Category Archive: war
I first heard about the death of Molhem Barakat in Syria by way of the above image posted to twitter on Dec. 21. Barakat was killed while covering fighting between rebels and loyalists over the Kindi Hospital in Aleppo, Syria. Covering Syria has been an especially dangerous endeavour for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists, as of this writing, states that 55 journalists have been killed in the country since 1992, all in the past 3 years. However, Barakat’s death raises even more questions.
Many of the reports of Barakat’s death state that he was 17 years old. Reuters has not confirmed this, but nor has the media organization given any age. As usual, duckrabbit is on the case, with a large set of links surrounding Molhem Barakat. British journalist Hannah Lucinda Smith wrote a remembrance for the boy, whom she’d known over the past year. She first wrote about him in an interesting, and provocative, piece called “My friend, the aspiring suicide bomber.” When the boy couldn’t join an Al Qaeda-linked group in Syria, he turned to Reuters to freelance. He was accepted. His work was good, used to accompany articles by major media outlets. Buzzfeed has a collection of some of his most powerful work from the conflict.
But many have been asking just what a 17-year-old was doing working for one of the largest media organizations in one of the most dangerous conflicts in recent history, especially for journalists. NPR’s On the Media broadcast a tremendous piece last September called “The Freelancers’ War,” which lays out what coverage of Syria really means. Although some media organizations have banned the use of reporting from Syria by freelancers, the vast majority of reporting from the conflict remains the domain of freelancers. For some, it’s war tourism. Vice had a particularly telling piece in 2012 called “I went to Syria to learn how to be a journalist.” The freelancers face extreme danger without insurance, training, adequate gear, institutional backing, or even a plan for what to do when things go bad.
After the news of Barakat’s death, people have been wondering why the organization hired a 17-year-old to work in this danger. Corey Pein’s blog post covers the important issues, and includes an empty response from Reuters received by Stuart Hughes.
So the questions remain:
- Was Molhem Barakat 17 when working for Reuters?
- If so, why is a child working for one of the largest media organizations in the world?
- Why would a media organization hire someone who had previously tried to join Al Qaeda?
- Did Reuters provide the expensive camera gear to Barakat?
- What was the agreement between Reuters and the 17-year-old? Was he given safety equipment, training, insurance? What about assistance for his family?
- Does Reuters, or other news organization, regularly employ people under 18 when covering conflict? If not, why now?
Corey Pein has many more questions, all of which demand an answer.
“Is it curious, for example, why the military would censor every and any image of a wounded US soldier, the media colluding with the blackout, while at the same time, after a supposed terrorist attack on an American marathon race, domestic media would be scrambling to outdo each another to disseminate the most bloody images of mangle limbs? And then, would there be any reason why the images of the public massacre of pro-Morsi demonstrators by the Egyptian police a couple weeks back would earn only cursory display while the media seems so eager, these Syrian photos in hand, to open an artery?” -All that Syrian Decapitation in the Media Lately: The New Abnormal? (GRAPHIC) / BagNewsNotes
Yesterday Time’s LightBox blog posted photos of the execution by decapitation of an unknown man by unknown assailants in Syria, photographed by an unknown photographer. It’s a graphic gallery, but they are not the only recent troubling images of executions in Syria. Recent coverage in Paris Match and the New York Times have focused on brutal executions committed by both Syrian rebels and the Assad regime. BagNewsNotes offers a reading and interpretation of what these photos, and their recent publication, mean in relation to broader political conditions. The pictures and reporting linked here are important in our understanding of the current Syrian problem and how our leaders are acting. So too, BagNews’ analysis is worth a read.
This ad (above) is a few months old, but just came across my desk again. Made for the launch of the Leica M-Monochrom rangefinder at the Sao Paulo Leica store, it recreates vignettes from Robert Capa‘s life, including paratroopers landing at Normandy, his relationship with Gerda Taro, and his death by landmine in Indochina (and his final images). The spot is beautifully shot; there’s no wonder why it has won a number of industry awards.
