Wednesday 27 October 2010

Propaganda and Historical events

History is defined as, “a record of narrative description of past events”, “all that is remembered of the past as preserved in writing; or images; a body of knowledge”

The problem with history is that the stories are told based on the communicator’s perceptions of the events.  For example, if I were an immigrant in France and there are huge protests against the French treatment of immigrants, my side of the “story”, or “historical account” would be different than the French policeman that is blocking the demonstration.

If journalism is supposed to record events that are taking place, which can be used for our future historical records, as journalists we are supposed to try our best to “remain objective” and provide information on we observe then relay that “story” to the general public.

However, a journalist in a specific area cannot cover everything at once in the region. Journalists can only record bits and pieces of what they experience and observe based on where they are located at that particular moment.  These stories become “pieces” of the story and not the entire “story”.  At least this is the reality.  If a person wants to understand the entire story, then one must read articles from different journalists who were there at the same time, but possibly running around with the policemen and not the protesters.  The alternative for the journalist is to observe the demonstration from the sidelines, and then interview both parties and include them in his/her piece.  This is what many journalists try to do.

As a photojournalist, the only real option is to stand on the sidelines and photograph the action, submit it to the editors at the news agencies.  In war photography, it is difficult to “stand on the sidelines” and take images because, the photographer is physically placing him/herself in the territory of either the “enemies” or the “good guys”. 

One must understand, that in most conflicts there are borders where the “good guys” or the “bad guys” (depending on who is writing, what news agency, and/or whose side your on) cross the borders and fight.  For the photographer to cover the story, one must cross the borders.  For example, culture A bombs culture B; the damage takes place in the area of culture B.  Culture A could be the good guys and culture B could be the bad guys.  So if the photographer wants to record the “damage” in the area of culture B, he must cross over and most of his/her images will be from the area of culture B. 

The problem lies in this, let’s say you are covering the damage in culture B, destroyed homes, crying mothers, and broken cars but the agencies most likely to purchase your images are rooting for culture A.  Therefore, if the photographer wants to earn an income and sell his/her images they cannot make culture A look “bad”, they must look like they are doing good in order to justify why they (the supposed good guys) go in and destroy a city. 

In the end, the news in culture A, only gets ½ of the story.  The photographer takes images of solders helping children, rebuilding schools, handing out candy or water.  The photographer takes images of smiles, and joy, in spite of the recent destruction of an entire neighborhood.  These are called propaganda photographs.  Or that is what I call them.  If I wanted to get back the money I spent from going into Iraq as a freelance, I HAD to take propaganda images, it was a must.

One day I would wake up and say to myself, today I am going to run around and “take propaganda” images.  I needed the money.  So, I did just that.  On other days, when my true journalist self came out, I wanted to see what was really going on out there, I would take images of the gas lines, the satellite dishes, the empty movie houses, the priest who’s church was just invaded from the “good guys”, the mothers without husbands, the suicide bombers, talk to the soldiers,  etc…I did not sell any of the images and stories yet, they were part of the story.  It was the other half of the story.

I was once accused as being an activist, not a photojournalist from an editor of a mainstream media source.  At first, I took this rather difficult but within a few days, I looked at is as a compliment.  From his perception, when I submitted images of blocks and rows of apartments with new satellite dishes, brought in from an American company and making a ton of money from the destruction of the media services, I was on the “wrong side”.  I was an activist.  From my journalists’ perspective, I was covering the story, as much as the whole story that I could.  I call it history.  These stories came from the ground, and behind the scenes, the long lines, satellite dishes, lonely soldiers, bombed buildings, and no currency. 

But they did not make the news and they did not make a penny.  Not one.  So where does a photojournalist publish these “untold stories”?   Does he/she leave them in the computer not sharing a part of history with the world?  Or, does he/she publish to those who will take the images and the story, in order to get the other half of the story out there? 

Journalists are responsible to the public, we are responsible to provide objective information to the readers it is our motto, or it is supposed to be.

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