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Warphotographer

Hi all!
I dont know if this is the right medium to use for this, but I guess a lot of you here know someone or maybe even are a warphotographer. Now what I want to know is simply how you became that? I´m intrested in the subject and I would like to start reporting from war, as a photographer that is. Please give me some advices or tips that could be useful in starting up. I maybe should mension that I am freelance and I am not on any newspaper…

by Michel Widenius at 2008-12-16 12:43:54 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→

The phrase more often used these days is “conflict” photographer, as the issues are often not just about war or violence only but also about social conflict. So, first, before you can be a good conflict photographer, you need a good education in the socio-political issues around the world.

Second, you need to be an excellent photographer of people, and to understand how to tell a story with pictures. You don’t start doing that from a conflict zone. Start covering some social conflict stories in your home country.

An anecdote: A photographer I know quit his job as a banker in Europe during the Yugoslave war, mightily angry about what was going on. He grabbed his equipment and headed to the war region. Later he returned to his home with a sack full of exposed film rolls and had them developed. They were, I think he used this word, shit. Then he realized he had gone about the process ass-backward. Today, he is one of the best and most prominent “conflict” photographers, having recently done masterful work documenting the range of conflict in Georgia on asignment for a major NGO. So, you just have to do things in the right sequence and build the proper skills to excel in this craft.

Finally, take a look at this posting and take every single word in it to heart.

by [former member] | 16 Dec 2008 19:12 (ed. Dec 16 2008) | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
The book “Shooting Under Fire” profiles a number of war/conflict photographers and gives selections of the their work. Many talk about how they got their start.

http://www.digitaljournalist.org/issue0212/ph_intro.html

by [former member] | 16 Dec 2008 20:12 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
Wises words from Neal entry and advisable slow reading for Michael Kamber post.

Hi Michel:

Around my region (also in your´s, sure) have a lot of IDEAS waiting to be discovered for strength young photojournalist like you; they will allow to grow like PJ but overcoat like person. You will get experiences with people that you never had imagine talk or spend time before; these ‘knowledge’ change your vision of the world. Maybe, one day you wake up and fell that your are ready for take your rocksack and go away…

This is only a background reflexion over my begining experience on PJ.

Could interest you:

http://www.lightstalkers.org/truth_needs_no_ally

Best Wishes

by Otto Roca | 16 Dec 2008 20:12 (ed. Dec 16 2008) | Galicia, Spain | | Report spam→
The difference between what you have in your mind and the reality of conflict photography are 2 completely different things. Unless you have the backing and support from an NGO or large media organisation you will probably end up kidnapped or kidnapped then dead! I dont want to put you off.

Do you have any idea of the do’s and dont’s of life in a hot zone? No amount of reading can really prepare you for what conflict photography entails. Do you have any conflict training? If you havent then get the best course you can. Good Luck!

by Stewart Weir | 17 Dec 2008 19:12 | Madrid, Spain | | Report spam→
@stewart: while i understand your points and think they are valid, it does come off as a bit harsh and my concern is not highlighting the things Michel does not know but offer, as Neal and Otto did, resources from which to better educate Michel on the realities of this area of photography.

of course he doesn’t have conflict training. his works attests to that and the fact he’s posting on here about that very thing is makes your effort of pointing out how much “do’s and don’ts” he doesn’t have seem more like something a inquirer might be dejected at, rather something they might be inspired by.

i think it’s important to encourage people even when their requests are easy to ridicule or poke holes in.

@michel: i think it’s a long road of preparation, learning and a large amount of “unschooling” that goes into that particular profession. that said, the resources provided by Otto and Neal are top quality. if you have the dedication and desire to learn, coupled with a fair amount of realism and reasonable attitude, you can achieve your goal of covering conflicts and ultimately, through your photographs, do your subjects justice. best of luck to you.

by [former member] | 17 Dec 2008 23:12 | Brooklyn, NY, United States | | Report spam→
Well said Mustafah.

