An Italian photographer living in East Jerusalem examines whether photojournalists play an active role in the conflicts they cover in “an auto-critical photo essay”
In the past two weeks the above video Photojournalism Behind the Scenes has caused a bit of a stir among bloggers and professionals whether photojournalists manipulate the images they capture when documenting conflict scenarios such as riots, protests and war.
Photographer Ruben Salvadori, 22, started the project in an effort to quash the theory of the “invisible photographer”, as he argues the heavy presence of the media turns conflict events into a show and the photographer can then pick their spots and over dramatize the unfolding events, therefore becoming a participant. Salvadori became interested in the subject after moving to East Jerusalem where he witnessed the close interaction between rioters and photographers.
The media’s role in the Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver
Salvadori’s project reminded me of my experience shooting the Stanley Cup riot with how many of the rioter’s behaviour changed in front of the the swarms of cameras around them, including those used by the various members of the media. At one point, as many of the rioters gathered to lay siege on two parked police cars, I ran into a former colleague of mine, Vancouver Sun reporter Mike Hager. We both looked at one another and questioned if we were any different than the other passive bystanders taking photos and whether we were just adding fuel to the many fires by doing so.
In the days after when smoked cleared, I still debated whether I should’ve been downtown taking photos and what’s the overall role of the media in these violent situations. The Vancouver media even got flack from the police department for allegedly stirring the pot. But as PlanetNext points out with its in-depth analysis on Salvadori’s project, journalists risk their lives to cover conflict events around the world and people should be grateful for this. Without it we wouldn’t be aware of what’s going on in dangerous parts of the world.
Behind the scenes: Vancouver photojournalist Rich Lam’s take
For another point of view on this issue, my colleague Jesse Winter and I called Getty Images photographer Rich Lam who shot the infamous photo of a couple kissing during the Stanley Cup riots. The photo went viral and rumours popped up the photo was staged. But the allegations were debunked once the two lovebirds were identified and interviewed.
“Ultimately, it comes down to your intent,” Lam says about manipulating photos. “I can go into a room and shoot it with a super-wide lens, and make it look huge, when really… it’s tiny. There’s no space at all. That’s the power of photography. You can change the perspective, but it’s just a matter of ‘are you trying to be deceptive or not’?”
Lam goes on to say he thought Salvadori’s photo essay was “a little presumptuous” to conclude that the Palestinian protesters get more violent only when the media arrives. Lam says Salvadori should’ve interviewed the protesters to make it clear whether the cameras are the true cause for their actions.
It is important for journalists to be present at conflict events, Lam says, in order to have the story told and to avoid unprovoked attacks by authority figures. However, Lam adds the photojournalist should always remain a neutral observer and never try to spark action themselves.
Lam stresses one last important thing for photojournalists to remember: always write accurate cutlines. If an editor alters a photo in post-production, an accurate cutline will provide evidence that the photojournalist is not to blame.