Tag Archive: photojournalism


Ethical Transgressions in Marco Vernaschi’s Coverage for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

What started as a long accusation in a lightstalkers thread has turned into a large-scale discussion involving a Pulitzer Center apology and coverage on the Guardian website. Marco Vernaschi’s coverage of child sacrifice in Uganda (another with the offending image removed and another) for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting initially looked like a hard and gritty glance into a little-known-outside-of-Africa problem of ritual child sacrifice. Issues of exoticism and the colonialist view notwithstanding, numerous bloggers began lobbing serious allegations of paying for access, illegally exhuming a child’s body to take pictures of the corpse, child exploitation, and outright fabrication. A Developing Story raised some strong questions of both Vernaschi and the Pulitzer Center. The Pulitzer Center took time in responding to the allegations. Other bloggers led the charge, with Anne Holmes of Vigilante Journalist providing invaluable investigation into the case with Ugandan authorities. Holmes had previously interviewed Vernaschi for her blog and has retracted those articles due to concerns about Vernaschi’s ethics and journalistic process. The Pulitzer Center has issued a statement responding to these allegations, in which it agrees that the bounds of journalism, ethics, and human decency were crossed. Asim Rafiqui has a great perspective on the issue, as does Tewfic El-Sawey. Pay special attention Rafiqui’s analysis of the motivations for a photographer to manufacture a story as regards the media eco-system of photojournalism awards, publications looking for sensationalism, and historical portrayals of Africa. “Mr. Vernaschi’s transgression is not just that of an individual, but of an industry that never fails to trip over itself chasing the insane.”

As for the case at hand, a particular picture (now gone from the photographer’s site) depicted a young boy, nude, whose penis had been cut off and replaced with a catheter, all in full view. The image, duckrabbit argued, and which the Pulitzer Center eventually agreed with, violated the dignity of the child and, as such, went against various protections for children created by the UN, the UK, and other legal systems. The BBC, in fact, had previously run a photo of the boy, but did not show his face out of concern for the boy’s safety and dignity.

More worrying (well…I’m not sure there are levels of ethical reprehensibility here…it’s all pretty bad), Vernaschi asked a family to dig up the body of their murdered daughter so he could photograph the corpse (that picture has also been removed from the internet), as he explained in a post on the Pulitzer Center’s Untold Stories blog. The photographer said he was gathering evidence. Whether or not this is the role of the photojournalist, these actions cannot be excused. The exhumation violated local laws as well as most journalism and human ethics. While we can’t fault a photographer trying to drive home a story with shocking, hard-hitting pictures, staging a situation with money and violating bodies of the dead is well beyond any acceptable practices in journalism or human decency.  These ethical transgressions poison the entire story.

And while this controversy has gotten the pictures (and perhaps the story) to a wide audience, Joerg Colberg at Conscientious sums up the problem quite well at the end of this post, “Lastly, lest we forget this, there actually is a real story that needs to be talked about: child sacrifice in Uganda. But what will people remember? Will they remember the facts about child sacrifice in Uganda? Or will they remember a photojournalist who needed to get photos so badly that he had a dead child dug up (using money to achieve his goals)?”

And while some would say that after the Pulitzer Center’s apology, the problem has been satisfactorily dealt with, Asim Rafiqui entreats us to go further: “Not enough has been said on this issue. There will be some who will argue – move on! I say, No! Remain, think and consider. This touches on the very fundamentals of the future and meaning of our chosen craft. What is the intent of the work we do, and who are it’s audience? What is the role of journalism in our society, and in particular, what and how shall we engage with the world around us so that we see them not as alien, but human and worthy of being taken seriously? Too many young photographers are seduced by the mythologies of the craft. Mythologies that are woven by the practitioners and their publishers. Its time to stop, take stock, and weave better stories, and suggest better and more meaningful means of working. Its time to produce real stories and do so by finding real humanity and a sense of equal dignity and respect.”

Worth a look: Inside Magazine

Inside magazine - Inside Poverty

Inside magazine - Inside Poverty

Inside Magazine has just launched, and it looks great. Sponsored by SlovakAid and Magna: Children at Risk, the project brings together photography, essays, comics, and other coverage to address a single topic with each issue. The first issue covers poverty with incredible depth. Subscription is, incredibly, free, though you must cover the cost of shipping.

(via Peter Hoffman)

Followup to NYT’s Photography Is In Trouble story

“Some amateur photographers said, basically, good riddance to the pros. Some professionals said that they were struggling; others thought the story overstated the problem.” -NYT’s Pros and Amateurs Debate: Is Photography in Trouble?

The New York Times has a short followup with reader mail regarding yesterday’s article on the difficulties facing professional photographers.

