Not Shooting Scenes of Dispair

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by k_jupiter, Dec 30, 2005.

  1. k_jupiter

    k_jupiter Member

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    Hi all,

    So I brought the Nikon, and I brought the C220. A couple of lens and 40 rolls of film. I drove the upper ninth, and I drove the lower ninth. I talked to my sister (who runs a free health clinic in Algiers, bless her soul), and took a few shots there of the tremendous work being done by volunteers. I, just for the life of me, can't get out of the car and shoot the absolute destruction of New Orleans. Perhaps this is why I am not a professional photographer, but even if I don't use these potential images for profit (which I wouldn't), I can't get over the feeling of using and abusing the misfortune of others for any use, including my own documentation of hell on earth.

    BTW - When we left the lower ninth, I had a really stiff drink. The cameras alone cannot describe the devastation I witnessed in that once lively city.

    BTW - BTW - Gulfport Mississippi made N.O. look like heaven.

    Any thoughts? I will be back in N.O. on Monday.

    tim in Mobile AL (temp)
     
  2. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Documentry shooting can be difficult at best, and takes a certain type of photographer, if the devestating sights you see are to distrubing, then perhaps it is not your type of shooting, I have known quite a few war corespondants who had very difficult times shooting what they saw when they first started, but were able to overcome their feelings because they felt documenting the events and the aftermath were more important.

    Don't feel bad if you can't bring yourself to do it, if I were in the same position, I can't say what I would do, the suffering of fellow human beings is very difficult, one project you might try doing while your there, is document the good things that are going on, the up beat and the future.

    Dave
     
  3. roteague

    roteague Member

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    I agree with Dave. Personally, I wouldn't do it. I think you should do what you feel comfortable with; if you are not doing this on assignment, and you aren't comfortable with it, you probably shouldn't do it.
     
  4. Paul Sorensen

    Paul Sorensen Member

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    I understand the difficulty. I know a guy who was living there until Katrina and when he went back he shot a mess of images. What I have seen of his work is mostly relatively close up and removed from context. I love his images, but I guess I don't feel the suffering when I look at them, perhaps I should, but I don't.

    I like Dave's idea of photograping upbeat things, it seems that there needs to be more of that anyway.
     
  5. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Location + camera != photojournalism

    Purpose + camera == photojournalism

    If you find the purpose, you will shoot. If not, find another way to help!
     
  6. gnashings

    gnashings Inactive

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    Wow, this is indeed a pearl of wisdom! Bravo!

    Being a person deeply interested in history, I have seen photos (as most of you have) of things that make hurricane Katrina look like strong breeze: Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Oswiecim, Dachau (or any one of those places for that matter), my native Warsaw - the list goes on (and on, and on - please forgive the glaring omissions, this is just an example). I can certainly understand how hard it would be to take the photos - but I am very glad and thankful that someone did. And as thankful as I am, I hope future generations will heed the lessons the images contain. I know that a force of nature (such as a hurricane) is different than the things that human beings do to each other (although there is much of that in the aftermath of the hurricanes, unfortunately!), but like in all monumental events, good or bad, there is something to teach the future generations contained in these situations. I will stop here, as I am at a loss to put it any more perfectly than the above quote!

    Peter.
     
  7. Les McLean

    Les McLean Subscriber

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    Many years ago I had a long talk on this subject with Dennis Thorpe, staff photographer with the Guardian UK and IMO one of the finest and most sensitive photojournalists. The conversation was motivated by a photograph of a grieving man carrying the coffin of his child of a few months who had been killed in the troubles in Belfast Northern Ireland. Dennis had made the exposure using a very wide angle lens from just 2 or 3 feet from the grieving man. When I asked him why he made the photograph and what were his feelings as he pressed the shutter he said that he made such exposures because he felt that to do so was his way of helping solve the situation.

    Interestingly Dennis processed his own film so that should there be an image that he considered to be in bad taste or wrong to use he did not give the negative to the newspaper picture editor. Dennis taught me much about photographing emotive situations but I think the self editing after the event was the most important discipline that I learned. I tend to isolate myself behind the camera and make the exposures I think important and try not to let emotions influence my photo making when I shoot on the streets. It is only when I have developed the film that I make the judgement as to if I will publish the picture or destoy the negative. I thank Dennis Thorpe for teaching me to be a more careing and sensitive photographer.
     
  8. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    Mode One: Turn off all emotions and respond to the action, concentrating only on the mechanics of the photographic process.

    Mode Two: Consciously make the decision not to photograph certain subjects and concentrate on making the best of what else is there.

    Those were my ways of dealing with the emotional subjects I had to photograph when I worked for a daily newspaper.