Michel: I’ve spent the past two years working with the Florida National Guard so I could do a perma-embed with them when they deploy in 2010. It’s looking semi-good for me, but shit can still get thrown in my spokes. I’m not sure if Sweden has something similar to our National Guard, but if they do, try working with them. It’s been a huge stepping stone for me and although you may not get any actual conflict/combat experience (people actually shooting at you), you’ll pick up little tid-bits while they’re training and you’ll gain some sort of knowledge on how to act in a combat zone.

by Nigel Gray | 17 Dec 2008 23:12 (ed. Dec 17 2008) | Sarasota, Fl, United States | | Report spam→
Check out War War Photographer by Christian Frei (2001). Interesting documentary.

by Sivert Almvik | 18 Dec 2008 06:12 (ed. Dec 18 2008) | Trondheim, Norway | | Report spam→
covering CONFLICT: PHOTOGRAPHY workshop – http://www.warphotoltd.com/CCPW.html

by Wade Goddard | 18 Dec 2008 08:12 | Dubrovnik, Croatia | | Report spam→
Also check www.warshooter.com/

by Faheem Qadri | 18 Dec 2008 13:12 | Kashmir, India-Administered Kashmir | | Report spam→
Hi all!
Thank you so much for your answers that were construcitve and very useful to me. It´s like this: I have done a few social-reportage, (don´t have them on my homepage though) and I think that I could, when school ends in summer, have enough skills to at least make the people i take oictures of jusice. The thing is that we don´t have any NGO (wich I think you refeer to as National Guard?). The only military organization that we have is homecoming-something, and that group is mainly based on either retired old men that has got the military as a hobby or crazy 20-year old kids with a big erge for fireing weapons and play war. And I don´t think that they are out in the world at all its more like a group of happy amateurs.
All thougt, this I am not sure of, but I think we have some people in the UN. Maybe I could join them? Do you think that is possible? And another thing, isn´t there any photographers (conflict) that uses assistants in their work? Or is it so that conflictphotographers mainly operate by them selfs? Maybe a stupid question but like I said I am new to this… But I really want to learn because, as probably everyone sais, I want to make a different in this caothic world and I probably couldn´t do anything else than this. Photography is the only thing I think I am at least a little bit good at, So my only option to at least have done something important and helpful in my life is this :)

by Michel Widenius | 20 Dec 2008 14:12 | | Report spam→
NGO does not equal National guard by any stretch of the imagination.
NGO stands for Non-Governmental Organization- look it up…

by Che Kofif | 20 Dec 2008 14:12 | | Report spam→
Oh shit, big different there… Sorry my bad, it was just so that Nigel said that he worked with the Florida National Guard and I just guessed that NGO stood for that. Again my bad! But I know now at least what it is. Thanks for info!

by Michel Widenius | 20 Dec 2008 14:12 | | Report spam→
Michel, most conflict photographers don’t use assistants in the field. They want to operate with minimum entanglements, don’t want the responsibility of another person, and don’t really need the help. A “fixer” who translates language and culture is as much as they can manage, and even then that can be a problem if the bullets are really flying.

That said, you might want to see if you can get an internship at a place like Magnum, or VII, or with a conflict shooter who might need help when they are back to home base. They will probably pay little to nothing (a sore subject for some people on LS), but they can be a great learning experience directly in the genre in which you are interested, and at least you won’t have to pay school tuition and fees!

Incidentally, the acronym “NGO” is thrown around among English-speakers quite a lot and is not very precise. Literally, it refers to “non-governmental organizations” which could refer to almost anything. But in usual reference (certainly in this context) it refers to non-profit organizations providing emergency and developmental assistance in locations which are in particular need, usually due to conflict or other disasters. There are parts of the UN which operate like that (UNICEF, UNDP, FAO, etc.) but it is not really an NGO (it is a “multilateral” organization). If you look around a bit you will I am sure find hundreds of Swedish NGOs that are working in the world as a whole (start by Googling “Swedish NGOs”). Then plot your strategy to get to the persons in the NGOs who engage photographers. You will obviously need an excellent portfolio and good selling skills (to sell yourself).

The National Guard in the US is an official militia that is called into active military duty for emergencies or to supplement the regular military. They have closer ties to a community than a regular military unit so they would normally be more easily approached by someone in that community. But in Sweden there may be other military organizations that could provide the same.