This week has seen renewed violence in Egypt, and a number of journalists covering the news have been injured or killed. On Wednesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Mick Deane, on assignment for Sky News, and Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, an Egyptian working for Dubai newspaper XPRESS though not on assignment at the time of death, were both shot and killed. Others, including Reuters photographer Asmaa Waguih and Al-Masry Al-Youm photographer Ahmed al-Najjar, were injured while covering the violence. And yesterday, at least two more journalists were killed, and several more injured. Ahmed Abdel Gawad, reporter for the state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper, and Mosaab al-Shami, a photographer for the local Rassd News Network, were both killed while covering raids on the Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque. Several more journalists were injured. Egyptian human rights group Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression documented 31 human rights violations against local journalists on Wednesday. While these are only a few of the hundreds killed in recent days in Egypt, Wednesday was the deadliest day for journalists in Egypt since CPJ began recording journalists’ deaths in the country in 1992. Since 1992, there have been nine journalists killed in Egypt as a result of their reporting (CPJ’s Egypt page says 7 as of my writing, but their reporting updates the total to 9), eight of which have happened since the revolution in 2011, three of which happened this week.
UPDATE: Here’s one photographer’s account of being attacked by the Muslim Brotherhood. Aymann Ismail, of Animal New York, was attacked after photographer people spray painting graffiti on a church door. A crowd stole his camera, but after enlisting the help of his mother by phone, and then his cousin who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he managed to get the camera and memory cards back.
Conflict reporting is a dangerous undertaking increasingly dominated by the work of freelance journalists (as high as 80% of journalists working in Syria are freelancers), most of whom lack the legal, financial, and security resources of large news organizations while working in risky environments. Vaughan Smith, of London’s Frontline Club, and a group of freelance photographers and other journalists have organized the Frontline Freelance Register to address the issue of freelancers putting themselves at risk without the institutional backing of large news organizations (two French freelancers freelancers were just abducted in Syria; James Foley has been missing for 204 days as of the writing of this post). The FFR is billed as “a representative body for freelance journalists exposed to risk while gathering news” and will work to establish and promote industry-wide safety standards and best practices for journalists working abroad in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
If you work in dangerous environments, you can apply to join the FFR here.
Related: RISC trains freelance conflict journalists to treat life-threatening injuries in the battlefield.
You may be familiar with Jens Olof Lasthein‘s work after he won the 2010 Oskar Barnack Award for his pictures from Abkhazia. I was looking through his portfolio yesterday and fell in love with Lasthein’s series “Cows At War”. It’s a flash site, so there’s no way to link directly. Click on “Works”, then “Cows At War.”
The series shows cows and a few dogs and horses in the middle of war-torn Abkhazia. It’s an unexpected and humorous reminder that the ordinary persists throughout even the most difficult circumstances. There may be bullets flying and bombs exploding, but a cow will just keep chewing its cud through it all. In the same vein, you might recall Todd Heisler‘s What Has Four Legs and Follows Me?
I met Camille Lepage in South Sudan last September when I arrived in the capital Juba on a two-week assignment. She had already been living there for almost two months, and has been there ever since. She was a huge help in getting our story off of the ground and filling my colleague and I in on how South Sudan works, with all the necessary tips and tricks that help make things happen there. And there are a lot of tips and tricks needed.
At the time she had just finished a stint at a local newspaper, The Citizen, and was starting work as a stringer for AFP. Since I met her, she has traveled all over South Sudan and the border region and begun to produce impressive stories on her own. I wanted to feature her project “The Silent War” from South Kordofan, which was was photographed in October and November last year and published this week in Le Monde. We also wanted to ask her a few questions about what life is like as a freelance photographer in South Sudan.
Dvafoto: When did you arrive in South Sudan?
I arrived in South Sudan in July 2012, just after finishing my degree in journalism at Southampton Solent University in the UK.
What was the main story you wanted to cover when you set out?
The wars at the borders with Sudan really pushed me to come to South Sudan. They are going on in complete silence and I have always wanted to cover underreported (if reported at all) wars or humanitarian crises, so I figured going to South Sudan, which was a new nation under construction, would probably be a good way to start. On top of that, I thought it was very unfair that a one year old country was constantly referred to as doomed or failed so I wanted to see it for myself and perhaps bring some new light on it.
How has the story you’re pursuing changed?
I think I really have two main focuses. The first is the humanitarian crisis in both Blue Nile State and South Kordofan where locals are being bombed by the Sudanese government, where NGOs and journalists are forbidden. Since June 2011, it has led hundreds of thousands of people to be displaced to other countries. I didn’t think I would spend so much time and energy on this, but after having spent 3 weeks in South Kordofan last November, I know I have to go back as often as I can. I also want to make my way to Blue Nile, which is trickier and much more costly too. Also, I can only go to those places during the dry season, when roads are practicable, so from November to May. I also need to finance those trips by working for NGOs at the same time, it’s a little challenging.