    There was a change in editorial philosophy over the years where I worked. Originally, editors did not want controversial photographs which was frustrating. Later, other editors wanted photographs that leaned more toward the sensational which was also frustrating. Since I also processed my film and did my prints, I could edit after shooting if I felt I had made something that was exploitative. Mode Two was a handy way to handle certain assignments. I hated shooting funerals, especially when editors expected emotional photographs of family members. I made the conscious decision to f*** up every one of those assignments and eventually they quit giving them to me.
     
  9. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    We discussed this subject a while back.

    I think art is about revealing the human condition. If you don't have the stomach for it then don't do it.

    Some of the best images we have though, are ones that reveal tragedy or despair in peoples lives. Migrant mother, girl running from napalm, civil war stuff, etc.

    That being said, I'm sure it can take its toll on the photographer over time.


    Michael
     
  10. jnanian

    jnanian Advertiser Advertiser

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    tim -

    i covered the station nightclub fire for one of the local papers here in ri.
    i had never done anything as hardcore as that and haven't since.
    about once a month i drive down that road ( about 4 miles from where i live ) and see the vacant lot, all the memorials & big sign, and i can still smell the scene that i photographed a few years ago. it still kind of freaks me out.

    i can't make any better suggestions than what has already been said. it isn't easy to document a tragic situation or its aftermath --- for yourself, or for others.


    good luck!

    -john
     
  11. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    I have photographs the aftermath of natural disasters such as floodings and an earthquake in the rural parts of Japan. It's not that I want to be a photojournalist of some kind concerning these tragic events, but it's just that I'm more aware of the environment that I live in, and I feel like I need to do something about it.

    My best approach to photograph those scenes has always been that I become a volunteer worker and serve for a couple of weeks. That's just a way to be part of the communities that need outside help and create a sense of trust among the survivors/victims as well as the local authorities.

    For the survivors/victims of the disasters, the last thing they need is someone who is just hanging out with a camera and staying all clean. They need a lot of help with a lot of privacy, and that's really the job that needs to be handled carefully. So you really need a strong belief and a reason to convince them that what you're doing is important and is unarguably beneficial to them.

    I don't think in the case of hurricane katrina, the issues that were concerned during the aid operations are that different from what I've seen over here.
     
  12. k_jupiter

    k_jupiter Member

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    Thank y'all.

    A lot of good thoughts in there. Perhaps the most important is the realization that what I shoot is for me, and the need isn't there. The reality as you wander through Point Zero is hell enough to enbed upon the consciouness, it need not be recorded for me. And no one else would be privy to my work.

    "Originally Posted by bjorke
    Location + camera != photojournalism

    Purpose + camera == photojournalism
    "

    So well said. The difference between photojournalism and voyeurism perhaps? As one med tech advised me as I was discussing wandering through the 9the Ward, "Don't be a tourist." There is a difference.

    I suspect when I go back to N.O. next week, I may shoot a bit more on the work my sister and her group of amazingly idealistic young volunteers are doing.

    All take care and have a happy and safe New Years.

    tim in Mobile AL
     
  13. Nacio Jan Brown

    Nacio Jan Brown Member

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    I don't regard myself as a callous person so I imagine that I was not alone in having a somewhat different problem with being a photojournalist. From the mid-60's to the mid-70's I covered virtually every demonstration and riot relating to anti-war and civil rights issues in the SF Bay Area, this for the underground press of the time. For a long time I would go where the action was likely to be and wait, with the rest of the media guys, for something to happen. Toward the end I found myself not just waiting for something to happen but actually hoping that something would happen so that I could get the shot--that demonstrators would begin to throw rocks or that the cops would assault demonstrators. Not comfortable with these feelings I couldn't continue shooting so I just stopped. njb
     
  14. mgphoto

    mgphoto Subscriber

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    I think all of us have to maintain our own sense of balance in our work. Not everyone is cut out to be a James Nachtway or a Eugene Richards, and even those guys have to take a time out every once in a while to decompress. I know in my own work, I have developed over the years, certain comfort levels that I will not cross. It is true that the camera can be a great insulator from the reality happening in front of you. I just try never to lose sight of the reasons why I do what I do and always be aware of the line between telling a story and exploitation.

    Just being able to desensitize oneself from the tragedy in front of the camera is only part of it. Being able to have compassion and empathy for your subjects is also necessary to make really powerful images. As Les pointed out earlier in this thread; sometimes we make images of difficult subjects in an effort to help where we might not otherwise be able to. One of the most rewarding things about my job, is being able to glimpse into the lives of others and tell their stories through my photographs.

    I covered several stories in the aftermath of Katrina and all of them were focused on not just the tragedy, but also the compassion and selflessness of the people that were there to help. The photograph that still haunts me is of a man looking out the window of a an Air Force C-130 as we were taking off from New Orleans on a medical evacuation flight. As I composed the shot, I remember thinking "here is a guy who through a situation completely out of his control is now looking at his home for the last time". Picking up the camera and sticking it in someone's face in a time of tragedy is never easy but knowing that his story may have an effect on others makes it all worthwhile. Tim, if you do get a chance to back to your sister's clinic, do it. I think you'll be glad you did, and you may find that it's also nice for the people there to know that someone recognizes their effort enough to tell their story.

