s way, or should that decision be left in the hands of the individual?