The Subjectivity Of It All

Photojournalism remains a deeply subjective craft – the act, the craft, the technique, the entire business enterprise (from stories selected, assigned, produced, photographed, published, produced, awarded etc.) relies on a series of subjective choices and prioritization. That is, photojournalism, much like any journalism, is fundamentally a human act of exploration, investigation, articulation, documentation, explanation, argumentation, and presentation (not necessarily in that order) and carries within it, as in all human enterprises, a series of human choices, selections, eliminations and and prioritization. And hence, carries within it the fundamental characteristics of all human and humanistic knowledge and endeavors, and that as Edward Said argued:, we can:.

…acquire philosophy and knowledge, it is true, but the basic unsatisfactory fallibility of the human mind persists nonetheless. So there is always something radically incomplete, insufficient, provisional, and arguable about humanistic knowledge that…gives the whole idea of humanism a tragic flaw that is constitutive to it and cannot be removed.

(Said, Edward Humanism And Democratic Criticism, Page 11-12)

Every serious, responsible photojournalist who steps into the world to report and say something about it works to mitigate the problem of human fallibility by proceeding with a determination to report issue fairly, and to document and communicate their findings honestly, comprehensively and ethically. That is, the only thing that allows us to take any photojournalism project seriously is the belief that the reporter has carried out her task with a dedication to these principles. It is also one of the reasons why mainstream news outlets remain so critical to the process – they offer the reputation and trust that allows us to take any reporting from the field seriously.

Ironically, this is the one aspect of photojournalism that news photography and photojournalism contests do not focus on. In fact, there is a near absolute focus on the aesthetics of an image, and little or no focus on evaluating the veracity, accuracy, reliability, and rigor of a photojournalism story. Most of the controversies that emerge during the photo competition season tend to center around issues of aesthetics, as when a number of people voiced concern that Paul Hansen’s World Press Photo competition winning image was over manipulated or adjusted differently for the competition than from when it first ran in the newspaper. Each year, at the end of the major photojournalism competition season, we see a whole host of these complaints and concerns being expressed, with many people expressing outrage at the level of image processing, and adjustment in various winning images. In fact, the only reason an ethics controversy occurred this year was because of a group of bloggers and researchers directly and indirectly invovled with the story produced by Paolo Pellegrin cried foul. Details »

Recycling Myths To Remember A War

You cannot report a war from the front lines. You can only report a battle. Ducking under fire, scared for your life, beholden to the largess and tolerance of the military forces you are traveling with, denuded of context, obsessed with the immediate action unfolding in front of you, while constantly keeping an eye over your shoulder for the ‘enemy’, riddled with panic, fear, doubt, and worry a reporter on the front line struggles to keep up with unfolding events. Like watching a movie, she is unable to see and think simultaneously – she can merely report the immediate, the literal, as it unfolds in front of her. And an embedded reporter is in an even worse position – trapped not only physically, but also ideologically and with the constant fear of being ‘locked’ out if she fails to tow the line.

But wars are not merely the combat and journalism isn’t only about reporting the battles. In fact, when it comes to wars, one could safely argue that the battles are the least interesting pieces of information, and the most misleading. They tell us nothing about how we got into the war, the broader social, political, economic, cultural and individual devastation they unleash, the millions of lives of ‘the enemy’ that are torn asunder, the suffering of those left in the wake of the war machine and the festering and degrading realities that emerge as a result of the occupations and repressions that necessarily follow.

The focus on the battles distracts from the war itself – its reasons, its objectives, and lets be honest, its real consequences for those who were trampled under it. And certainly when it comes to wars of choice, those that our leaders led us into on the basis of lies, journalists have to accept that the front line is in fact the worst place to report as it is most distant from where one can make the inquiries and investigations, understand the realities and histories, that went to make the war, and that plague the came in the aftermath.

But of course, photographers need ‘action’ and ‘events’, and the medium cannot comprehend many of these complexities is then left documenting only the most obvious, and literal manifestations of a conflict – the violence itself. But violence tells us nothing, nor does it really tell the story of a war. As was evidenced by most all the photo slide shows that recently appeared to ‘commemorate’ the 10th anniverary of the American attack on Iraq. Most all simply focused on the battles, the soldiers, the weaponry, the casualties – the front line where truth is in fact practically impossible to find. Details »

Bradley Manning’s Voice – Leaked Audio Recording Of Manning’s Court Statement

The Freedom of the Press Foundation has secured the full audio recording of Bradley Manning’s court statement. Manning’s trial has been a closley guarded secret, and this release of the court statement is the first time we hear Manning explain his actions in his own words.

