Like moths to a flame – so many cameras in Haiti

This picture:
BBC In Pictures - Search for Haiti Survivors

Reminds me of this pack of war paparazzi. I’m well aware that coverage of disasters is chaotic and involves a huge crowd of reporters. Photojournalism isn’t just one photographer out in the middle of nowhere sending back photos, but it shouldn’t be a pack of hungry wolves descending on the latest victim to emerge from the rubble. The world needs to know about disaster and it takes an army of reporters to do that. The pictures from Haiti have likely been the a driving force behind the private and public relief donations. But… I can only imagine how much worse the woman’s disorientation and confusion was made by so many lenses stuck in her face. I get so depressed every time I see a goat fuck. (via Conscientious Redux)

From the sounds of it now, Haiti needs money more than it needs more people on the ground. I’ve read fresh water is running out. Lightstalkers has a bit more info from the ground. Thankfully, text message donations have raised over US$10 million.

Word now comes that (no surprise here) photographers in Haiti face shortages of fuel, water, housing, and food. Here’s an enlightening perspective on untrained volunteers coming to help in Sarajevo during the war and the undue burden they placed on the people they were trying to help.

The very first thing I thought of when seeing this picture was of course Alex Webb’s work in Haiti in 1994, which has multiple levels of importance for this discussion and shows the long oft-complicated relationship between the media and Haiti. Links to Magnum stories don’t seem to persist very well; go to the search page and pick Webb in the “include photographer” section and type “haiti” in as a keyword. Here’s one such photo:

HAITI. 1994. A photographer takes an exposure reading to shoot a photo of killed Aristide supporter. Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

I’m left wondering if there is a difference of context between photographs/photographing man-made disaster (i.e. war) and natural disaster? In some sense I’m less pissed off by this photograph above than similar images from wars, but I’m not sure why. I think it feels less like the photographers are over-inflating the importance of an event (turning something into a press conference) or setting up this scene (or that something is a show being performed for their lenses). It still turns my gut as a journalist (beyond the human level which is most queasy, though I think we sometimes need to repress this as journalists) that there is pack activity like this happening in such a horrible zone. As much as I understand it (these photographers are doing their jobs in my opinion) I still don’t like seeing the sausage being made, probably because I’ve been there myself.

Simply, this is another expression of age-old contradictions and discontents of journalism itself.

This also brings me to some interesting things happening on twitter expressing much the same emotions. Time Magazine’s Jay Newton-Small is sending out wrenching tweets while she is reporting in Port-au-Prince, including:

Haitians are furious w/ Americans & the West. They yell “fuck you” and “put down your camera & dig” when u drive by. (link)

2late, 2late, they say. I tell myself that i’m doing more good writing than digging, but it’s hard not to agree w/them. Heart wrenching (link)

@ dinner tonite yucky drunken US expats grilling steak & drinking beer, watching 100s of homeless victims sing their pain.THIS IS NOT A SHOW (link)

There will be much more to talk about on the issue of media coverage of this horrible disaster but I think we should wait until we are closer to a conclusion, there is too much more to be done right now. I wish all the photographers heading there (I hear from more everyday; and check out the #haitiphoto) the best and implore them to do honest and compassionate work.

(dual post by Matt and Scott)

19 Responses to “Like moths to a flame – so many cameras in Haiti”

  1. M. Scott Brauer

    This is such a sticky issue. On the one hand, the world needs to know. On the other, getting that knowledge out of an ugly situation is also pretty ugly.

    I wouldn’t bar journalists from disaster zones, and I wouldn’t restrict coverage only to staff photographers. Press conferences and courtrooms have the luxury of setting up pools of journalists, in which a small group of writers and photographers cover a high-profile event and share that coverage with the worldwide media. The only limiter in a disaster or war-zone is the availability of scarce resources (water, food, fuel, electricity, shelter). And a free and open society should allow access to any media that wants to cover something. But I still wouldn’t wish a pack of photographers and writers on my worst enemy.

    Not an easy issue….

  2. Milos Djuric

    i belive this is the result of a problem Christopher Anderson spoke about some time ago:

    “The industry has been a fraud for some time. We created an industry where photography is like big-game hunting. We created an industry of contests that reinforce a hyper-dramatic view of the world. Hyperbole is what makes the double spread (sells) and is also the picture that wins the contest”

    ( http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2009/10/a_conversation_with_christopher_anderson.html#more )

    And I dont think that this is so much a problem of ethics, if there were only 3 or 4 photographers in haiti covering the disaster, nobody would ask if it is right for them to be there and not to help. The problem is simply that there are to many of us photojournalists on this planet – and everyone wants to save the world or at least win a price.

