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"It's more difficult to photograph peace" Don McCullin

“It’s more difficult to photograph peace” Don McCullin

“So when I operate alone I try to approach them with dignity. But there is no way of being dignified with dozens of newsmen around, pushing and shoving and punching each other over one injured soldier,shouting to another ”you spoilt my picture”, while almost depriving the man from the oxygen around him. I look at them and think: “Who are these people?”At night, in Beirut,they used to meet at the bar, talking about day-rates.Or someone would say to another one:”If you get the cover, you buy us champagne”.

Plus ça change…….

This is from the Frank Horvat interview with Don McCullin that Dana De Luca linked us to on the “jumping on a plane to Beirut”(Starting Out) post. It blew me against the wall.
Now I don’t want to attack anyone for doing what they do or want to do.It’s not my business.All I ask is that you think about it.Those already involved hopefully already did. Where is it taking your life? When you point your camera at a dying man and are just thinking about how good the double page spread of this will look in the Sunday Times(and what they pay) then you are REALLY screwed.
When I was twenty I wanted to go to Vietnam just like Natasha/Beirut and didn’t think about logistics at all.. I went to speak to people who knew. Gary Woodhouse at the Observer gave me the best advice of my life. “Forget it son, if you don’t have a big organization backing you then your wasting your time”.He was’nt going to be responsible for getting me killed. I thought more about it and decided he was right. Sure a lot of people DID do that, but I just had to think about what was right for me. Was it just a mad idea .Or would it get me the thrills, experience and a great future as a war photographer, running all over the globe from one conflict to the next.., Checking the the World Service and grabbing the first ‘plane out to disaster land.
I loved McCullin’s images and like ,many in England, would have liked to be him.
Hero worship.
Of course at twenty you don’t think about life’s great design. You just wanna go. I did.But not THERE.
Reading the interview I’m pretty glad I didn’t .McCullin is a very special person for me and I don’t think I have the guts to do what he did. I’m not sorry I did something else. Sadly I think that he is.

Anyway, do what the hell you like. It’s your life.

by Tony Stringer at 2006-08-05 13:51:17 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) vicenza , Italy | Bookmark | | Report spam→

Well said Tony. I think it would be difficult to photograph in a war zone or in conflict and it is not for everyone. Many do it but only some do it really well. I also think that it is not easy to photograph the ordinary of everyday life and make it extra ordinary,exciting and memorable for the viewer to keep looking at. At times, this can be even more challanging.

There are personal reasons why one committs themselves to photography and it is so unique to every one of us.

by Nile Tuzun | 05 Aug 2006 14:08 (ed. Aug 5 2006) | California, United States | | Report spam→
I think it depends on you entirely: take another example: Philip Jones Griffiths produced probably the best book on the Vietnam war, Vietnam Inc. — maybe in fact the best photo book on the subject of war ever. There is nothing quite like it. It is an indictment of war and the corporate/state mentality that executes it. He provided a total vision of war, not just images of gruesome violence. Thebook transcends the genre because of the thinking behind it, the idea of producing an indictment that took into account the larger motives that go into making war. Now he did not have a big organization backing him, at least not at first. He took little assignments like covering celebs and such rot in order to keep going. It was in some ways a bit freer and easier in those days, a little less organized, embedding was an informal process and plenty of unorthodox types were there shooting. Today’s conflict shooters are organized and professional in the extreme. But look at the results. Personally I think it is best to document these things, whatever the pitfalls, because not documenting them leads to far greater dangers. But has anyone risen to the bar that Griffiths set? No. Not even Nachtwey. Inferno is a very different kind of book, a kind of compendium of misery that is seriously lacking a point. Vietnam Inc. gave us an unforgettable story about the Vietnam war. Will someone do likewise for Iraq? My point is that (1) the problems of covering a war are redeemed if the ideas you bring to it are adequate to the task. Too many photogs just shoot the events without trying to create a meaningful context around such images in order to make sense of it all. And (2) If you are dedicated, if you live up to your ideas and stick to your higher purpose, instead of merely thinking in terms of the double spread or the Photo of the Year, then damn the organizations and damn the media and its editorial requirements, because you will be producing superior work, work that will eventually demand to be seen and remembered, instead of thrown out with yesterday’s trash.

by Jon Anderson | 05 Aug 2006 15:08 | a casa, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
Yes, Vietnam Inc. is a great book, but did it change anything? It’s one of those books that is bandied about in the photo world and little more.Not putting it down at all.
What i was getting at is this “jumping on a plane” business. What it does to YOU as a human being.Perhaps the war photographer action guy has been blown out of proportion like the fashion photographer image was with Antonioni’s Blow Up.Wanting to be in the action for a reason. Jones-Griffiths had a reason and it was and still is (Agent Orange) a good one.
All i was trying to say is that , when you jump on that plane,the reasons for doing it should be the right ones.Starting out but thinking where you may finish up.
Natchwey represents the “new war photographer” that many are looking up to, but only superficially.