Hearing Manning’s statement reminds us that this is a 25-year old man who took on the arrogance, indifference, and imperial hubris of a world super power. They bring into stark light the fact the pettiness and hypocrisy of a government that has chosen to crush the life of one man, rather than confront the many illegal actions his leaks revealed. Details »

The Freedom Of The Press Foundation And Small Voices Of Loud Dissent

It has been disheartening to watch the impunity and venality with which the US Government has targeted and attempted to dismantle the operations of Wikileaks, and the lives of all associated. From the hounding of Julian Assange, to the torture and humiliation of Bradley Manning, it has been clear that the US Government is determined to make an example of those who dare challenge its rights to do as it wishes, without oversight or any respect for the law. And the willingness with which major corporations – from financial institutions such as Visa to telecommunications firms eavesdropping on American citizens, have collaborated with illegal and unconstitutional requests from the government, has also been frustrating. I will say nothing about the obsequiousness with which newspapers such as The New York Times, with its herd of mindless stenographers lapping up selected ‘leaks’ given to them by the government, have coddled our politicians, obediently repeating the lies fed to them, and becoming collaborators in illegal wars, and practices such as torture, endless detentions, and the targeted assasinations including that of American citizens. Details »

Repost: This Land Called Gaza – A Love and A Curse

This post was originally written in the aftermath of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008 / 2009. As Israel threatens to once again invade the territory, its determination to incite violence and provoke reactions remains unrecognized and unreported by our media. Some important correctives can be found here, here and here. This is, as it was the first time around, for my friends in Gaza.

Location: Jabaliya refugee camp, Gaza City. 2009


“And what projects are you working on at the moment?”

“An exhibition…and…I’m working on the completion of a new book, something very close to my heart.”

“What’s it about?”

“The Palestinians.”

There was a rather long silence…my friend looked at me with a slightly sad smile, and said “Sure, why not! But don’t you think the subject’s a bit dated? Look, I’ve taken photographs of the Palestinians too, especially in the refugee camps…its really sad! But these days, who’s interested in people who eat off the ground with their hands? And then there’s all that terrorism…I’d have thought you’d be better off using your energy and capabilities on something more worthwhile!”

Swiss photographer Jean Mohr describes a conversation with a friend.(1) Details »

Your Brain Of Mud Or President Obama’s Magic Show In Cairo

On June 4th 2009, President Barack Obama (a man I voted for!) took the stage on the soil of one of the region’s most despotic and repressive regimes. But more than that, he was standing in the center of the geography of American imperial projections that has been the Middle East since the British, Germans, French and other smaller European nations were forced to leave it in the 1940s.
(Originally written in response to Obama’s first condescending speech to the A-rabs back in 2009. Reposted to reflect that nothing really has changed.) Details »

Watching Crowley Crawl Or How Incisive Questions Can Reveal The Hypocrisies Of An Imperial Apparatchik

This was nothing if not embarrassing – the hypocrisy of State Department representative P.J. Crowley, and the administration and imperial system that he so mindlessly represents, may as well be tattooed across this forehead. The news anchor tears through Crowley like a hot knife through butter, leaving him grasping for more lies and even deeper obfuscations. The anchor’s laugh at the end of the interview pretty much says it all, and pretty much reveals what the common man in these ‘allied’ nations with their billion dollar US military aid programs knows and understands. Worth watching.

Details »

Sticking Our Head In The Sand Or We Just Liked Afghanistan Better When The Soviet’s Were Raping It

Larry Towell is looking for money for a new project in Afghanistan and has placed his request on Kickstarter. This would all have been fine had it not been for the fact that he is doing the wrong project.

Larry Towell has been an inspiration, one of the first photographers whose works compelled me to come to photography. So it is with great disappointment that I read his description of what he intends to do in Afghanistan.

The opening sentence from his project description, a project called Crisis In Afghanistan, left me stunned:

For 30 years, Afghanistan has known only civil war.

No it has not. Details »

The Singular Experience Or What Photojournalism Can Be As Discovered In A New Pakistan Literary Review Journal

I think…[y]ou can’t write about Pakistan and get to Pakistanis – it has to be the other way around. Pakistan must be approached as Pakistanis, through Pakistanis, through singular experiences, through the stories we tell ourselves. We need these stories, even if they are never written down and exist only in words over coffee or just in our heads. These are the stories that get us through the day, through the “situation,” through the concept.

Hasan Altaf, Lifes Too Short vs. Granta December 2010

My dismay with the state of current photojournalism has been repeatedly expressed here on this blog. In a number of pieces on photographer and photojournalism I have called for photographers to step away from cliches and conventions and look to produce new stories based on a fresh, creative, new set of thoughts and ideas. Details »

Hollywood And War Or How The Silver Screen Is Also An Obfuscating Veil

The program does not go far enough, to be honest, but I was pleasantly surprised to see a news channel taking on the question

This of course is a subject well covered in some interesting books. The few come immediately to mind and that I consider interesting because they examination of the close collaboration between the United States arms of warfare and the United States arms of entertainment to sell a specific angle and perspective on the conflict the nation may be engaged in. Details »