    It is also interesting to note that along with the DSLR's hanging off my shoulders as we got off the plane, there was also a Rolleiflex 2.8F loaded with Tri-X hanging around my neck. Some of my favorite images from that story were from the Rollei. It was also funny to see that little gleam in the eye of other photogs as they noticed the Rollei.

    -Mark
     
  15. Curt

    Curt Subscriber

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    What a person chooses to photograph and whether a person even photographs is a personal decision. My main thought has been, and is especially important now with the demise of film photography, that I am grateful for all of the amateurs who took photographs of events around the World since the invention of Cameras and film. How much visual history would have been lost in the last half of the 19th century and the 20th century if they had just looked and walked away?

    Some times we need the raw truth and not a photoshop version of it.

    Curt
     
  16. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    "Tourists" are the real disasters especially when they show up expecting to rely on others for food, water, and places to stay in times of emergency.

    I've seen some ripping the relief packages open and grabbing blankets for themselves at night without asking for permisson, I've kicked them out of the camps.

    What's worse is when the victims are in shock and cannot really comprehend their situations, some news reporters just show up at their places for their interviews but say something very inconsiderate up front: "Oh my god, your house is gone! But are you okay now?"

    If these reporters have enough time to put makeup to look good in front of their cameras, you know they can perhaps do other things...
     
  17. k_jupiter

    k_jupiter Member

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    Ok, well let's be honest here. N.O. is not a city where you are going to wander upon someone clinging to a roof, calling for help and you have a choice, shoot the picture or help someone out. You are not going to wander into a situation where you can steal someone's MRE or space blanket for your own comfort. There is life in N.O. There is a strong sense of rebuilding the life that was there before, only better. To find the absolute hell in N.O., you need to go look for it.

    What is on display (is that the right context?) is the pain of people wandering on back and finding their houses either gone or not enough left to consider rebuilding. What do they do? Go back to where they were relocated to and build a new life or look at the house they lived in and say... "I'm from N.O. and that's where i am going to stay".

    Another issue in N.O. is the absolute lack of heath care. This is where my sister and her group of volunteers comes in. Free clinics have sprung up all over the city. Situated in barely damaged homes, community centers, churches and mosques, they are making the difference in the lives of people still in the city.

    So the question is... Do I shoot dead buildings, sad people staring at their homes, photos of people hauling refridgerators out to the curb, or do I go shoot pictures of people helping out, building a new clinic, counselling others, rebuilding the infrastructure of a fine US institution?

    I think I know the answer for me.



    tim in Mobile Al
     
  18. firecracker

    firecracker Member

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    Good luck with your decison. But whatever you do, just try not to get caught in an emotional trap. But if you do get caught, just give yourself a break and come back later.

    PTSD could drag for years, so you wouldn't want to make any casual visit to the scene. It's something you wouldn't know until sometime later.

    The reconstruction part, without any doublt takes many years, and you cannot realy tell what the surviving local residents will do to choose and/or where they will end up. It's undeniably a long-term project to begin with.
     
  19. haris

    haris Guest

    I think things should be shown as they are. I am sick and tired of "washed" versions of events. I mean, familly sits to eat dinner, turn TV on, and there are pictures of mutulated bodies, dead people, destruction, etc... Not nice isn't it... So, to protect those good people who don't want those things over theire dinners, let us not show them real things. Little "make up" type of journalism, and everyone is happy. Blessed ignorance.

    Life should be presented to everyone in all its beauty and horror, as it is.
     
  20. Simon H

    Simon H Member

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    Why would you photograph it? If you had a good reason i.e. to make a meaningful point to others or you wanted to keep a memory (albeit unpleasant), specific to you, of the event then you should have gone ahead. Otherwise forget it.
     
  21. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Shoot what is important to you. Be emotional. Don't shoot what you THINK is important. Shoot what is compelling. Shoot what you are doing, what you see, what you dream about. Be personal, be vulnerable, and when you find something you are drawn to, but dare not look, that is the picture to make.

    Above all, when you make a picture, don't 'take'. Give. You can give the descendents of the survivors and the rebuilders something to help understand these times. Your audience is 50 to 100 years in the future, not today.

    .
     
  22. Dorothy Blum Cooper

    Dorothy Blum Cooper Member

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    I may be too late to this thread, but thought I'd add my 2 cents anyway.

    Have to echo df cardwell. I made photos of what was important to me here at home and along the Gulf Coast (pre-Hurricane Katrina my husband and children affectionately referred to this area as our playground).