Anyway what the hell do i know about it: I’m not a war photographer.I’m a peace photographer.

by Tony Stringer | 05 Aug 2006 16:08 | vicenza, Italy | | Report spam→
A couple points Tony. First of all, I dont think anyone can hope to change war. War is too much a part of our soul to have us forsake it. Aggression is just too pleasurable for some. Nor do I think that our obligation or goal as photographers is to change things necessarily, though we do what we can. Our job is to bear witness, and that may seem a somewhat diminished task, but in my view it is very very important. Did Thucydides change anything by writing The Peloponnesian War? no. Nor do we by publishing books like Vietnam Inc. But that doesnt mean that the effort is in vain or has no value. Silence is much more dangerous, and I think that while you may not see any bi changes in human history, you can still cause people to think and open their minds.

second, I entirely agree with you on the rest. Too many people jump on that plane without taking into consideration (1) what exactly it is you expect to accomplish; and (2) what exactly you think this is all going to do to you eventually. Let me tell you, alot of these people who specialize in conflict are emotional basket cases. They have serious problems dealing wth the long term effects of what they see and experience. There are few photogs willing to talk about, but Antony Lloyd did in his book.

I wish there were more editorial opportunities for peace photographers.

by Jon Anderson | 05 Aug 2006 16:08 | a casa, Dominican Republic | | Report spam→
When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

by [former member] | 05 Aug 2006 19:08 (ed. Aug 5 2006) | new orleans, United States | | Report spam→
As with most things, there are two sides to consider (maybe more, but let’s stick with two for now). Yes, there is the concern that photojournalists may be of the mindset that they want to profit from the suffering of others. But that is by no means universal. There are many of us who have a genuine concern about what is going on in the world, and a passion for telling a story about those topics, a story that may otherwise be untold, to bear witness, as Jon mentioned above. Someone once said that for them, photojournalism gives a voice to the voiceless (or something like that). I have to say, I don’t do what I do for the money. Photojournalism is one of those many ridiculous professions that requires passion, dedication, hard work, potential personal risk, investment, sacrifice and pays crap. Taking a look at Salgado – when he was at Magnum, he would spend several months of the year bringing in big bucks by shooting for annual reports etc – corporate photography. Magnum loved it and he was their biggest earner at that time. And then he would disappear for several more months on one of his epic projects. Another angle – almost every photojournalist I know also dabbles in wedding photography, “photojournalism style”, simply as a way to bring in the dollars needed to do the real PJ work. I wish this situation was different. I wish that there was a wider and deeper recognition for the essential work that PJ’s do. But there isn’t. We are used and abused. A savior for some, a scapegoat for others. And hey, I don’t give a sh!t. If there is a story that needs to be told, and I have the opportunity to tell it, I’m going to do it.

But it doesn’t end in a determination to capture the story. If you are serious about telling a story, then you need to have an outlet for delivering it. So capturing it is half the battle – effectively getting it out in front of an audience that should be looking at it is the other half. If you can do both successfully, there is hope that you will make some money from it. The likes of Nachtwey have Time and Stern as their outlets. Many of us have regular gigs with various publications and web sites around the world. Getting the story out to the right audience is not always (rarely) in our control, but it is, nonetheless, an important consideration when planning and shooting your project. Without an understanding of what your intended audience would react to, what key messages they should be aware of, your story may not be as impactful as it could be.

With the successful delivery of the right story to the right audience, comes the kind of recognition that generates new opportunities to capture new stories, either ones that you have a connection to, or assignments for stories that others may need. There are opportunities with projects about subjects that you feel people SHOULD know about, and opportunities with projects about subjects that you know people WANT to know about, although in the US, the latter will often lead in to the mindless obsession with the celebrity lifestyle.

So, for those coming in to the profession dreaming of glory and fortune, you might need a reality check.

As for McCullin, I was at a lecture of his a little while ago, on a panel with David Leeson and the late Catherine Leroy. I have been a McCullin fan for years and what he said at this lecture was interesting. He said that he thinks he did not make any difference by shooting what he did. He suggested that it was a waste of his time in Vietnam and all the other conflicts he witnessed, because the conflicts continue. Leeson, in shocked response, disagreed, stating that if nothing else, McCullin motivated new generations of photographers to go out and capture all that is wrong with the world, to continue with the work of educating those who would otherwise remain ignorant. I wonder, in contrast, if there was nobody around to go out there and capture pictures and words about anything other than what we know around us, what would happen? Would we succumb to the agenda-driven news stories captured by major networks and corporate news organizations, leading us in to a “Brave New World” type of society? Would we question any of what is being presented to us as “fact”?

