War Photography

The challenge in conflict is to stay true to the presentation of the facts as they exist. In doing that, there is a bit of an ethical dilemma: how does a picture present the conflict? Is it too gory to take? Is it one sided? Does it feed into the propaganda of the conflict? The fact is, war journalism is exactly what keeps war alive. It is the frontrunner element that campaigns for the prolonged business of war. For the uninitiated, as the name suggests, War Journalism refers to journalism that is focused on war, and encourages a presentation that [1]:

  • is heavily oriented towards violence and in projecting the conflict arena in a two-party and one-goal deal, confines itself to closed spaces and time, and studies the cause and effect only in the arena.
  • concerns itself only with the visible or tangible effects of violence, making the conflict opaque. The focus is on an ‘us-and-them’ rhetoric while seeing the enemy ‘them’ as the problem and dehumanising them.
  • is heavily reactive in that it waits for violence to start before it does or says anything.
  • is heavily propaganda-oriented, seeking only to expose ‘their’ untruths while helping to cover up ‘our’ own flaws.
  • tends towards the Elite, by focusing on ‘their’ violence and ‘our’ suffering, calling ‘them’ evildoers and focusing only on the elite segments of society – spokespersons and peacemakers.
  • is skewed toward victory, in that it considers peace and ceasefire as victory while concealing peace initiatives even before victory is at hand.
  • gives up on a war once it is through – not looking at the root of the issue that needs solving – and returns only if the war flares up again.

In this backdrop, photography has for itself, an opportunity to be a vehicle of peace journalism. The rationale is pretty straightforward. Peace Journalism doesn’t concern itself with the winner-versus-loser rhetoric, but zooms right into the root of the issue. It portrays conflicts in realistic terms and encourages the exploration of backgrounds and contexts of conflict formation. It presents the causes and options of every side involved, without introducing the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ perspective. It effectively serves the purpose by:[1]

  • being transparent in the representation of the causes and issues in a conflict;
  • giving a voice to the rival parties involved and their views;
  • offering creative ideas that can culminate in conflict resolution, development, peacemaking and peacekeeping;
  • exposing lies, cover-ups and attempts to cover-up as well as culprits on all sides unequivocally;
  • revealing the suffering inflicted on people of all parties involved in the conflict;
  • paying attention to peace stories and efforts for peace;
  • providing information on post-war developments.

To this end, photography can be of great significance, considering how it can be the vehicle to carry real stories to the end user. In presenting the truth without focusing on the propaganda that keeps conflict alive, photography can make the difference in the way war is presented.

[1] Lynch, J. & McGoldrick, A. (2010) “A Global Standard for Reporting Conflict and Peace” in R.L. Keeble, J. Tulloch & F. Zollmann (eds.) Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution. (Peter Lang: New York)

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