Remembering James Foley and other journalists still missing

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James Foley was my middle school teacher in a very poor neighborhood and all I want to say is thank you Mr. Foley you helped shape me into the man I am today….This man always preached being open and respectful to other cultures. It’s unfortunate that his openness lead to this.”
-Reddit user wheelchaircharlie

We have been following the disappearance of James Foley since he went missing in Syria in November 2012, a story that has been documented on the website FreeJamesFoley.org, and now we are sad to report that he has been brutally killed. ISIS (or ISIL) militants released a video yesterday showing the beheading of James Foley, though when and where the murder occurred remains uncertain. The White House has confirmed the authenticity of the video and President Obama said in a statement today that “the future is shaped by people like Jim Foley, and the overwhelming majority of humanity who are appalled by those who killed him.”



I won’t link to the video (or watch it, myself), but thought it’d be worthwhile to link to some remembrances of James Foley and his reporting. I never knew him, but he was a friend and colleague of many of my friends. By all accounts, he was a great guy filled with kindness and a passion for sharing his knowledge and talents. He will be missed.

The video also reportedly shows another journalist held captive by ISIL. These images have informed the first public reports that reporter Steven Sotloff was being detained in Syria. It is worth noting that information about individuals who have been kidnapped is often held secret for their safety and in hopes of aiding negotiations for their release. This extends to journalists reporting about their colleagues who are in danger, with a reluctance to discuss, report or reveal information publicly.

James Foley, Aleppo, Syria - 07/12. Photo: Nicole Tung.
James Foley, Aleppo, Syria – 07/12. Photo: Nicole Tung.

Here are a few posts that we have been reading after news of Foley’s killing:

  • These Are the Stories James Foley Risked His Life to Tell: Patrick Reis at the National Journal shares some of Foley’s work
  • A reddit user going by wheelchaircharlie recalls the impact James Foley had on him when Foley was a Teach for America fellow in Arizona in 1996. (another user questioned whether it was the same James Foley, but a Teach for America post about Foley’s kidnapping confirms the connection)
  • Writing in May 2013, Clare Morgana Gillis remembers her friendship with James Foley. Gillis and Foley were detained alongside each other in Libya in 2011.
  • Max Fisher recalls working to get Foley and other kidnapped journalists released after their capture in Libya in 2011.
  • James Foley speaks to students at Medill School of Journalism‘s Gertrude and G.D. Crain Jr. Lecture Series at Northwestern University in 2011.
  • Foley’s family have released a moving statement about his life and death, underscoring their love for him and his dedication to the story. (also on the Free James Foley Facebook page)
  • CNN has collected some remembrances (← warning: auto-playing video) of Foley by colleagues and friends.
  • The New York Daily News has also collected remembrances and photos posted to twitter by colleagues and friends.
  • Foley wrote to his alma mater, Marquette University, after his release from captivity in Libya in 2011.
  • Amnesty International has published a report called “‘Beheading’ of US reporter a war crime that highlights ‘chilling’ risk to journalists”.
  • Uri Friedman writes in The Atlantic about Foley’s desire to get closer to the story in Syria when so few other journalists would.
  • It’s also worth remembering the many other journalists, aid workers and contractors still missing around the world, and the many who have been killed this year. Men’s Journal has a good, short refresher about what they call “The Forgotten Hostage Crisis.” As always, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders remain essential reading for keeping up to date on this issue. The CPJ reports that 30 reporters and photographers have been killed so far in 2014.


    There’s also a good discussion to be had about the ethics and effects of publishing images from militants’ propaganda videos. Many journalists, across our networks on Facebook and Twitter, have urged their colleagues to refrain from publishing any images of Foley’s execution contending that publishing images of this act only serves to perpetuate ISIS’ terror. Likewise, social media companies such as Facebook and Youtube have been actively working to block some images from the video from appearing on their networks. We should revisit this issue of visual representation and politics at a later date, along with other relevant discussions that we are having this week.

    We wish peace and healing to Foley’s family and friends, and the families of the many other colleagues who have died in recent months, and to those still missing.

    Related: Revisit our post about what happens when a kidnapped journalist is a freelancer. As war reporting increasingly becomes the realm of freelancers, it’s worth noting how much greater the risk and liability is for reporters not connected to a major news organization.

    Ferguson: a fascinating and troubling study of visual politics, race, the police, and the media

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    But these images aren’t coming from Egypt or the Gaza Strip or Ukraine. These are our own, homegrown documents of social unrest and they can’t, like images from more distant lands, be kept safely at bay.”

