by J. Rae Chip
Some of the photographs in this blog post could be TRIGGERS or considered of graphic nature (none are newer than 2001.)
Photojournalists often go hunting for doom and gloom because that's news, and nobody wants to report boring news (well almost nobody.) Some of the world's most famous photojournalists have taken horrific photographs.
Shouldn't photojournalists help their subjects instead of selfishly dramatizing the suffering for the sake of a paycheck?
Let's check the record books...
"Napalm Girl" by Nick Ut, Associated Press
This Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a girl (Phan Thi Kim Phuc), was taken in Vietnam on June 8, 1972. She was running away from her village after the South Vietnamese forces dropped a napalm bomb on it.
After taking the photograph, Ut took Kim Phuc and the other injured children to Barsky Hospital in Saigon, where doctors said her burns were so severe that she probably would not survive. After a 14-month hospital visit and 17 surgical procedures, Phuc beat the odds and returned home. Ut continued to visit her until he was evacuated during the fall of Saigon.
Today Phuc is a Canadian citizen. Ut still works for the Associated Press and is currently based out of Los Angeles.
Vulture and Kid - by Kevin Carter, Johannesburg Star & NYTimes
Carter photographed this Sudanese boy trying to reach a feeding center when the vulture landed behind the child. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994.
This photograph was the source of a lot of controversy about Kevin Carter because he was rumored to have stopped to take the photo and then leave without helping the starving child.
The St. Petersburg Times in Florida said this about Carter: "The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of him suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene."
The photo was sold to the New York Times in 1993, and the Times was contacted numerous times about the fate of the boy, to which they truthfully said that they did not know if the child reached the feeding center.
On July 27, 1994, Carter took his own life. His suicide note said: "I am depressed ... without phone ... money for rent ... money for child support ... money for debts ... money!!! ... I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain ... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners ... I have gone to join Ken (recently deceased colleague Ken Oosterbroek) if I am that lucky."
An alternative account of the scene of this photo was provided by João Silva, a Portuguese photojournalist based out of South Africa, who accompanied Carter to Sudan.
According to Silva, Carter and Silva traveled to Sudan with the United Nations aboard Operation Lifeline Sudan, landing in southern Sudan on March 11, 1993 with only 30 minutes to take photos. Silva went looking for guerrilla fighters, while Carter strayed no more than a few dozen feet from the plane.
After some time, Silva also started to take photos of children on the ground as if crying, which were not published. The parents of the children were busy taking food from the plane, so they had left their children only briefly while they collected the food. This was the situation for the boy in the photo taken by Carter when a vulture landed behind the boy. Carter took a few photos before chasing the bird away.
Is it biased to publish a photo that only shows a portion of the global story?
The short answer is, maybe. But the thing is, even though a photojournalist's goal is to capture the story in one frame, it's not always possible. In the case of Carter's photo, he could have zoomed out to get the adults in the frame as well. Doing so would have probably saved him some controversy, which may or may not have saved his life.
People who argue this were not there when the photo was taken. The fact that the bird flew and landed behind the boy was the story behind the photo. The starving child was lying in a position that even had the bird wondering if the child was deceased. When the adults approached with more food, the bird would have likely flown away.
With all the prestige associated with winning a Pulitzer, how do we know the photos are not staged?
Photojournalists are not allowed to pose an image, add anything to an image, or take anything out of an image after it was taken. That is treated the same as when a reporter knowingly publishes information that is made up.
Even before today, there was always a curiosity about award-winning photos, and whether or not they followed the rules. In fact, this was something that Ut experienced with his photo of Phuc (Napalm Girl). Audio tapes from 1972 reveal that then President Richard Nixon said, "I'm wondering if that was fixed" after seeing the photo.
After discovering that, Ut commented, "Even though it has become one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century, President Nixon once doubted the authenticity of my photograph when he saw it in the papers on 12 June 1972. The picture for me and unquestionably for many others could not have been more real. The photo was as authentic as the Vietnam War itself. The horror of the Vietnam War recorded by me did not have to be fixed. That terrified little girl is alive today and has become an eloquent testimony to the authenticity of that photo. That moment thirty years ago will be one Kim Phuc and I will never forget. It has ultimately changed both our lives."
Raising the American Flag on Iwo Jima by Joe Rosenthal, Associated Press
Rosenthal was standing on Suribachi, a Japanese observation post on Iwo Jima island in World War II when he made this photo and the two that followed it. This image is the most reproduced image in history and won a Pulitzer Prize.
The third photo in the series, depicting 18 Marines smiling and waving under the flag, is what caused accusations that this photograph was staged.
The confusion about Rosenthal's photo stems from a report from Guam, where the reporter asked Rosenthal if his photo was posed. Rosenthal allegedly thought the reporter was referring to the third photo of the 18 men under the flag, which was posed.
Why do photojournalists take images depicting death (taking advantage of victims), in the interest of getting rich and famous?
One of the "Boston Photographs" by Stanley Forman, the Boston Herald American
Stanley Forman documented a young woman and two year old girl falling from this building that was collapsing because of a fire. He won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1976.
The two-year-old baby survived this fall, but the young woman, the mother, died.
A lot of people say it is unfair to the victims to publish a photo like this, showing the death of the young woman in slow motion. However, it is what actually happened. One argument was that the two-year-old, when older, would be traumatized by this photo, seeing the death of her mother.
Is it necessary to dramatize the death so publicly? It's not for shock value, and Forman didn't take the image in order to become famous. In fact, he happened to be at the scene documenting the fire. He was not expecting, and surely not hoping that such a tragedy as this would happen.
Showing images like this, what actually happened, is important. Without the truth of what happened in an image, how is the average American supposed to take anyone's word for it? The old phrase "pics or it didn't happen" holds true more than ever, especially since we have the tools to show the images.
Conspiracy theories happen if people don't get to see what happened with their own eyes, as is evident by the death of Osama bin Laden, where some Americans now say they don't believe he is dead because they didn't see a photo of him deceased before he was buried at sea.
Showing images of death is not new and not old. In fact, it's been happening the entire time that photojournalism has been a profession.
Twin Towers Jumper 9/11 - by Richard Drew, Associated Press
Richard Drew photographed this man as he fell head first toward the ground. The man jumped out of one of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Suicide of Evelyn McHale by Robert Wiles, Life Magazine, NY Times
She jumped off the observation deck of the Empire State Building in New York City, falling to her death in 1947. This was taken a few minutes after her death.
Monk Sets Himself on Fire - by Malcolm Browne in Saigon, Vietnam 1963
This Buddhist monk lit himself on fire to protest the poor reforms of the South Vietnam government. Browne photographed the monk as he was dying.
Footage of the tornado in Joplin, Missouri in 2011 seems to have cemented the
guidelines of documenting death. That is the first time I can remember as a journalist or consumer of the media's product, when I ever remember it happening. When one of the reporters from The Weather Channel walked over a hill he took a look, and turned to the cameraman. With a tear in his eye he said, "CUT IT NOW!"
It's worth clarifying why he did that. Journalists don't like to announce to a person's family that their loved one has died. Journalists like to wait for the police or other proper authorities to do that first. Nobody wants their first notification to be from national television or from the newspaper; it's just not right. Journalists are human beings and follow guidelines that would be expected of other human beings.