  3. Prayers in the Dark: Damon Winter in Haiti | dvafoto

    […] Damon Winter on the NYT’s Lens Blog is the most heartbreaking and provoking. In light of our recent discussions I think this is an important read for context and understanding of important work being done by […]

  4. Goat Fuck « Prison Photography

    […] Matt and Scott at Dvafoto have made some important observations on the behaviour of the press in Haiti. […]

  5. Like moths to a flame – so many cameras in Haiti | dvafoto | The Click

    […] Reminds me of this pack of war paparazzi. I’m well aware that coverage of disasters is chaotic and involves a huge crowd of reporters. Photojournalism isn’t just one photographer out in the middle of nowhere sending back photos, but it shouldn’t be a pack of hungry wolves descending on the latest victim to emerge from the rubble. The world needs to know about disaster and it takes an army of reporters to do that. The pictures from Haiti have likely been the a driving force behind the private and public relief donations. […]

  6. Haiti Photos and Donations | Jordan Visuals

    […] Litherland DVA Photo Scott […]

  7. Rich-joseph Facun

    Although I understand the scenario, at some point your heart should tell you when to walk away…. This may have been one of those moments for me.

  8. John Edwin Mason

    As Scott says, a sticky issue. To say the least.

    Writers and photographers must do their jobs, even in these circumstances.

    But we — the public — need photos like the ones above to remind us of our own position as viewers/ spectators/ gawkers.

  9. Ben Bertucci's Blog » Blog Archive » The Sad State of Port-Au-Prince

    […] the other side of the coin there is a piece here about the crowds of photojournalists that disasters […]

  10. Photojournalism in Haiti « Beta|Erinyes

    […] Like Moths to a Flame: Matt Lutton and M. Scott Brauer present some thought-provoking opinions on the media’s role in covering tragedy on their blog “dvafoto”. The article begins by highlighting the psychological impact of the frenetic scrum around a recently rescued woman and continues to talk about the inherent contradictions involved in covering tragedy. […]

  11. More Perspectives on Haiti and Crisis Journalism | dvafoto

    […] but untrained volunteers in Sarajevo that Scott linked to in our first commentary on Haiti (“Like moths to a flame – so many cameras in Haiti”). It is an important and informed counter-point (along with many others brought up by […]

  12. iced coffee » Blog Archive » Haiti; A Round-up, 9days later

    […] a post titled ‘Like Moths to a Flame‘, M. Scott Brauer discusses the other side to this, how photojournalists flock to scenes like […]

  13. Rick Loomis

    “Images from Haiti are heartbreaking.” – First lady Michelle Obama in a plea for donations to the Red Cross to aid the victims of the earthquake. So far, the Red Cross has received over 9 million dollars in donations. How much could one reasonably presume the Red Cross would collect if no images came out of Haiti ?

    If you are there to collect images for some contest, that’s on you. If you are there to inform – and as a result, affect positive change to even the smallest degree by being there, then I’d say that’s not such a bad thing.

    For as many journalists that are there right now, there is still a finite (and getting smaller) number of people and organizations that are able to fund such an endeavor.

    And in the interest of disclosure, I am one of the photographers depicted in the photo, which was shot by a good friend, Carl Juste. It might look like a bunch of gawkers to an outside viewer, but many of those there waited for hours and hours on the scene, hoping to show a glimmer of hope in a situation not far from total despair.

    For me personally, after spending the last light of that day gagging in a sea of thousands of bodies deposited at the morgue, it was cleansing to be able to rejoice in the freeing of even one person alive. I was happy to share that moment with our readership.

  14. Celebrities of Haiti (Hunter or Hunted?) « Stephen Sidlo Photography Blog

    […] His sentiments exactly. From what I can tell also the same images are flooded back to us – and obviously this has a knock on effect with our giving. M. Scott Brauer echoes that thought; “Photojournalism isn’t just one photographer out in the middle of nowhere sending back photos, but it shouldn’t be a pack of hungry wolves descending on the latest victim to emerge from the rubble. The pictures from Haiti have likely been the driving force behind the private and public relief donations. But… I can only imagine how much worse the woman’s disorientation and confusion was made by so many lenses stuck in her face. I get so depressed every time I see a goat fuck.” M. Scott Brauer  – Like moths to a flame – so many cameras in Haiti. […]

  15. Course Readings « AHSS 2170: Human Figure

    […] 2. Bauer, M. Scott. “Like Moths to a Flame – so Many Cameras in Haiti.” Web Log post. Dv… […]

  16. Thinking Images v.16: Osama Bin-Laden and the pictorial staging of politics | David Campbell

    […] Nathan Webber’s image of photographers with the dead Fabienne Cherisma, and other examples of what some in photography inelegantly call a “goat fuck.” # # From domestic […]

  17. The problem with the dramatic staging of photojournalism: what is the real issue? | David Campbell

    […] Webber’s image of photographers with the dead Fabienne Cherisma, and many other examples. # These all demonstrate that photographs are neither mirrors nor windows offering untrammelled […]

  18. Photojournalism Behind the Scenes « box-populi

    […] …Ruben Salvadori’s video – “an auto-critical photo essay” – demonstrates clearly that when we see a conflict, what we see is the outcome of “conflict image production.” It’s like those still photographs which reveal photographers at work – Paul Lowe’s 1992 photograph of the Somalia famine victim, Alex Webb’s 1994 picture of photographer’s in advance of US troops landing in Haiti (Magnum reference PAR112713), Nathan Webber’s image of photographers with the dead Fabienne Cherisma, and many other examples… […]

Comments are closed.