The second story is on the quest for identity of South Sudan and how a country that has been at war for decades can become a united nation. I’m looking the obstacles such as lack of infrastructure, which results in the lack of health care and sparks tribalism around the country but also the way forward, like a youth which wants peace and education.
How are your pictures getting out? Where are they being published?
I started freelancing with AFP when I arrived so through them they are often published in The Guardian, Time Magazine’s Lightbbox, BBC, sometimes on the NYT Lens Blog etc. For my personal projects, I’m pitching them to pictures editors here and there, the South Kordofan story was published in Le Monde, but I’m hoping to have it published in other places soon. The other one isn’t ready at all, so I’ll wait until I feel I have some good material to pitch that too.
In general, what is life like for a photographer like you in South Sudan?
Life isn’t easy, really. Everything is very expensive here, I used to rent a tent at a hotel for 600$ a month. Now I live in a local house far from the town and without electricity, but it’s only 200$ a month. I obviously don’t have AC or a fan, so the temperature can go up to 38 degrees at night. I got used to it though, and now whenever I go to the field, which should normally be more rough, I have more comfort. I always think it’s quite amusing.
At the moment, we are only two photographers in the country so we can quite easily get assignments with NGOs and UN agencies, but I only do so to pay my bills and finance other reportages.
At first, people here are seriously reluctant to be photographed. They get very very aggressive, I even had my life threatened a few times when I wanted to photograph people. I’ve learnt how to approach them, so it’s becoming easier and easier every time. But it takes time!
Are there many other photographers there? Are they staying as long as you?
We were four only a few months ago, now we’re two only. I think just like most foreign correspondants, stringer photographers stay between one and two years. There are also some people who come over for a one week or two on assignment.
What is the benefit to staying longer?
You get a much better understanding of the place. Especially in a country like South Sudan where everything is logistically complicated, you need to know the rules, to understand the ‘un-said’, discover how to approach people, to make them trust you too. After six decades of war, the South Sudanese are very suspicious of spies, and they remain in this ‘war spirit’ when you know at any time things can go wrong if you say something they didn’t want to hear. On top of that, it’s really a fascinating place, they are so many stories to tell, and it takes time to get proper insights of it.
What is one story that you wish you could be covering in South Sudan that you so far have not been able to, due to access or due to resources?
Apart from the Blue Nile story that I previously mentioned, I’ve been meaning to go and spend some time with the Murle tribe in their cattle camp in Jonglei state. Cattle camps are huge areas where armed kids are keeping hundreds of cows (cows show the wealth of a family and often are used for securing a bride). Traditionally the Murle go and raid other camps to steal their cattle either as an initiation into adulthood or to simply increase ther ‘wealth’. They often end up in very violent fights between the tribes unfortunately. The Murle are also said to be sterile, so at the same time they steal children from other tribes; but there is very little documentation on the Murle, so I’d like to see it with my own eyes. I haven’t managed to cover it yet as the UN are forbidding journalists to go to Jonglei state because of security issues, and no NGOs are able to facilitate journalists to go there because the area is too sensitive.
What is your background in photography, where is your home?
I don’t really have any photography background. I studied print journalism, but was more than often interested in the visual part in each story. It clicked about one year ago, what I was really into was photojournalism and I decided to go for it. When I arrived in South Sudan, I introduced myself as a photojournalist, despite my very meagre portfolio at the time. I think people didn’t take me very seriously at first, but I worked hard and still do, so I think they see me a little differently now. and I’m from France!
I first ran across Kalpesh Lathigra‘s series Anglo-Afghan War on tumblr, and was struck by the images. The work looks nothing like other coverage of the conflict I’ve seen. In the images, there aren’t explosions. There aren’t soldiers shooting. There aren’t locals kneeling or being interrogated. It’s a different view of the country and foreign militaries, and that got me intrigued. I asked Lathigra a little about the project, how it came about, and what the viewer learns from this approach to such a well-photographed subject.
dvafoto: How did the work come about?
Lathigra: The work was commissioned by The Guardian Weekend Magazine by Kate Edwards, the Director of Photography at the mag. She had seen my work Lost in the Wilderness and we talked about approaching the story in a similar way. The essay was about the life of British Soldiers and War in Afghanistan. The story required me to be embedded with the Parachute Regiment for 3 weeks and this was in 2007 in Helmand.
dvafoto: Could you describe your approach to photographing the story? The ongoing war in Afghanistan has been photographed and photographed for a decade. What did you have in mind going in and how did that work into your coverage for the story? What are you trying to show?
