Category Archive: war


Remembrances of Camille Lepage

I’m still shocked by the news of Camille Lepage’s death in Central African Republic last week. We finally met in person a few weeks ago at the New York Times Lens Portfolio Review. It’s been tough to see her picture all over social media, but it’s good to see her infectious smile and her work reach so many.

There has been little new information regarding her death, though this Le Monde article has more detail than most publications, and Google Translate does a passable job on it. A number of publications and individuals have published thoughtful remembrances of Camille and her work in the past few days (and I’m sure many more in French, as well), and I thought it’d be good to collect the links here.

The UN, Committee to Protect Journalists, and the International Federation of Journalists and the European Federation of Journalists, have all condemned the killing and joined calls for an investigation into Lepage’s killing. Reports seem to indicate that the people she was travelling with were ambushed and all were killed. Immediately after news of her death became known, French president François Hollande called the killing a murder or assassination, and called for an investigation into the circumstances of her killing. Camille Lepage is not the only journalist to have been killed this year. As of this writing, Reporters Without Borders lists 18 journalists killed in 2014, and the Committee to Protect Journalists reports 15. Those killed have been both foreign and local journalists.

Photojournalist Camille Lepage Killed in Central African Republic

Camille Lepage, a 26-year old French photojournalist, has died in Central African Republic. The Guardian reports that French President Hollande has said “all necessary means will be deployed to shine light on the circumstances of this assassination and find the killers of our compatriot.”

Camille Lepage leaving a fishing village on the Nile River near Terekeka, South Sudan in September 2012. Photo by Matt Lutton.

I don’t have much to say right now. So read Nicholas Kulish piece on the New York Times’ Lens Blog: “Bearing Witness, Losing Her Life”. He describes how he came to meet Lepage in Juba, South Sudan. I had a very similar experience, and we were both left impressed by this young journalist.

We at dvafoto have known Camille for a couple of years and have been following her work and career closely. We published an interview with her in March 2013, “Notes from the Field: Camille Lepage in South Sudan”. We talked about her decision to move to South Sudan straight from journalism school in England and her motivation to cover seemingly unknown conflicts and the struggles of trying to get those stories published. I urge you to have a look at this interview to learn more about Lepage and see a gallery of her work.

Camille was a hardworking and ambitious young journalist already producing quality stories that hadn’t yet found a wide audience. She was working to bring these stories to more people’s attention. Her future was very bright, and we at dvafoto are extremely saddened by this news.

We will update this story as more information becomes available.

Must read: When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer

“Publishers reap all the rewards of working with freelancers, but assume none of the risks. If something terrible happens at any point leading up to, or following the transaction, the publisher bears no responsibility.” -Jaron Gilinsky, When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer

In the past year, we’ve posted a few items about the increasing use of freelancers in conflict reporting. Using freelancers, publications save money and mitigate risk, shifting the substantial risks, both personal and financial, to vulnerable and often young freelancers. If you haven’t already, spend a few minutes with Jaron Gilinsky‘s piece When a Kidnapped Journalist Is a Freelancer. Gilinsky is CEO of Storyhunter, a website that helps freelance video journalists pitch and showcase their work.

In the piece, Gilinsky details a few recent cases of freelance conflict reporters who’ve been kidnapped or killed in recent years. Ali Mustafa‘s family was saddled with $20,000 in debt just to retrieve the young photographer’s body from Syria, and the photo agencies who bought his pictures offered no help. Both James Foley (previously) and Austin Tice have been missing for years; the Global Post has helped Foley’s family search for the reporter, but the Washington Post has apparently done little to find their stringer. Molhelm Barakat (previously) was killed while stringing for Reuters without hazardous situation training, insurance, or protective gear, and he may have been under 18.

Gilinsky offers the most detail in contrasting the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of journalists Javier Espinosa and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova in Syria. Espinosa is a staff reporter El Mundo, but Vilanova is a freelancer who has worked with Gilinsky’s Storyhunter website. Both were eventually released after six months in captivity, but the ordeal played out differently for the two journalists. Because he was a staffer, Espinosa’s family received his full salary and benefits throughout his captivity. For Vilanova, on the other hand, debt began to pile up as his studio rent, home mortgage, and other financial obligations began to pile up. There was no news organization to lend financial or legal resources to any negotiations that might have helped secure his release or provide for his family or funeral should the need arise. Friends and family created a crowdfunding campaign which raised nearly €40,000 as of this writing, which will pay Vilanova’s debts and allow him to purchase new gear to resume working.