    When we returned two days after Katrina made landfall we had no idea what to expect. We had been evacuated along with thousands of others. Our only reference was the images we conjured up in our mind based on the radio reports. We had lost power where we were staying in Mississippi and had yet to see any visual reports. We were among the fortunate. We only lost the food in our refrigerator from the loss of power -- nothing more.

    For years, I have documented my home here in Louisiana and the nearby Gulf Coast for myself...no one else. I chose not to photograph the devastation around me. A personal choice.

    The frequent trips that we make to New Orleans are enough of a visual reminder of the devastation for me. My son requires frequent medical attention so we are in New Orleans usually on a weekly basis. Tulane University Hospital was under water, so our son's healthcare was moved to the nearby Tulane-Lakeside Hospital and is staffed by the same neurosurgeon he has been seeing among others.

    I see the destruction and loss all the time. We live it daily. I cannot and do not wish to photograph what these people -- including my family and friends -- are going through. Just my choice. In fact, within days of the storm, my husband put together a montage of our work pre- Katrina and many of you saw it.

    Since New Orleans seems to be known mostly for Mardi Gras, Jazz Funerals and the French Quarter, we wanted to share what we saw. It's so much more than those landmarks and events. Only those who have lived here or really spent alot of time in the Crescent City understand. The people are what make up so much of this great place. What was depicted on television -- played and re-played is not what it's all about. On the contrary. While so much focus was placed on the Super Dome and the evacuees since, the rest of the area pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and took care of business. Despite our whiney governor, people are doing what needs to be done. Really!! New Orleans always had an ugly underbelly that those of us near enough have always known about. It wasn't uncommon for drug-related crime to claim a dozen murders in any given week. Occassionally a tourist or innocent local was the victim. That was more exception than the rule. Television just made it more visible for the rest of the world to see.

    New Orleans is not the only area that was devastated by this storm. Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, Slidell, Covington, Mandeville and many, un-named neighborhoods and towns were left out of the public's eye.

    I chose not to make the images because it's just too close to home and hard to take. It's just sad. I was asked by a local magazine to provide an image that showed hope, rejuvenation...I chose not to submit something from the aftermath. Rather, I submitted what was there and what could be again. They opted to use another artist and that was okay.

    Black and White Magazine (US) emailed showing interest in our 'Calm Before the Storm', but Mr. Rasmussan also opted to use 'someone they worked with previously' over my 'before' images (and probably digital as well!). Not enough 'juice' I guess. Who knows. Again, that was okay with me. I hold firmly to our view of the Calm Before the Storm. Eventually, it will be representative of the current view.

    To sum it up, Tim, do what you feel comfortable with. I live here...it's on my doorstep everyday, but I chose not to make the image. I do applaud those who can in good taste. I hope it's from their hearts. If so, it definitely shows in their work.

    Also...you can read how the locals feel about it here:

    Times Picayune Article

    Tourists Not a Welcome Sight in Some Areas

    I wish I could find the article from the Times-Picayune that was published in December regarding the couple who each day, cleans and hauls debris from their home and waves at the cars from various states photographing the destruction. Do they like it? No...but there's really not much they can do about it. They said they just smile, wave and go about their business. That somewhat said it all to me.

    Thanks for letting me ramble :smile:
     
  23. Drew B.

    Drew B. Subscriber

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    I thought after 31 years in the fire service, photojournalism was something I wanted to explore. I could respond and take images of incidents dealing with police, fire, storm related scenes...but I found I couldn't. I've gotten out and helped too many time to stand by, watch and photograph! So, that idea is out the window for me. I mention this only because it brought back memories of last year...when the idea was put aside.
    drew
     
  24. k_jupiter

    k_jupiter Member

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    Thanks all for such great advice. I didn't shoot much. I took a couple of photos in Biloxi, only for the hope it gave me. When some idiots years ago put up hugh hotel structures right on the beach in Biloxi, people were outraged. Well, those buildings took the brunt of the force of the Tsunami type waves and saved an important historical neighborhood located right behind them. Interesting cause and effect. I shot a bit in that neighborhood, to remind me that 1.) Not all bad things have no purpose. And 2.) Biloxi will rebuild and be a better place.

    That said, I didn't shoot in the lower 9th. I couldn't deal with it. I suspect anyone there shouldn't have to deal with any more than what nature has already loade don their plate.

    I had great feelings seeing idealistic volunteers working their butts off for people they didn't know, and for what? The inner satisfaction of knowing they make a difference in making others lives better.

    What will happen when we have our 'disaster'? An earthquake out here is not an 'if' proposition, it's a 'when' eventuality. Will I shoot the disater or will I feel like Dorothy and just deal with the day to day and know it is enough for my experience and let the tourists shoot away for posterity?

    Lots to think about. Thanks all for your great words.

    tim in san jose