    -Philip Kennicott, Washington Post

    There’s a lot to unpack as the ordeal in Ferguson, Missouri, continues on. It will be a fascinating case study in visual politics, race theory, and media law once the dust settles. I’ve been following the news as best I can and have been fascinated to see just how much of it has played out through visuals, and primarily still photography. Pictures embedded in tweets, instagram posts, vine videos, and facebook posts going viral have quickly made the confrontation between the community and its police a national issue. Buzzfeed has gotten in on the coverage with the clickbaity post: 32 Powerful Images From Ferguson After The Death Of Michael Brown. There even appears to be a tweeted picture of Michael Brown laying dead on the ground, by user @TheePharaoh. As with everything in the media, especially twitter and other social media, it’s hard to verify everything.

    I’d like to focus on a few main topics in relation to the aftermath of the police killing of Michael Brown, a young unarmed black man: the representation of black men in the media, the “Don’t shoot me” extended arms pose, the look of militarized police, and police targeting of reporters. I’m not the only one that thinks some of the pictures coming out of Fergus recall images from the Civil Rights struggle.

    Before we get to that, make sure you take a look at the Whitney Curtiswork for the New York Times, Alex Welsh‘s work for Fader (UPDATE 20 August 2014: Fader has published another set of Welsh’s photos, Personal History: Photographer Alex Welsh Walks Through Ferguson ), and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s chronological big-picture page Ferguson in Photos (as well as the rest of their coverage).

    Black Men in the Media

    Early on as protesters gathered in Ferguson after the shooting, images of Michael Brown emerged which showed him flashing hand signals which might look like stereotypical gang signs and apparently involved in a robbery. The Drudge Report led with an image of Michael Brown flipping off a camera, for instance. The Daily Beast (they have a screenshot of the Drudge Report) and Deadspin (there’s more worth reading in the Deadspin piece, titled America is Not For Black People) have good analysis about the demonization of Michael Brown with pictures, as does BagNewsNotes.



    Black men are usually portrayed negatively in the media (← pdf), and these images and stories create negative stereotypes in the public’s mind. Police have released images of Michael Brown during an apparent convenience store robbery, though some argue that a video shows he paid for the items. In any case, Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown did not know about the robbery at the time of the shooting. Nevertheless, a twitter hashtag campaign, #If They Gunned Me Down, takes a critical look at how black men are portrayed in the media after they’ve been killed. Users post two images of themselves, one usually looking angry or holding a gun and one in which they’re dressed for work or in military uniform. It’s a powerful reminder that image is just a snapshot into a person’s story and that even truthful images (a person actually did hold a gun) can be misrepresentative. There’s a collection of #IfTheyGunnedMeDown pictures at this tumblr, but I can’t vouch for whether it’s comprehensive or not. Look at the difference between how Michael Brown was shown after his death and the image used by some news stations after the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting.

    Southern California Public Radio dug into the hashtag campaign (which has been widely covered) a bit and asked some of the tweeters which image they posted best represents them. Al Jazeera dug even further into the effort. Duckrabbit has a typically thoughtful post, leading with an image that looks like young black men ready for mayhem but who are in fact protecting a store in Ferguson.

    On The Media’s coverage of Ferguson (although I haven’t heard this portmanteau elsewhere, they dub it Fergustan, a reference to the similarity of images coming from Ferguson and those coming from, for instance, Afghanistan) is also worth a listen, touching on the portrayal of black men in the media and comparing it to coverage after the killing of Trayvon Martin. Their analysis of Trayvon Martin coverage is also required listening if you’re interested in this stuff.

    DCTV, a Washington DC public access channel, just hosted a thoughtful panel called “Changing Coverage of Black Males in the Media” for their 25th Anniversary, and the moderator penned a short editorial in the Washington Times: Redeeming the image of Black Men in the Media. The National Association of Black Journalists is also a great resource for these issues, and they have a helpful style guide addressing usage questions relating to coverage of African-American issues.

    Don’t Shoot Me



    One of the most frequent visual refrains in both coverage of the protests and activism surrounding the events is black men standing with their arms extended up, often with signs that say “Don’t Shoot Me.” Above, you can see an image that went viral of Howard University (a revered historically black school) students joining together in the pose. It recalls another image in which men in Howard’s Medical School posed in hoodies and in their white doctor coats after the killing of Trayvon Martin and subsequent criticism of young black men in hoodies.

    The Washington Post has an in-depth look at how the Howard University photo happened, as does MLive.com the hometown newspaper of one of the organizers, Howard University Student Association president Leighton Watson.