BTW, the “homecoming-something” group you mention is definitely a story worth shooting, particularly if as a subject the members are as you describe them. It may be less newsworthy in Sweden, but outside Sweden it could be seen as interesting. But you are looking for a whole story, not just one image.

by [former member] | 20 Dec 2008 14:12 (ed. Dec 20 2008) | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Michael, unpaid internships are perfectly acceptable so long as they don’t work you.
If the internship is purely educational and no financial gain is being made off your labor, go for it.

Otherwise, it’s slave labor.

http://www.newglobalorder.org/2008/11/poll-should-magnum-vii-photographers.html

by P. Money | 20 Dec 2008 17:12 | | Report spam→
Another term that is thankfully no longer in vogue is “shooter”. Small town america newpaper photographers still seem attached to it, but generally speaking, the word went out with photo-safari vests.

Photographers, especially those working in war, or “conflict” afflicted areas should avoid referring to themselves, or thinking of themselves in terminology associated with gunmen. It’s a semantic habit that many people still fall into, but it’s a negative connotation that at best, reduces photography to the mechanics of target-hitting -

unfortunately, a lot of so called war photography is just this – mindless snap-shots of men with guns by men with cameras – essentially a circle jerk of people with no idea where they are, what they’re doing, or why. (and to be fair, many of the most prolific “shooters” of this era are women, so it’s not a problem specific to men).

Why you want to be a “war photographer” or what that identity means to you, are much more basic questions than how you do it, or become it – those things will follow when you actually know what you are trying to achieve.

by grey vox | 22 Dec 2008 11:12 | jericho, Estonia | | Report spam→
Quite a useful thread if you are concerned with the correct vocabulary to use when corresponding with other photographers…

But back to becoming a war shooter. As far as I can see the best way is to lump a sack of tri-x on your shoulder and jump into some heavy shit. The business is about luck, so maybe you’ll get lucky. Or dead as someone pointed out.

Maybe figure out why you want to be a war photographer afterwards, it might be useful for the auto-biography when you want a change in life.

Good luck.

by Elliot Taylor | 22 Dec 2008 17:12 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
most importantly, when embarking on your career as a war-shooter, and jumping into that heavy shit, be sure to seek the sage counsel of 23 year old practioners of “contre-jour photography, specialising in weddings and portraiture”, especially if you can find one who graduated from university last year.

by wank laude | 22 Dec 2008 20:12 | london, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
“I think the one thing that few people understand, is that the journalists en-masse, who covered the Vietnam war, I would say 98 percent of them were in favour of the war – every aspect of the war.

About 1.99 percent were in favour of the war, but critical of the tactics being used.

And there was me and a couple of French people, who said no, the whole thing was bloody immoral and wrong."

-Philip Jones Griffiths

Sion Touhig wrote..

“Philip Jones Griffiths documented cultural, social and economic conflict, with a coruscating analysis of the forces fuelling it, alongside unrepentant support for its opponents and victims – not just back-slapping ‘bang-bang’ war-porn which often wallows in the destruction it purports to condemn, and is happy to exist in a journalistic and moral void.”


“I want to know why. Why is what is most important to me.

Why is this child starving? Not ‘let us for the umpteenth time, capture the pathos of the starving child’.

You’ve got to say why.

…I think its important to say that – otherwise, there’s a sort of unresolved mass of imagery which in the end, sort of floats over people."

-Philip Jones Griffiths

by P. Money | 22 Dec 2008 21:12 | | Report spam→
Magnum: Wars (Vietnam)

by P. Money | 22 Dec 2008 23:12 | | Report spam→
Nice personal attack from anonymity for a bit of failed irony.

