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Fixing the war

Here is a fascinating video that explores how conflict photographers aren’t just witnesses’ to events but also in some circumstances, especially when operating in a pack, become actors in the violence they document.

The analysis starts two minutes in. There’s some typical examples of how photos are staged.  What’s really disturbing is how some of the staged photographs of Palestinian men have come to define them as a group of people in so many of our minds.

The use of photography to create stereotypes is bad enough, but the use of staged photographs to strengthen those stereotypes is damaging. It’s a shame that the people at the World Press Awards are so toothless when it comes to engaging in this debate, refusing to adequately investigate when they award prizes to news photographs that have been staged.

Since aesthetic tends to rule over narrative skills in photography those that stage are likely to find more success and recognition as photojournalists. That’s why The World Press have stayed away from this subject because its such a can of worms.

I should add that I have no problem with staging, just in tricking the public into thinking we are looking at a real event as opposed to a piece of theatre which often tells us more about the skills  of the photographer than the people in the pictures.

The video also explores just how much acting up for the cameras goes on. My own understanding of how the media can play an active role in conflict comes from my time in Kenya. In Kibera slum I was told by a radio journalist that the rioters there had became very media savy, calling journalists and waiting for the cameras to turn up before properly kicking off.

When you’re on a stage with a pack of newshounds willing you to perform the adrenaline starts to pump and its hard to say no.  People get killed because of this.  Nothing staged about that.

(via the excellent Petapixel)

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    8 comments to Fixing the war

    • Great stuff. I’ll be showing this to my history of documentary photography class, this afternoon. It will be interesting to see what the students have to say. They’re young and politically naive, but bright.

    • HI John,

      I would love to hear their response.

      • Well, it turned out that my students didn’t have much to say. They’re first-year undergraduates, and all of this — the way conflict is photographed and the issues raised — is new to them.

        Still, I think the film is very useful. At the very least, most of them will never see the news in quite the same way as before.

    • sneye

      The specific conflict in the center of this video involves two rather unequal sides. It is understandable that the underdog tries to harness any support it can get. However, photojournalists should comply to a stricter set of ethics and beware of serving the goals of a particular side. Sadly, it seems that WPA is not the only organization to avoid critical evaluation of a photographer’s work. News agencies often choose to be just as naive (or worse).

    • wow, absolutely fascinating! thanks for sharing

    • [...] photojournalism. # When these stagings produce or reinforce stereotypes, they are a big problem (as duckrabbit rightly argued in their take on Salvadori’s video). But photography’s dramatic stagings are not the main problem. I believe that avoiding [...]

    • Salvadori’s video is good and interesting, and your attention to the relationship between staging and stereotypes is very important. But its time we all stopped being shocked by the idea that photography and photojournalism constructs, produces, stages. We have to examine the effects of stagings (like stereotypes) rather than pursue the pointless idea of a photography that doesn’t construct, produce or stage. Its a practice of representation, and you can no more escape that than step outside your own skin. Or at least that’t what I try and argue here – http://bit.ly/qk5QME.