Lathigra: I think there are an amazing number of photographers who have shown the experience of soldiers and civilians caught under fire, explosions and sheer impact of conflict …. I did go on patrols and by sheer luck we didn’t get shot at or have explosions. I think if I had been exposed to that I would have made pictures of this in my way. I am not interested in what I term bang bang images…..I want the viewer to really look at my work and see the nuances and metaphors. Look at the photograph of the destroyed Hesco Barrier, the photograph of an Afghan National Police post was made on patrol there was very little interaction between the soldiers and the police at this time and I wanted to capture the fleeting moment of passing, the likelihood that a soldier and this police officer will meet again after the war is over is unlikely yet they shared the same moment and that very much plays into the some of the landscapes with Afghan villagers, them in the distance the soldiers on patrol….just passing…fleeting moments……..A group of three soldiers just in a tent the ordinariness of the situation.
What I have to say is that this is my experience and not what other photographers have had. From the outset of the essay the idea for me was a quiet reflective series of photographs, I was using a medium format, it physically makes me slow down and think and for me that is important to really think what am I trying to say with this photograph……I wish I could have stayed longer as the work is incomplete and my hope is to go back before the drawdown. My friend the late Tim Hetherington and myself had spoken about our approaches to the war and how we felt it was important to have authorship over your work and to walk away from the cliches of the photographing these young men and war in general. I think it is important to remember that when I photographed this series, Afghanistan was the forgotten war, Iraq at the forefront. I guess the word I am looking for is there was an emotional distance and I think for me that is reflected in the photographs. Now time has moved forward and when I go back I think this show in the new photographs.
dvafoto: How does the work fit in with the rest of your work? Had you done any conflict work before? On your site I see work about military training, for instance; are you working on a larger body of work on the subject?
Lathigra: I was a news photographer for many years and covered a variety of stories around the world but never conflict and maybe that is why these pictures are different.
In regards to how does this fit into the rest of my work……I am currently working on the ideas of truth and fiction in regards to images of conflict. So I spent a month on the set of Coriolanus, the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes. The film was made on location in Serbia and some of the locations used were scenes of conflict during the Balkans War. The research material reflected photography from that time. I decided to shoot both a diary and large format on the set, the diary is very much reportage, the large format is to have a tableaux of the scenes. I have since had a few assignments in regards to military training and intend to photograph more of these.
Thanks to Kalpesh Lathigra for sharing his work. Check out more on his site.
After submitting pictures from Aleppo this week Rick Findler was told by the foreign desk that “it looks like you have done some exceptional work” but “we have a policy of not taking copy from Syria as we believe the dangers of operating there are too great”. -Sunday Times tells freelances [sic] not to submit photographs from Syria
The British newspaper, The Sunday Times, has told a freelance photographer not to submit photos from Syria because the risk of working there is too great. After sending pictures from Aleppo, Syria, to the paper for consideration, conflict photographer Rick Findler was told that the paper has a policy not to look at non-commissioned reporting from the country. It’s an interesting development for the photojournalism industry, especially since closures of foreign bureaus have increased news publications’ reliance on freelancers for international reporting. Conflict reporting is a dangerous and expensive operation, and when things go bad freelancers lack the institutional support afforded to staff reporters.
Speaking to the Press Gazette, The Sunday Times policy deputy foreign editor Graeme Paterson cited just these concerns in explaining the paper’s policy against hiring freelancers to cover Syria or license their work from the region even after the reporter has gotten out of the country. Speaking on the matter, Paterson said, “…we take the same view regarding freelancers speccing in material. Even if they have returned home safely. This is because it could be seen as encouragement go out and take unnecessary risks in the future. The situation out there is incredibly risky. And we do not want to see any more bloodshed. There has been far too much already.”
Gizmodo has written about the “World’s Highest Resolution Camera”, with 1.8 gigapixels, which is being developed for the US government. They shared this clip from the PBS show NOVA which recently broadcast an episode called “Rise of the Drones”.
This is the next generation of surveillance. … It is important for the public to know that some of these capabilities exist. – BAE Systems Engineer Yiannis Antioniades, who designed the sensor
I know some folks working on drone-related journalism and drone-related photography. This should give you some more ideas about what might be possible. And I can’t help but think of what extreme ‘Google Street View’ style projects could be possible from a camera also known as “Wide-Area Persistant Stare’. Maybe some day we’ll see such a thing, for now it remains a classified US Government program.