dima gavrysh – uganda’s forgotten war

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Dima Gavrysh

Uganda’s Forgotten War

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For over two decades a sectarian rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its infamous leader, Joseph Kony, have been waging a war against the Ugandan people and government, burning villages, mutilating civilians, and abducting children. Based in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the LRA has continued to terrorize northern Uganda since the late 1980’s, forcing millions of people to abandon their homes for dire conditions of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

The ongoing warfare became one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts and one of the most underreported crises in the world. The LRA has been known for particularly brutal mutilation of the civilians, and an uncounted number of people who survived an encounter with the LRA guerrillas had their limbs, ears, and noses cut off. Terrified by the prospect of being killed, abducted, or tortured, most villagers in northern Uganda prefer the squalid conditions of the IDP camps, and by the present time an entire generation has been born and raised in IDP camps and has never seen their own village. People in the affected area have been helped by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), who provide health care, rehabilitate and run hospitals, battle epidemics, carry out vaccination campaigns, and offer mental healthcare, easing the existence for the refugees.

Children have suffered disproportionately in this conflict, and they are one of the most striking symbols of the violence in the region. Over 20,000 children have been abducted by the LRA during the conflict, for use as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves. An unknown number has been killed. As a result, every night tens of thousands of children stream into towns and centers of larger IDP camps to seek shelter for the night. Various humanitarian organizations set up shelters, such as the Noah’s Ark shelter in the town of Gulu, that provide a safe place for the so called “night commuters” to spend the night. As the darkness falls, slender shapes wrapped in blankets fill the floor of plastic tents that serve as communal bedrooms. Before the sun rises in the morning, children gather their belongings and return home, surviving another night.

A fragile truce was established between the Ugandan government and the LRA in 2006, and the 1.6 million people from approximately 200 camps began drifting toward home. The reports of various human rights violations, including killings, mutilations, abductions, and sexual violence are still not uncommon; however, as peace talks progressed in 2007 and LRA fighters left northern Uganda, people continued to return to their villages or smaller camps.


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Dima Gavrysh


230 Responses to “dima gavrysh – uganda’s forgotten war”

  • Thanks Joe. The fact is, I forgot to post the last note: his pictures are not very good, by any “artistic” photographic standard. They’re poorly composed, badly exposed snapshots. Nobody would ever comment on their “artistic” quality. They would never be published here at BURN. But they work miracles.

  • Wonderful imaginary, touching and deep in coverage. Excellent work

  • Jim P.

    I used to believe that using my camera to shine light into the darkness would bring about change. Over the years I’ve learned that is rarely the case. The same light that exposes the bad guys to the public eye can expose their victims to worse consequences.

    Ok, good point. So, “we” should simply refrain from reporting on anything wrong happening in the world when it’s laden with local and geo-political complexities, and basically, far away?

    IMO, do the best you or we can, ie. We should never ask ourselves beforehand if what we do brings changes or not, and above all, not listen to those who tell us it can’t change (even if, AND ESPECIALLY if they seem to be right!).

    Maybe a lot fails because the desire to change things derives more from personal vanity than from the selflessness needed to really help one’s fellow being.

  • Not for a minute do I believe that “Maybe a lot fails because the desire to change things derives more from personal vanity than from the selflessness needed to really help one’s fellow being.” There are too many tragedies in my family’s history that prove otherwise. Strangers helping for selfless reasons. So does my friend’s wells and schools story. People are not as stupid as one might think. Most times they’re happy to help. They just don’t want to get guilted into it. I think two distinctly different aspects of photography are being misconstrued, or mixed up here. One is Dima’s, let’s call it awareness raising work. Another is my friend’s join us in pre-existing action work. Both are valid. They have the same goal in view but they differ in style. Neither of them is right or wrong.

  • “IMO, do the best you or we can, ie. We should never ask ourselves beforehand if what we do brings changes or not, and above all, not listen to those who tell us it can’t change (even if, AND ESPECIALLY if they seem to be right!).”

    What we do as photographers is not ethically neutral. When we press the shutter, we need to understand why we are doing it and if the gain for those we expose is worth exploiting their situation.

  • SP, my point was about actions not having helped at all in the end, despite good intentions, keeping with Jim’s point, not about the good deeds we all experienced around us and around the world.

    It’s a subject encountred in many a great literature as well, of course.

  • Among the commenters here, why is photography invariably aligned with social activism? Why insist that photographers be motivated to selfless action before they trip the shutter in some dark corner of the world? If I want to travel to such a place and photograph simply to massage my own ego, why think my photos will somehow be invalid?

    Why should we care what Dima’s motivation or goals were in Uganda, as if sincerity is all that counts? The photos are the photos. Whatever happens to them is out of his hands — the photographer has no control over the interpretation of his work. We can all congratulate Dima for raising awareness of the plight of these Ugandans, while at the same time a member of the Lord’s Resistance Army can (pridefully) note that the photos reveal the successful destruction and degradation of a hated community.