Must read: Jörg M. Colberg on the importance of seeing

A friend of mine recently sent this Guardian article on World Press-winning photos of a stoning in Somalia to me. It starts off with a typical Sontag quote, but it’s worth a read. I’m not sure if Colberg’s excellent recent post (on the recently-redesigned Conscientious) Why We Must See is a direct response to the Guardian piece (it does mention the photos in question), but it might as well be:

To say that we want to read, but not see… That just seems like an easy way out. Seeing is not the same as reading. What I read about I can file away, because it is being processed while I take it in. What I see – there is a lot of processing, but there also is the unbearable immediacy. -Jörg M. Colberg, “Why We Must See”

Like moths to a flame – so many cameras in Haiti

This picture:

BBC In Pictures - Search for Haiti Survivors

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

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)

Worth a look: 100eyes – Haiti

100eyes - Haiti / William Coupon - Jacmel Portraits

100eyes - Haiti / William Coupon - Jacmel Portraits

For some cultural perspective on contemporary Haitian culture, 100eyes has a strong presentation of work by Alice Smeets, William Coupon, Edwine Seymour, Rex Curry, Jan Sochor, David Zentz, Aurora Photos, Polaris Images, and Andy Levin. Well worth a look.

By the way: Huffington Post has a huge round-up of ways to help the relief effort in Haiti.

The Haiti Earthquake: In Pictures and Words

Girls walk through a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti - December 2005.

Girls walk through a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, Haiti - December 2005.

“There is no one, nothing, no medicines,
no explanations for why my daughter is going to die.”
— Jeudy Francia, outside St. Esprit Hospital in Port-au-Prince, in the New York Times

Coverage of the earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, has been ramping up as responders have been able to get a perspective on the tragedy. Of particular interest, the New York Times’ Lede Blog has been compiling breaking news (1: huge amount of info, still being updated, 2, 3) in addition to what can be found on twitter and other sources for news on the ground beyond what the paper’s own reporters send back. Lens has photos from Tequila Minsky, who was in Haiti when the quake struck, and some historical perspective by Maggie Steber, who’s heading to Haiti on assignment for the Times. The Big Picture has a huge selection of photographs showing the devastation. The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has a special report on Haiti, “Despite Years of Crushing Poverty, Hope Grows in Haiti“, produced last year. And Mother Jones has a piece about the problems caused by looking at Haiti only after disaster strikes, focusing particular blame on the Bush Administration’s relationship with the country (via dispatches).

Additionally: Here’s 6 ways you can help by donating (via Luceo).

Worth a Look: Benjamin Lowy’s “The Afghan High”

Benjamin Lowy / VII - Lit by a single ray of early morning sunlight, Afghan addicts smoke, freebase, and inject heroin in a basement room of the infamous Russian Cultural Center, home to over 200 drug addicts.

Benjamin Lowy / VII - Lit by a single ray of early morning sunlight, Afghan addicts smoke, freebase, and inject heroin in a basement room of the infamous Russian Cultural Center, home to over 200 drug addicts.

I’m usually wary of photo essays about poverty and drugs. Eugene Richards has unleashed a torrent of imitators, and the results are often voyeuristic and exploitative–unless there’s an underlying story, photos of depraved debasement do little more than serve as a vehicle for gawking at the unmentionables, grotesques without empathy. Benjamin Lowy‘s “The Afghan High” does the opposite.

The essay presents Afghanistan’s drug culture and the government’s futile fight against the opium growers as facets of a complex international political issue with both compassion and journalistic distance. The portrait at the top of this post, for instance, portrays the man not just as a token drug user but instead as a thinking, emotive, whole agent caught in the middle of a bad situation. If the essay stopped with the drug users, though, its value and interest would have been lost. By including images of the government’s meager efforts to fight poppy growers, the essay becomes a powerful statement on the entirety of Afghanistan’s relationship with drugs. The last photo, especially, (sorry I can’t link to it) evokes an idea of just how ingrained drug culture is in Afghan culture: the poppy fields, which are the focus of strategic international maneuvering and the fate of which may determine the outcome of America’s military efforts, are a place where children play. Lowy’s control of light throughout the essay is breathtaking, as well.

Call for Entries: Picture Black Friday

Picture Black Friday

Picture Black Friday

Picture Black Friday is a photojournalism project that aims to revisit and analyze a combination of forces- a worsening economy, financial desperation, excitement, fear, absurdity, and a distinctly American cultural tradition- that culminate the morning after Thanksgiving.

Having been on a couple Black Friday stakeouts too many, Picture Black Friday strikes me as a wonderful idea. Yes, the hordes of people lined up to buy a cheap laptop or Wii is part of the story, but much more happens the day after Thanksgiving. The project, which will be exhibited on Conscientious and Too Much Chocolate, hopes to get photographers documenting the day “on their terms”, independent (or not) of the usual consumerist portrayal.

(via Conscientious)

The Giving Beast: Philanthropy + Photography

The Giving Beast by the Daily Beast

The Giving Beast by the Daily Beast

Rachel Hulin‘s (blog) had a new project up her sleeves over the past couple weeks, in partnership with the Daily Beast. The Giving Beast, a partnership with Global Philanthropy Group and combining outstanding concerned photography with stories on philanthropic causes, has finally been unveiled. The site is impressive.

There’s a bit too much celebrity coverage (my usual complaint with the Daily Beast), that draws readers in. The case can be made that were it not for Oprah Winfrey‘s or Angelina Jolie‘s dogged devotion to international crises, even fewer Americans would donate to worthy causes.

The other story here, though, is the photography featured at The Giving Beast. So far, galleries feature the work of Carlos Cazalis, GMB Akash, Sarah Elliott, Suzy Allman, Will Steacy, Peter van Agtmael, Edward Burtynsky, Michael Hall, and VII’s recent coverage of violence against women in Congo. Great to see longer format work reaching a wide audience in this way.