    BagNewsNotes looks at other images of men in Ferguson with their arms raised, which can be seen repeatedly in most coverage of the situation (← those links all go to the same InFocus post, but there are similar images in every Ferguson gallery I’ve seen.).

    Unarmed black men are killed by police far too often in this country. MSNBC ran this moving segment by Melissa Harris-Perry on the subject, which includes this harrowing statistic: “From 2006 to 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in [the US].”

    The Militarization of American Police

    Be aware that following these links might lead to a rabbit hole of libertarian or right-wing nuttery. The links here are worth looking at, but if you google, for instance, the Department of Education SWAT team (which may or may not exist; a DOE law enforcement raid happened, but DOE says it was not a SWAT team and not related to an unpaid student loan), all bets are off.

    I’ve been following the militarization of American Police for some time. I first became aware of the issue in college when my university police force purchased machine guns. But it’s been going on for decades. This 1986 New York Times piece by Nicholas Kristof leads with the oft-repeated maxim that police need heavier fire power because the criminals have heavy fire power. In Ferguson, there have been molotov cocktails thrown and pistol fire. Police have responded with military-grade weapons: teargas, sniper rifles, shotguns, and machine guns.



    The image above (Ferguson police on left) comes from a fascinating collection of tweets from American military veterans and their responses to images of police in Ferguson. The whole thing is worth a read (and there’s a note at the bottom that says some veterans say the equipment is appropriate for situation).

    For at least a decade, local police departments have been given or purchased unused military equipment. The New York Times has a great piece about the phenomenon. Both Salon and The Intercept have well-researched pieces on the history of weaponizing police and how that squares with police violence across the US. It’s all come to a head in Ferguson. Check out the Daily Dot’s illustrated guide to Ferguson’s police equipment.

    After the first few nights of police and protestor violence, the heavily armed St. Louis County police were replaced by Missouri Highway Patrol. The first pictures to come out after the switch were not of sniper rifles and SWAT vehicles but hugs and kisses between community members the Highway Patrol Captain and Ferguson native Ronald Johnson. The hugs and kisses didn’t last long. On Monday, National Guard troops were deployed to Ferguson and there’s been a nightly curfew imposed on the community.

    Peaceful protestors were targeted with laser sights. Police fired the same tear gas used in Egypt and Palestine.

    A conversation has started about whether or not local police should be given military equipment. As the veterans linked above noted, military gear and combative stances often heighten tensions between protestors and peacekeepers. Arming police with military gear often leads to more deadly police interactions. The Wire chronicles the recent history of police militarization and the rise of 1033 programs after September 11. The CATO Institute (warning, they’re a thinktank with an agenda and have been beating the political drum against police militarization for a long time) maintains a map of hundreds of botched police raids over the past three decades.

    Also, read these two excerpts from the book Rise of the Warrior Cop published by Salon while you’re at it: “Why did you shoot me; I was Reading a Book,” and “Oh God I thought they were going to shoot me next.” The book is by a libertarian activist, but has been well received across the spectrum.

    For a counterpoint, read this opinion article in today’s Washington Post: I’m a cop. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t challenge me.

    The Onion and Clickhole have two particularly noteworthy posts relating to the militarization of police, by the way – Police or Army: Who Wore it Best? and The Pros And Cons Of Militarizing The Police, which includes the classic line, “Local photojournalists now able to capture fog of war at home.”

    Police vs. Media


    “Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people, what they see on the ground.” -Barack Obama, Aug. 14, 2014

    I first learned about the situation in Ferguson when a St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer was attacked by looters (note: “looter” is a loaded term). Since then, I haven’t seen any more reports of protestors/looters/community members interfering with reporters in Ferguson. Be sure to read Poynter’s piece on how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is covering the story.

    We’ve covered the war on cameras many times before. A number of journalists have been arrested or injured in Ferguson (one friend was hit by a rubber bullet or bean bag over the weekend). As far as I can tell, no journalists have been charged with any crimes. Instead, they are interrupted from doing their jobs, taken away from the news event handcuffs, and detained for a few hours. The Poynter Institute has been keeping a running tally of journalists arrested in Ferguson.

    The police continue to interfere with reporters and photographers trying to report the news in Ferguson. If you read no other links on this subject, read that last one from Vox. Here it is again.