  • Preston, that’s why we should think before we shoot those photos and release them into the wild.

    “The photos are the photos. Whatever happens to them is out of his hands — the photographer has no control over the interpretation of his work.

  • It’s kind of like saying that dropping a bomb into a crowded civilian area to kill some bad guys is o.k. because once its released the one who releases it has no control over its ultimate effect.

    We are ethically responsible for the results of our actions, regardless of our intent.

  • If I follow what you just said Jim, I’ll never be able to press the shutter again. Your absolutism is impossible to follow by stupid photographers like me.

  • Yes, Jim, but how does thinking about it solve anything? I can think my photos will do great things, and then they end up causing harm. Or vice versa. Or I can just sit around thinking and not take any pictures.

    I disagree with you, Jim. Photography in and of itself is not an ethical matter. I don’t think tripping a shutter and actuating a sensor places my mortal soul in jeopardy. I can shoot for selfish or altruistic reasons, or diffidence, anger, happiness, or simple boredom — none of this matters. My photos can sit in archive for 100 years and then be discovered and put to uses I could never have imagined. Will I be responsible for what happens to them at that point? Of course not.

    The photography/morality nexus, which is an old debate, takes place exclusively among the elite — as if we have some magical ability to exploit the powerless by photographing them, and so like comic book superheroes we must endeavor to use our powers only for good.

    But this is silly. A photograph is just a photograph. It doesn’t steal anyone’s soul or reveal it or exploit it or ennoble it. We are not the interpreters of our own photographs any more than a writer is a critic of his own novel. If you constantly worry about ethics, you will never shoot anything — any photograph can be argued to be exploitative, degrading, or dishonest. You have no control over this.

  • Jim’s at it again dragging all conversation back to him by sticking the hornets’ nest.

    Photography is not like a bomb. It is the saviour of the universe.

  • I am afraid I can’t take Jim seriously anymore.

  • ian, did you ever?

    Preston you are trying to abdicate responsibility for your own actions. Photographs are not neutral. If they were, government’s wouldn’t use them for propaganda.

  • The fact that they are neutral (subject to divergent interpretation) is the very thing that allows them to be used as propaganda. Again, Dima’s photos: raising awareness of the poor Ugandans or showing the triumph of the Lord’s Resistance Army? Noble depiction of suffering or proof of the hopelessness of Africa? Making a case for international relief or proving that Africans can’t settle their problems without bloodshed? Is Dima responsible for my sophistry? Of course not.

  • Preston, you’re making my case for me.

    If, indeed, they could be used as effectively to advance the cause of the bad guys (and I don’t agree with that, particularly), then the photographer must decide if the photos are so important to publish that it’s worth the potential risk to the good guys. That is an ethical decision. You’re advocating a “shoot ’em all and let god sort it out” abdication of personal responsibility.

  • we need to understand why we are doing it and if the gain for those we expose is worth exploiting their situation.

    Can’t disagree (if the goal was to use photography as a pulpit), but concretely, if Dima exploited a/their situtation, in which way your Newsroom experience tells you these people will be victimized?

    And what would a perfectly ethical and responsible photographer do, in Dima’s shoes?

  • In your handwringing Jim, you are arguing for cautious, tepid photographs, free of all controversy, devoid of richness and complexity — only meaningless gestures, purified by the photographer’s intentions, bled of passion. This is not photography but taxidermy.

  • Herve, while I can’t get into Dima’s mind, it doesn’t seem from his posts that he really had any cause in mind in taking these photos. He was just shooting photos where he was. Which is fine, except that now, over three years later, when the situation on the ground has changed (and we have no idea whether he really understood the dynamics of the events he was photographing), he publishes them in an essay on Burn magazine. Why?

    He doesn’t seem to have a political or humanitarian agenda in publishing them here. Likely just an opportunity to showcase his work. But,as you can see from the reactions here, the photos are not neutral in their impact or meaning. One poster argued that the words accompanying the photos distorted the real situation and who was to blame. Clearly, the result of publishing the essay here was not neutral.

    If he felt strongly about the issue, and had taken an ethical position about it, surely there would have been a better venue than “A magazine for emerging photographers.”

    That was the original question I asked myself, “Why here, why now?”

    To answer your question directly, considering the time that has elapsed since he shot the photos, and his apparently short term involvement in the issue, I wouldn’t have published the photos on this venue. These photos should be published with a solid analysis of the situation as it was then and as it is now. Not just primarily as a collection of photos to get his work seen.

  • No, Preston, I’m arguing for ethical behavior on the part of journalists.