I think I missed out that you will need courage as well as luck to shoot in conflict zones.

by Elliot Taylor | 23 Dec 2008 07:12 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
It might be helpful to be aware of the unique brain and emotional wiring which enables the relative fearlessness required in order to operate effectively as a photographer in a combat situation or conflict area. Conflict photographers feel fear, just not like most. Some have hostile-environment training under their belt. Others have been around long enough in tough situations to learn how to reduce their chances of, or better said, via their movement, position, behavior and activity, lower their probability of getting killed. Yet, in my opinion, conflict photographers must have empathy, sensitivity and some sense of personal emotional vulnerability in order to photograph with any meaning. That same brain-wiring has an interesting affect when you get home to a normal and safe environment. Many photographers (and of course reporters) struggle with this bi-polar experience. Many can do it once and manage fine. There are those photographers who have returned to wars over and over again, but have less than tidy personal lives as a result. I’ll leave that as an open-ended statement, open to debate, because I imagine it will generate a broad gamut of responses, and I don’t pretend to know everything on the subject.

by Timothy Fadek | 23 Dec 2008 08:12 (ed. Dec 23 2008) | New York, United States | | Report spam→
It certainly doesn’t take a lot of courage to dispense flippant advise about running off to get lucky-or-dead, when you’ve never left London.

So Michel is probably better off heeding the words of Timothy Fadek, who’s the only participant in this conversation to have survived some fairly “heavy shit” in Iraq.

The rest of it, well-meaning or not, is arm-chair quarterbacking from wedding photographers and retired lawyers.

and Eliot, don’t take it personally, because it isn’t about you, or your personal impulses to be a swaggering war “shooter” – jumping off into someone else’s conflict/war zone just as a platform for your own personal sense of adventure, or delusions of “business” opportunities, isn’t courageous – it’s thoughtless, and pretty gutless.

anecdote: In Haiti, some years back, a photographer named Luc Delahaye stood back and observed a 20-something war-shooter, just back from an embed in Iraq, and instantly jumping into his next pile of heavy shit in Port-au-Prince. To paraphrase his french, he said something like this:

“that kid is so stupid, he’ll be fine. nothing will ever happen to him, but he’ll get people around him killed.”

So Michel, one last piece of advice: if you happen to come across Elliot one day out there in the land of heavy shit, don’t stand next to him.

by grey vox | 23 Dec 2008 10:12 (ed. Dec 23 2008) | jericho, Estonia | | Report spam→
Apologies – a beautiful misinterpretation of what I had intended to be a parody – What I wrote was farce and I intended it to be read as such, not advice, flippant or otherwise. I thought the conversation itself pretty comical. A bizarre mix of seriousness and naivety.

Ditto Mr vox, I won’t be leaving snug old london till i am well and prepared. Wouldn’t want you dead now, would I.

There’s enough heavy shit in the world, so take the world seriously but don’t take yourself so seriously.

Compassion and empathy are the most important tools under a photographers belt, I imagine Fadek is right in saying these are even more important in a conflict situation . And perhaps a sense of humour?

Happy Christmas

by Elliot Taylor | 23 Dec 2008 11:12 | London, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
“a bizarre mix of seriousness and naivety”.

Elliot – you’ve accidentally said something intelligent – that was a pretty accurate assessment of the world of conflict reporting.

In the interests of compassion and empathy, I suppose one should be charmed that there are still people in the world untouched and naive enough to find comedy in other peoples wars.

For those in less snug environments, tread lightly through heavy shit.

peace be upon you.

by grey vox | 23 Dec 2008 12:12 | jericho, Estonia | | Report spam→
What an odd question; I hope you don’t take this as a rather ‘off’ reply but, have you actually done any research in this area?

by Matt Cetti-Roberts | 26 Dec 2008 00:12 | Falmouth, United Kingdom | | Report spam→
Matt: I knew this question was kind of controversiell since this is a question that shouldn´t matter at all. But I think it´s kind of relevant since schools or what ever never teach you any “technical” stuff when it comes to "conflict-photography. I don´t mean litterally what´s the different between photojournalism and conflict-photography because that´s off course something I know. But I mean if there´s any technical groundrules… Hmmm kind of hard to explain what I mean… Well, skip this question, sorry guys…