There has been a lot of activity, over the past few months, in the US, about immigration, and what it would be like to live for one day with no immigrant labor. How would we react to one day with no journalism, no news?….

by ABC | 05 Aug 2006 22:08 (ed. Aug 5 2006) | Maputo and beyond, Mozambique | | Report spam→
Personally I think that there are a number of reasons why photographers shoot conflict. I’ll name a few. As young photographers one’s outlook on life is very different to that when one turns 50. The young photographer is driven by more raw energy, there may be a desire to want to get on in the industry, to expose yourself…and sadly by covering confilt sometimes one can further their reputations more quickly than others. There is also the reason of wanting to be a part of things, of wanting to bare witness to history unfolding.
Of wanting to do something in the only way that photographers know how. I am sure that McCullin shared some of these reasons for doing what he did. I know many photogs who shoot conflict and I am sure that most of them share some of the above reasons for shooting conflict. We are all aware that we may not be changing the world…..but that is not why we do it…..we do it because sometime we cannot bare to watch what is happening and do nothing ourselves…..
Many photogs who shoot war…..witness such courage, strength and dignity from the people they are shooting that that this encourages them to carry on this field…it can be demanding but at the end of the day war is a part of life, a part of humanity and often what one witnesses can be very inspiring. Even in war one can see hope in humanity.
But the bottom line is that when you get to 50/60 you look at the world in a different way…and so you do things in a different way.
When McCullin was 25…you didn’t here hiima saying it was all a waste of time!!
I believe that most of the men and women who work in this field, along with all the aid workers should be respected for what they do. But they should not be honored with World Press photo awards…no not at all!
ANDY RAIN www.andyrainphotos.com

by Andy Rain | 06 Aug 2006 01:08 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
Where can I get the full Don McCullin interview? I’d love to read it. We all seek peace – but few editors appear to regard images of it as as ‘relevant’!

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 06 Aug 2006 15:08 | The Land of the Living, Tanzania | | Report spam→
“Yes, there is the concern that photojournalists may be of the mindset that they want to profit from the suffering of others. But that is by no means universal. There are many of us who have a genuine concern about what is going on in the world, and a passion for telling a story about those topics, a story that may otherwise be untold, to bear witness, as Jon mentioned above. Someone once said that for them, photojournalism gives a voice to the voiceless (or something like that).

There has been a lot of activity, over the past few months, in the US, about immigration, and what it would be like to live for one day with no immigrant labor. How would we react to one day with no journalism, no news?….”

Really well put, Mike Fox. I believe that photojournalism does give voice to the voiceless, whether it be in Lebanon or in Coney Island. I can’t say I agree with McCullin that his pictures haven’t made a difference; his work really has influenced a new generation in both skill and that there was somebody who cared enough about the conflict to try to show the world images of it. I think photojournalism is as true a form of media as you can get, and that’s why it’s so important for photographers to cover war zones, which are drowning in chaos and blood and the absence of knowledge and communication. It must be something to actually be there, to bear witness, as several here have said, to what is actually happening. It’s a more immediate and visceral communication than words, I think, and inherently more honest (doctored photos not withstanding). Photos can convey a strong opinion and still allow the viewer to have their own perspective and understanding of the image.

That being said I think McCullin is absolutely right, it is more difficult to photograph peace. Peace goes by unnoticed while war is right there in your face. It’s such a difficult line to maintain in a war zone between maintaining a journalistic detachment and seeing a man die right in front of you, and it’s a peculiar dilemma that I can’t solve either way. But anyway, thanks for this post; it was mighty interesting.

by Eunice Hong | 06 Aug 2006 16:08 | Seoul, Korea (South) | | Report spam→

by Dafna Tal | 06 Aug 2006 16:08 | New York City, Afghanistan | | Report spam→
My opinion is that photography and violence are deeply related. looking the other hidden behind your camera, without leaving him the chance of giving his look back to you is an act of violence.
Most of photographers working for news, in war zones and so on, frenetically move looking for images to be used to say what newspapers want to say; and most of them thinks that it’s the only way of photographing; the images we usually find on press are subordinated to text, to editors, to public opinion, are politically used and abused.Much more the image is politically usable, much more it’s considered ‘good’.
And it doesn’t matter if that political party is for you the right one, slavery of subjects to your view is the same; you simply reduce them to silence. The images, and their subjects instead, are just words for someone else’s language. They don’t speak, they’re used to speak.
But there’s another way of photographing, I think, a way that is maybe not possible anymore today, when you’ve gotta send to your editor in 5mins the image he wants. It’s a way of photographing that has something to do with respect, with silence. Waiting for the image, nor looking for it; not looking anymore for the image that will let you tell what you want. just wait.
I think that silently waiting for the image creating itself inside the viewfinder is a way to let reality speak by itself. And reality is much more wider and deeper of our language, of our point of view.
This is the main lession film leaved to us, a lession that new and younger photographers have mostly forgotten. Moving around with just half 1 film roll can teach you much more about photography and reality than a 4Gigabyte memory card.
maybe this won’t let me work anymore with photography; but it makes me feel good. Maybe I’ll have to choose a different job soon, but doing so I’ll save a little of that silent and private place photography has always been for me.