Ultimately, Gilinsky argues that there needs to be systemic change within journalism to make it so freelancers no longer feel the need to undertake such substantial risk to make a living in the industry. He says publications and news organizations should require (and provide) insurance and conflict training to freelancers, and freelancers should refuse to work with publications that work with uninsured journalists. Last year, the Sunday Times said it would not buy work from Syria from freelancers, and other organizations should do the same. And organizations such as RISC, the Rory Peck Trust, and Reporters Without Borders, offer training and support to freelance conflict journalists.

Make sure to read Gilinsky’s piece.

Interview: Marija Janković’s “GAK”

A few months ago, at a Belgrade photo night called Periskop, I saw Marija Janković present one of her new projects about her time as a patient at a Serbian maternity hospital, which she calls GAK. The first time I saw this work, with Serbian text, I could only really react to the photographs and the audience around me, who were often left gasping. After the event she told me the project would soon be available on her new website with English captions. I found the quotes she paired with the scenes she had photographed to be extremely compelling. They added a fascinating depth to the reportage and made me think of a slew of questions about the project and the hospitals themselves. Janković has generously agreed to publish the complete series GAK here on dvafoto and to answer some questions about her wide-ranging projects.

I’ve long admired Janković’s approach to her work and the novel ways of framing some very serious topics in Serbian history. I’ve known Janković for a few years but we had not had the chance to have an in-depth conversation about her work and what she was accomplishing. It is my pleasure to present this interview with Marija where she elaborates on GAK and some of the other projects she has completed in her career. Visit her website www.marijajankovic.com for these and many more projects.

dvafoto: Where are you from and what is your background? How did you come to be a photographer?
 
Marija Janković: I grew up in Sombor, a small baroque, multiethnic town in [the Serbian province of] Vojvodina. Before the WWII, four large ethnic groups lived together in this quiet little town. Now there are two, plus the minorities. My father was from Kosovo and this mix was important for my future work.

Visual art is pretty much all I ever wanted to do in my life. I went to a design school, than I studied painting. I quietly painted still-life until the day in 1999 when the bombings of Serbia started [ed: the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia]. It was the first time I experienced fear for my life. The involvement of the media was shocking to me. I thought that the news was supposed to follow the events, not to create them. On one side there was the Milosevic’s manipulated news, on another, the Western manipulated news. From that moment, there was two ways: close your eyes or get involved. I chose the second. I wanted to understand how the media machine looked like from inside. And I also got my first decent camera, so when I had to make my living, working in the newspapers was the solution. And I loved it, at least at the beginning…
 
Some of the work on your work on your new website is classic reportage, and other projects are very conceptual, featuring dioramas and models. Do you work on both of these sorts of projects simultaneously? Or do they represent different periods of your career?
 
If there were only two… hahaha. It’s a parallel work, sometimes more conceptual, sometimes more photojournalistic. Sometimes conceptual becomes documentary, and reportage artistic. I had, for years, worked in the press in a more traditional way (and I still do). I noticed that there are some patterns on how to make a good picture for publishing. Once I learned how to do it, I got bored. To me it was more interesting to do things differently. Unfortunately, at least here in Serbia, there is little space for that. But if I am touched by something I’ll do it, published or not. And then I decide about the approach. Not being under pressure of publishing gives you a beautiful freedom. But it also means that you will work on some other creepy, non-creative photo job to support yourself.
 
What do you see as the difference between these two ways of working, and why do you choose one approach over the other? How did you first come to make set-up scenes for your pictures? 
 
When stock photography became hysterically popular I thought to join the crowd. In my shopping basket for the set I just dropped the bag of cheap plastic soldiers; it was a strong symbol to me. Back in the studio I made a salad spiced with figurines and I was suddenly in the war zone. [ed: see Janković's War Story]. Pictures from the front line followed me from childhood and in 1999 I made collages with pictures I found in newspapers from the war zones around the world. I got a wish to make my war material but I was aware that, despite my wish, I will have little opportunity to go and cover one. So I created my own. That way I could be critical about whatever I wanted. As I said: freedom.
 