by Michel Widenius | 26 Dec 2008 00:12 | | Report spam→
Michel,

Get yourself attached to a newspaper, any newspaper, then get paperwork showing you “work” for that paper, even if you only work as a stringer, freelancer or hopeful, just get something saying you’re sending them the pictures, and use the “humanitarian” angle, no matter what you shoot.. The paperwork can “help” get you out of “some” situations, but it’s far from a sure thing. Iraqi police generally want to see some paperwork of some kind, even if they can’t read it, it makes them feel in control ( just never hand the real papers, only copies, keep the originals safe somewhere). NEVER look or act tough or threatening, EVER, and develop a good dumb act. Now, paperwork is number one, next comes the handies… cigarettes are always good as are candies and small toys (balloons, finger puppets etc) light stuff, you’d be amazed how much a balloon or cigarette can get you out of serious situations…
Start off in a major city in whatever country you are interested in, and go around the hotel bars looking for the foreign media types, they’re fairly easy to spot, then buy the drinks and make friends. It’s unlikely they’ll want you tagging along with them, but they can tell you where to go, or not go and give you some advice that may help. But number one, and you have to remember this, you’re on your own, seriously, on your own, so you better not be the easily frightened type, you never know what is coming next.

As far as the “conflict photographer/war photographer” dribble some want to bitch about, it’s simple, ignore them, I doubt they’ve even driven past a fight outside a nightclub let alone gone out into the world. Call yourself a duck farmer for that matter, none of it means a thing, except to the little people who write the dribble above.

No matter what, you’re on your own, research, plan, study and make sure it’s what you really want to do…then do it. There’s only one way to do it.
Do it.

by George “Funky’ Brown | 26 Dec 2008 03:12 | Al Hamdaniyah, Iraq | | Report spam→
The difference between conflict photography and photo journalism, other than the obvious conflict, is that people usually live long enough for you to get their id for the caption in photo journalism.

bro

by David Bro | 26 Dec 2008 05:12 (ed. Dec 26 2008) | Orange County, Ca., United States | | Report spam→
How many photographers do you know David Bro that were killed in a conflict zone? there are many dangerous jobs out there, fireman and policeman for example put themselves in danger on a daily basis. You make it sound like Michel’s chances of returning are next to nothing. There are plenty of men and women doing this work everyday.

by Wade Goddard | 26 Dec 2008 10:12 | Dubrovnik, Croatia | | Report spam→
I do not personally know any photographers that have been killed in a conflict zone, Wade Goddard. I don’t think that my post references Michel’s chances of making it or not…I do reference the subjects of conflict photos in a certain indirect way and you could infer that its harder on them than it is for the photographer.

Since you bring it up though, I don’t think we hear about all the photographers that don’t make it back, just like I think we don’t hear about all the children that are abducted every year and are never seen again. I believe that if you did the simple math that began by grouping a total number of photographers covering a conflict, by the total killed, the ratio of fatalities would be greater than a fireman, policeman or other job with inherent risks.

More later …

by David Bro | 26 Dec 2008 19:12 | Orange County, Ca., United States | | Report spam→
David, it’s interesting you have no access to the actual figures.

Journalists & Media Staff Killed in 2008

Last Updated (03.12.2008)

TOTAL NUMBER OF CASUALTIES IN 2008 086

-IRAQ WAR CASUALTIES
FROM MARCH 2003 TO THE PRESENT DAY 252

CASUALTIES PER REGION
Africa 004
Asia 034
Europe 012
Americas 019
Middle East 017

by George “Funky’ Brown | 27 Dec 2008 00:12 | Kirkuk, Iraq | | Report spam→
But in all honesty isn’t it all really “As far as I can see the best way is to lump a sack of tri-x on your shoulder and jump into some heavy shit” ?

Elliot got abused for that flippant remark, but ultimately there is no preparation or training like the thing itself. Go for it, if you really want to. If you really want it badly enough, nobody and nothing will stop you.

So the better question is maybe, why do you want it so badly? In my case I really believed (still do) in the humanistic ideas of bearing witness and having your your photos mean something, do something, in the bigger world, see Philip Jones Griffiths quoted above. In the ex-Yugoslavia I think that our photos DID have that kind of impact, DID propel people and governments to intervene decisively. In other wars it’s a lot more ambiguous, frustrating, and seemingly hopeless.