by Eduardo Castaldo | 06 Aug 2006 18:08 | Napoli, Italy | | Report spam→
War photographs can profoundly change our consciousness about what we can do to each other, about who has the power and how
that power can transform into violence against those cannot defend themselves. Certainly the Nazi concentration camp pictures
are etched in our brains and may be they were instrumental in stopping atleast a few genocides since then. Knowing about the ongoing genocide in Sudan is an important step in taking action, soon or later. I value all these war photography books but I am not sure who reads them. How much exposure do these books get among people so as to actually make them think about the effects of war, choose the right government and make them accountable? Just today I read a poll that 50% of American public still believes Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction. EVEN NOW?? Somethings not right about the way news/photographs reach people. Perhaps thats the root of the problem.

by [former member] | 07 Aug 2006 02:08 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
Journalists of all stripes and calling need to be in any place where things that are happening are a concern to and of interest to everyone which is just about everything, and that of course includes war. I always believe that the number and variety of things that people are concerned with and interested in equals the number and variety of people in the world, but war is up there, at least for a time. And, yes, its harder to make pictures in a peaceful situation anywhere, but then peace, like war, is part of the life of humanity. In an ideal world peace photographers would have as much currency as war photographers. But war is where any change - which by itself alone is interesting enough - is sudden and traumatic, the inherent sometimes bloody drama that nobody can ignore. Also, war is like a wound or even a mere scar which are by their nature are more fascinating than plain skin. Any picture from any sort of war will hold people’s eyes more than anything, bloody and not. The law of economics and human nature help dictate the rest, from where agencies send photographers to, where photographers gravitate, and which pictures to publish and even to which ones would win recognition from any one of the prestigious crop of award-giving bodies in the world.

by Max Pasion | 07 Aug 2006 04:08 (ed. Aug 7 2006) | | Report spam→
“Just today I read a poll that 50% of American public still believes Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction.”


“Somethings not right about the way news/photographs reach people. Perhaps thats the root of the problem.”

I agree with this. Too much spin from governments, parties, organizations, lobbyists, etc. distorts the information in a way that really harms the people and the information and makes the media into an untrustworthy monster used as a pawn. Which is why I guess true photographs (not blatantly manipulated ones like the Reuters one) seem so important especially in wartime.

by Eunice Hong | 07 Aug 2006 07:08 | Seoul, Korea (South) | | Report spam→
Thank you Dafna Tal. Very much appreciated. J

by Jenny Lynn Walker | 07 Aug 2006 08:08 | The Land of the Living, Tanzania | | Report spam→
Eunice, here is the link
Half of U.S. still believes Iraq had WMD

Tony, here is a link to a recent discussion on Don McCullin
Power of Photography

by [former member] | 07 Aug 2006 08:08 (ed. Aug 7 2006) | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
If there was a huge demand for pictures of peace, multi-page spreads in Time and Newsweek, interviews on CNN, World Press Photo awards etc, would more people go and photograph it?

by ABC | 07 Aug 2006 15:08 | Maputo and beyond, Mozambique | | Report spam→

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Tony Stringer, Photographer Tony Stringer
Turin , Italy
Nile Tuzun, Photographer / Designer Nile Tuzun
Photographer / Designer
San Francisco , United States ( SFO )
Jon Anderson, Photographer & Writer Jon Anderson
Photographer & Writer
Ocala Florida , United States
Washington Dc , United States
Andy Rain, Photographer Andy Rain
London , United Kingdom ( LON )
Jenny Lynn Walker, Homo Sapien Jenny Lynn Walker
Homo Sapien
London , United Kingdom
Eunice Hong, Eunice Hong
New York , United States
Dafna Tal, Photographer & Journalist Dafna Tal
Photographer & Journalist
Jerusalem , Israel
Eduardo Castaldo, Freelance Photographer Eduardo Castaldo
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(Italian Photographer)
Ramallah , West Bank / Occupied Palestinian Territory
Max Pasion, Street Photographer Max Pasion
Street Photographer
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