From the series “Bor” by Marija Janković

Did you feel there were limitations in the traditional reportage you practiced before? Are there freedoms that you are able to explore with these studio photographs? Do you consider them documentary? Either if so or if not, is that label important to you?
 
Two of my stories (Staro Sajmište and GAK) would be impossible to make as a classical reportage but they are based on true stories. Sajmište happened 60 years ago and many people photographed the actual place, or wrote historical essays or books. For me it was important to show the feelings of the victims and not only the political background. This is how I chose testimonies of survivors, to give them a second life. During the process of making every picture, besides double-checking facts, I had to ask to myself “Who am I in this story? Am I a victim, a reporter, a German soldier or a simple citizen?” As a matter of fact, there are only few original pictures from the time of the camp and none from the period when it was the “Judenlager”. But we are aware that the Germans made pictures and movies. In the way I tried to make the missing pictures. Later I found only one single picture of the “Semlin Judenlager” in the archives of the Novi Sad museum.

Also GAK wouldn’t have been possible as a classical reportage. No woman would tell these things with a camera or a microphone pointed at them. Because I was a patient, without camera, in the intimate atmosphere, women shared to each other their life stories. Gynecological hospital is like a micro extract of our society.

Now we see all the fantastic work from photographers reporting from Kiev. I must admit that I would like to be there, I love the adrenalin of the protests and teargas. I did cover protests in Serbia, but we all know how classic photojournalism can also be manipulative.

Labeling… I couldn’t care less. If somebody needs labels they have all the freedom to attach some to my work but I don’t start my project by giving them this kind of definition. I begin with the problem.
 
Your work takes on some very complicated and occasionally sensitive topics, such as concentration camps, the destruction of a mining town and loss of the German community in Vojvodina. What motivates you to photograph these stories? 
 
In Serbian society many historical topics are either forbidden or rewritten and people tend to go with the mainstream flow. Nobody ever told me what happened with the Germans after WWII. First, it was dangerous to speak. Then people forgot that thousands of German women and children were kept prisoners by the Partisans in camps in ghost villages in Vojvodina. Thousands died from hunger, cold and diseases. That story was challenging. Many of these German men, husbands and fathers, committed crimes, but we tend to generalize. Women and children were not guilty. It can sound naïve, but I’m often driven by the simple feeling of “justice for everyone”. Some of this motivation comes from the feeling of guilt for the crimes that the Serbs committed, against the will of many Serbian citizens.
 
Across the body of your work I feel there is a very thoughtful and determined confrontation with certain areas of Serbia’s history that I don’t see many other artists or photographers tackling. Do you in any way see all of the series you’ve published as part of a single, larger narrative? And why do you focus on Serbian stories rather than regional or global issues?
 
I don’t see Serbia as a very happy or healthy place. It’s country with a constant problem of finding its place and direction. For example, you can’t be a patriot and in the same time say that your people committed crimes. I think opposite: first as a citizen, and then as a photographer. But no matter how much I’m stressed about many things in Serbia, it’s my country and my people and I wish them well. I would like that the Serbs know their history better and that Serbian women (and all other women in the world, for that matter) have better conditions, more human rights, more jobs and better work conditions. I traveled around the region and in Europe and made some good pictures, but there are still a lot of topics to be covered in Serbia. I’m sure that the female stories are similar in the whole world but I think we should start with what we know the best. And experiment.
 
Are there other artists, from Belgrade or the region, that you look to for inspiration or camaraderie?
 
Ten years ago I was more inspired by my colleagues work than nowadays. Many of them are good friends and I love to see their work, but at this point I have the feeling that I walk alone. Working with dolls is not my invention. Dolls are a universal symbol and inspiration to many artists. There is always something traumatic about these replicas of humans. However my recent work is more appreciated by my colleagues abroad. I don’t inspire myself just with photographs. Books, fine art, music, daily life and news, global news… All this make us who we are.
 
I see your latest series GAK and your photograph “Original and 52 notarized photocopies, 2012″ as a direct and logical continuation of the investigations that you completed in your earlier work. But it is much more personal. How has your work lead up to these projects? Do you feel better prepared now to document your own life and the people around you?  
 