But on a more personal and selfish level, there was also, and it’s not popular or PC to talk about this, one’s own measure as a man, to one self, to one’s family. Everyone I knew in my family had survived the Second World War, through great suffering. My paternal grandfather, a soldier in the Chinese Army, was severely wounded fighting the Japanese. My great-grandparents essentially starved to death. Nobody let me forget that, being the first born in the USA, I was so lucky and privileged and spoiled. That they had been through it all and that I hadn’t, and that in some sense all their trials had been for my benefit. So at a certain point, if you are a certain kind of person like I was, you pick up that gauntlet, and go see things for yourself. To prove that you are as tough as your ancestors, or at least get subjected to equally bad experiences. In their case they didn’t ask for it, whereas you’re volunteering, but, you gotta start somewhere. And you come back, yes, different.

So ask yourself, why do you want to go? For fame and fortune? For humanitarian reasons? To do something to right a wrong? To deal with your own psychological issues? To combat boredom and the meaninglessness of life? All of the above? None?

Certainly, as Wade points out, most of us have lost friends over the years. A seasoned journalist told me a long, long time ago, at the beginning of my career, that it would be all fun and games until you lost someone. And, cliche that it may be, was absolutely true. But that’s also true in all human experience. Losing those close to you happens no matter what, no matter who you are or what you do for a living.

As my good friend Tim Fadek wrote above, maybe the most important thing of all is to try and figure out if it’s worth it. The toll on relationships, mental health, and so on, can be very high. The rewards, personally and professionally, are also potentially great. And you never, ever know how it’s going to turn out until you go through it. And by then it’s your life experience, already lived; you can’t turn the clock back. There are no right answers.

by [former member] | 27 Dec 2008 01:12 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
i want to add that wade goddard, tim fadek, michael kamber, know what they’re talking about. one couldn’t ask for better friends in bad places. and philip jones griffiths was an inspiration and personally generous with his time and insight, his work will stand the test of time; already has.

by [former member] | 27 Dec 2008 01:12 | Brooklyn, United States | | Report spam→
In the words of Plato, only the dead have seen the end of the war. As long as you and I are still living, there will be many, many wars to keep us busy for years to come, if we so choose, unfortunately.

by Timothy Fadek | 27 Dec 2008 01:12 | New York, United States | | Report spam→
Alan Chin “The toll on relationships, mental health, and so on, can be very high”.

Sadly, very true.

by George “Funky’ Brown | 27 Dec 2008 05:12 | Kirkuk, Iraq | | Report spam→
So, George, why do you find it interesting that I have no access to the figures?

bro

by David Bro | 27 Dec 2008 06:12 | Orange County, Ca., United States | | Report spam→
“I figure we need people in this world to cover war and conflicts”…

If we were to only listen to the governments or politicians for the “truth”, the world would be an even more dangerous place.

by George “Funky’ Brown | 27 Dec 2008 07:12 | Kirkuk, Iraq | | Report spam→

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Participants

Michel  Widenius, Photographer Michel Widenius
Photographer
(www.michelwidenius.com)
Malmö , Sweden
Otto Roca, Documentary Photographer Otto Roca
Documentary Photographer
[undisclosed location].
Stewart Weir, Photographer Stewart Weir
Photographer
Bangkok , Thailand
Nigel Gray, Taker of Photos Nigel Gray
Taker of Photos
Sarasota, Fl , United States
Sivert Almvik, Student Sivert Almvik
Student
Trondheim , Norway ( OSL )
Wade Goddard, Curator Wade Goddard
Curator
(War Photo Limited)
Dubrovnik , Croatia
Faheem Qadri, Photographer/fixer Faheem Qadri
Photographer/fixer
Paris , France
Che Kofif, Trying to figure out Che Kofif
Trying to figure out
[undisclosed location].
P. Money, Creative & Futurist P. Money
Creative & Futurist
(See That Which Cannot Be Seen)
[undisclosed location].
grey vox, grey vox
Jericho , Estonia
Elliot Taylor, Photographer - Journalist Elliot Taylor
Photographer - Journalist
London , United Kingdom
wank laude, wank laude
London , United Kingdom
Timothy Fadek, Photographer Timothy Fadek
Photographer
Berlin , Germany
Matt Cetti-Roberts, Photographer Matt Cetti-Roberts
Photographer
(On the way!)
[undisclosed location].
George “Funky’ Brown, Photographer George “Funky’ Brown
Photographer
Rafah , Israel
David Bro, freelance editorial David Bro
freelance editorial
Orange County , United States ( LAX )


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