  • ok, just another not-so-quick ball-toss into the hive….now, in the roll as editor…something to chew upon, which lay at the heart of the discussion between Preston and Jim. I actually have ENJOYED this volleyball game of ideas and consider it essential, particular with regard to the practice of journalism: since we make our living on ‘reporting’ and on the use of subjects to orient a point of view or interpretation. Because of them, we are fed. That itself, at least to me, means, a fiduciary relationship of sorts is created. Anyway, though i’ve swatted this one around before with ya;ll and at Lightstalkers , I’ll offer a quick thought on the idea of trying to identify ‘what is ethical’

    I must say that I agree with Jim (my god ;) ), on a critical issue: a photographer, just like any sentient being should think, or at least have awareness, before they act/react, proscribe/imbibe/decide. However, awareness (being aware of what you do, how you act) DOES NOT necessarily entail the cognitive assertion of ethics. Awareness is important, but I do not agree with Jim that everytime a photographer snapped, she needs to do a Ethics test. Ethics should already be part of one’s awareness and practice, but more importantly, each picture snapped is snapped for different reasons, as pointed out by both Preston and SNoop. Awareness, for me, can be as simple as understanding that you are acting. The problem is that when one tries to impose the monster in the room (ethics), the handling of this is much more complex mechanism than often argued. Jim, I think you’re arguing from a need or call for ‘goodness’ and I respect that. However, I dont agree at all with the assertions: a) “We are ethically responsible for the results of our actions, regardless of our intent.” and that b) “photographs are not ethically neutral.” I think Preston has summed it up exactly…anway, about those 2 things

    A) ethics IS bound to a discussion of intent…as well as to a discussion of consequential reaction (see Hume and Kant) as well as the interpretation of the event and intent (by self and others). Identifying what is ethical is MUCH MUCH harder and problematic than is being suggested here, which is why i never evoke the ‘that’s not ethical’ bullwash over anyone, ever, but myself. There are two fundamental problems in figuring out what is an ethical standard: 1. On what do we base our ethical standards? and 2. How do those standards get applied to specific situations we face? Some people base (and argue) their ethics on feelings (this is not ethics but something else), religion, law, accepted social practice, or science. However, how do we ‘argue’ or define ethics without using those standards (which I take to be the point of the discussion here, trying to figure out what is an ethically engaged act of photography, not defined by emotions or religion or law)? So, ok, philosophers and ethicists have written about this (i plead guilty of being a philosophy major in university, with writing and art, no u know why im a loonie).

    We could think of ethics by 5 basic ‘standards” or schools of thought: he Utilitarian Approach
    Some ethicists emphasize that the ethical action is the one that provides the most good or does the least harm, or, to put it another way, produces the greatest balance of good over harm. The ethical corporate action, then, is the one that produces the greatest good and does the least harm for all who are affected-customers, employees, shareholders, the community, and the environment. Ethical warfare balances the good achieved in ending terrorism with the harm done to all parties through death, injuries, and destruction. The utilitarian approach deals with consequences; it tries both to increase the good done and to reduce the harm done. 1) Common Good Approach (greek), 2) Rights Approach (this seems to be Jims approach, in other words to protect the rights and respects of others, regardless of intent), 3) Justice Approach (Aristotle), 4) Virtue Approach (old style, sort of what i think is related to religious or spiritual approach: it is at the heart of Buddhist tradition, for example) and 5 Combination of all or some of these approaches.

    In other words, there Ethics can only be defined through a prism of negotiated meaning, including the acceptance of the meaning of behavior. In other words, it is much more complicated to argue or arrive at an Ethical test that many many suggest. I think, though I totally understand Jim’s frustration with exploitation (again, i think all photographers should ask themselves WHY they’re shooting, if not to resolve an ethical question, but to at least work to define their own awareness of their photographic practice, like: being aware of your breath, surroundings, language, emotions, history. However, a charge of impropriety is quite another.

    b) A photograph IS, a priori, neutral. It is an artifact that is up for interpretation and negotiation. The reading of a photograph is damn hard and problematic. The use of a photograph even trickier. I am in 100% agreement with both the logic and the meaning of Preston’s arguments. I think, in truth, they are spot on. From the moment Duchamp turned a urinal upside down and painted a mustache on Gioconda, it became very clear (in an obvious way) that work is in the eye of, well, the interpreter, not necessarily the maker. In history and politics this is clear and evidentiary. The USE of the photograph is, actually, remarkably malleable. I understand, on a gut and ‘moral’ level, Jim’s concern for ‘goodness’ in the application of our work. For this, I actually agree and applaud him. It show’s me he’s not a soulless cave-dwelling concerned with his fellow man. For me, a quality i’d sure like to see more have, instead of self-promotion or self-aggrandizement. But, the problem is that when one argues, even out of the goodness of their hearts or the fire or their conviction, they must be careful that their arguments dont become dictatorial or autocratic: in this case the ‘good fight’ ends up being the enslaving one. Thus if my argument leads to the denial of your own moral decision, i must question my own framework. Jim’s need to invoke ethics actually, within the framework of his argument, cancels out the other’s own standards of ethics, which is well, not very brotherly or neighborly ;)) And for fail an Ethics question test. And I cannot ask another photogrpaher to consider the morality of their pressing the button: that IS FOR THEM to decide, not me. It is NOT the photogrpah which delineates, but human action. We abuse people, photographs do not. We exploit people, photographs do not.