In the past few years I went through some difficult personal times. It’s not accepted today to complain, or to be weak. We should be up to every mission all the time, but we witness many complications due to unresolved personal problems. Domestic crime is very common in Serbia. I love the stories that nobody else talks about. I did it in my name and the name of other troubled women. Putting yourself out there is much more difficult than photographing hooligans (this is my artistic side). “Original and 52 notarized photocopies” was very popular in the Serbian media; it became a symbol of bureaucracy. It’s my baby on the picture and my documents, but the problem is universal, and concerns the whole region. During pregnancy, instead of working, I had to spend time collecting useless documents. If I had found that story and those documents somewhere else I would have used it. But one day I just realized that I am the story and the reporter in the same time. Hahaha.
 


“Original and 52 notarized photocopies” by Marija Janković

As a man – therefore not a patient –  and as a foreigner who does not speak Serbian well, I cannot conceive of having any access to the stories of these women in a gynecological hospital if it was not for your reporting. The anecdotes and quotes struck me because of their very distinct and uncomfortable voice, I suppose because they are phrased in such a frank and unguarded way, overheard and not polished for quotation. This, coupled with your photographs of a dirty model of a hospital filled with ghoulish nurses, makes an interesting approach to reportage.

How did you come to conceive of this way of telling this story? Did you consider other more traditional approaches? What advantage (as I was asking above) did you see in telling the story with models and quotations? Do you see any disadvantages with presenting this story in this way?
 
As I mentioned above, I didn’t set out to make “GAK”. It wasn’t a situation where I made a decision and strategy, like we do for the stories. I was kept [in the hospital] in a t-shirt, with a dying mobile phone, and one notebook. During the next 5 days I was surrounded by sensitive women talking about their deepest secrets and fears. Two weeks after I found the notebook, it clicked together. I was just open to see it. Now, finding a text for this kind of work is difficult. Also, if I imagine the same text with the portraits of those women, it would be less strong. It’s like a painting of a shoe by Van Gogh; it’s much more exciting than a pair of real shoes.

I have my “test audience”, my closest friends and colleagues and I send them the projects to get some feedback before I publish more sensitive things. Most women replied “I can donate you a story!”, and men: “I didn’t know, I feel sick, great work but I can’t look at this twice”…

From time to time we read reports about hospitals and what is noticeable is that people react more to some dodgy pictures that patients made themselves with their mobile phone. You need to be extremely upset to take things in your own hands. 99% of these women accept with resignation these conditions, saying “What can I do?”
 
How would you like this project to be received? Is there any advocacy present in this project, for example to challenge for better conditions at your hospital?
 
Once I got the same question (referring to Original and 52 notarized photocopies). My answer then was “Yes, it would be nice to see somebody change something”. Today I am more realistic. I don’t think somebody will see those pictures and say “She is right, we don’t need form 227/b. II” or “We should order nurses to be nicer to patients”. But it can always serve as a support on the level of “woman to woman”, or help in reaching a critical mass of complaints where things need to be changed. It’s a job for all of us to make some pressure.
 
Are you continuing to photograph your family? Does this project mark any turning point in your work? 
 
Becoming a mother is a turning point, now all I do is photographing family. I’m less prepared to deal with heavy and dark stories, or to run towards burning buildings to get more dramatic shots. At least at this moment. On another hand, I want a better environment for my child, so I will continue to challenge this absurd but well established social structure.

Thank you Marija.

Questions remain after death of 17-year-old Reuters stringer

Bloody cameras posted alongside announcement of the death of 17-year-old Molhem Barakat, a Reuters stringer

Bloody cameras posted alongside announcement of the death of 17-year-old Molhem Barakat, a Reuters stringer – posted to twitter by DitaaSely

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.

BagNewsNotes looks at recent graphic execution images from Syria

Time Lightbox's warning about graphic images in their gallery showing an execution in Syria

Time Lightbox’s warning about graphic images in their gallery showing an execution in Syria

“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.

Leica ad recreates scenes from Robert Capa’s life (and death)

Leica Alma from Sentimental on Vimeo.

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.

Numerous journalists killed or injured in recent Egypt violence

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 journalists organize with the Frontline Freelance Register

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.

(via BJP)

Worth a look: Cows at War by Jens Olof Lasthein

Jens Olof Lasthein - Cows at War

Jens Olof Lasthein – Cows at War

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?

Spend time with the rest of Lasthein’s work. It’s deep and humanistic in a refreshing way. I particularly like White Sea Black Sea, which is available as a book (on Amazon now for $500+).