    Last week, it got so bad that President Obama weighed in on the subject, saying police shouldn’t harass reporters. Countless media organizations have written to the authorities in St. Louis and Missouri condemning the police’s actions against reporters and asking for freedom to operate in the area. On Aug. 15, 2014, a court order was signed that reinforces the right of the public and the press to record and photograph public events as they happen (embedded below):


    But that court order hasn’t stopped police from arresting reports. Last night and early this morning, six journalists were arrested, including Getty Images photographer Scott Olson (video above) when he stepped outside of a designated media zone (designated free speech zones, etc., need to be discussed another time…). The National Journal put up a review of Olson’s work prior to his arrest. He has since been released. Getty released a statement condemning the arrest. The concurrent arrest of two German journalists for “Die Welt” is making headlines there, too (German links via reddit). The officer arresting the German reporters gave his name as “Donald Duck” when asked. Likewise, in the images of Olson getting arrested, the police officers are not wearing name tags or badges with numbers.

    While some reporters say that not all Ferguson police interactions are bad, the fact remains that police have frequently used tear gas and other less-than-lethal force against reporters, prevented reporters from doing their jobs by detaining them or arresting them, and otherwise threatened reporters who have a legal right to be there. The police are likely breaking the law each time they prevent someone from filming their activities.

    Make sure you read Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery’s account of his arrest.

    It shouldn’t need to be repeated, but in the United States, it is legal in all 50 states to record police activity. Politico, the Atlantic, Huffington Post, and the New York Daily News have all recently published pieces about the public’s and press’s right to record police activity. I’ve written about the issue before on dvafoto many times.

    It’s good to see the NPPA and other organizations pressing authorities on this issue as it happens.

    (many links in the Police vs. Media section via the NPPA on Facebook)


    There are a few odds and ends that didn’t fit anywhere else.
    BagNewsNotes writes about the right’s obsession with an image of Obama dancing while events in Ferguson transpired. They also posted about images of looting early on in coverage: If it Loots, it Leads: Stereotyping the Police Shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. The NPPA has a short interview with St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer and videographer David Carson about working in Ferguson. PhotoShelter’s Allen Murabayashi wrote some thoughtful observations on race in photography and the news.

    I’ll leave you with John Oliver’s typically trenchant analysis of many of these topics on his Last Week Tonight.

    Sohrab Hura joins Magnum: “Life is Elsewhere”

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    Sohrab Hura is one of the photographers whose work I’ve been eagering following closely for years, going back to when Scott and I first saw his work on Flickr. His earlier photos are reminiscent of traditional black and white reportage but his deeply personal project “Life is Elsewhere” has grown into a fantastic, impressionistic style. We, and many others, were very excited to learn a few weeks ago that Hura had joined Magnum Photos as a nominee (Magnum’s Press Release). His “Life is Elsewhere” project has recently been published on the Magnum website and offers us all a chance to admire a extended edit of this work.

    India. 2007. My first time playing Holi in Vrindavan. (c) Sohrab Hura / Magnum

    … My Life is Elsewhere is a journal of my life, my family, my love, my friends, my travels, my sheer need to experience all that is about to disappear and so in a way I’m attempting to connect my own life with the world that I see with a hope to find my reality in it.” – Sohrab Hura

    Hura offers an interesting description of his book: “Life is Elsewhere is a book of contradictions and of doubts and understandings and of laughter and forgetting in which I am trying to constantly question myself by simply documenting the broken fragments of my life which might seem completely disconnected to one another on their own. But I hope that in time I am able to piece together this wonderful jigsaw puzzle called life. And this journey will perhaps lead to reconciliation with my own life.”

    Invisible Photographer Asia has an extended interview with Hura that was published earlier this month after the Magnum announcement. It offers a lot of insight into Hura’s work and motivation, how he has edited his work, as well as a glimpse at newer projects.

    Hura’s biography from Magnum:

    “Sohrab Hura was born on 17th October 1981 in a small town called Chinsurah in West Bengal, India and he grew up changing his ambitions from one exciting thing to another. He started with dreams of growing up and becoming a dog, which later turned to becoming a superhero and then to a veterinarian to a herpetologist to becoming a wild life film maker. Today he is a photographer, after having completed his Masters in Economics. He is currently the coordinator of the Anjali House children’s photography workshop that takes place during the Angkor Photo Festival, Cambodia every year and his home base is New Delhi, India.”

    Congratulations to Sohrab! We are looking forward to seeing more of your work gain a wider audience.

    Also worth checking out, if you haven’t already, is Prasiit Sthapit’s “Change of Course”, a project recommended by Hura to Dvafoto last year. Sthapit was one of Sohrab’s students in a workshop in Kathmandu in 2012.