    Now, has someone done harm to another?…..that’s a different discussion.

    Jim, i think it is fair to question the job of photographing the Other (war, 3rd world, impoverished, people) and in fact, i wish more would really wrestle with this question. I actually think about it alot and have no solutions. One think i do know that we can and should have this discussion, and i thank you for at least raising it, but we must be very careful NOT to charter our sense of right or wrong within the framework of absolutism: that, in the end, serves no one.

    by the way, chomsky has a thing or to to say about the use of images :)))

    and Preston, you’re a damn smarter and sharper logician than i…:))

    carry on

    p.s. sorry for the long note, i guess it’s the old philosophy drug ;)))

  • Words or guns or even photographs used as a device for the powers of evil can do damage, but none are dangerous in and of themselves.

    If you take Jim’s paranoia to its logical conclusion, since photographs, like guns, or words can do harm if in the hands of those that plan to do harm, then they should not be used by anyone if the intention is neutral or even for positive motives.

    What about photographs that ‘supposedly’ do harm purely by their existence created by the hands of someone having only a neutral or even a positive motive?

    As John Vink mentioned, this is ground already covered over and over, but I don’t think that necessarily warrants not bringing it up ever again so a new audience benefits, so I hope John doesn’t mind me pasting here a question I asked him ages ago as well as his answer to it:


    To John:

    …More specifically do you think all social organisms at any stage of evolution would be best served by excess truth and the utmost transparency?

    Before i extend this line of questions, i’m going to assert that photojournalist have a preference for stories that are controversial verse stories of stable success..

    So, let’s make this a loaded question, John,… is pure, ambitious, aggressive, and at times sensational photojournalism best for all types of social organisms at all states of development or under all possible states of duress?

    Ok, double-loaded, yes or no…. is there absolutely, positively no government or commercial agenda that would serve best the health and growth of the social organism by constraining photojournalist efforts? Yes or no?

    Of course there is a spectrum from zero-journalism, censorship and pure propaganda. The yes/no question I’m asking you John is that of censorship; is it never appropriate for social health? Consider also that the body applying the censorship may not be the offending parties for the images censored

    From John:

    Joe: for me it is NO. There should be no constraints.

    How can truth be excessive? I feel this is an unachievable paradox.

    As for utmost transparency: how far does one go? One side will want to have less of it because it solves a few accountability issues, and the other will want more of it because it (the elector) feels it should be represented properly by the elected, or at least work in the interest of the whole community.

    Does it weaken the process of representation? No, it strengthens it by increasing dialogue. Journalists are only the catalysts in the process.


    So, again, If you takes Jim’s Power’s paranoia to it’s logical conclusion, when we collect and share any information, information that has not been manipulated or spun, (as classical photojournalism affords us) just information that might not be possible to grasp without the effort of someone collecting and sharing it, then we should also crusade against any honest educational efforts as it’s purely sharing information that might not be possible without the effort and it might reveal a truth that is not nice.

    Jim Powers i can only imagine that you have done something in your past with good intentions that really harmed someone, the degree with which you preach makes me think it was of the caliber of running Di off the road; something has made you jaded to the degree that it’s clouded your courage to apply your powers to the full benefit of good and left you finding only kittens, babies, and sunsets as safe material to render with a photograph.

    What ever it was, you gotta let it go Jim. Have trust in people’s capacity to handle the truth, the alternative is terrifying, for fucks sake, it just occurred to me, we might still have slavery with your ‘don’t bring light to a complex problem paradigm Jim!

  • This is giving me a headache.

  • Bob, you couldn’t be more off course in your analysis. I’m a preference utilitarian ethically. I’m also an atheist. “Goodness” has nothing at all to do with my conclusions. Nor does religion. I also have nothing in my past that led me here. Nice try.

  • Jim how about showing a link to your images etc………


    I think in this case you might be being a little harsh…

    Since JIM POWERS has elaborated on his initial question I do believe he has a fair point. I wrestle with these kinds of issues all the time… why publish certain images, stories, when you KNOW that a certain image will absolutely be intepreted in a negative way. When you are aware of this then the photographs you take are not ‘neutral’ artifacts.

    (and I am sure I could give you 16 pages of examples of re-intepretations of certain photos and photos that are so timeless and expressive of universal themes that they will continue beyond an historical context and an argument as to why that happens exactly, but I am a working schlepp and don’t have time at the mo!)

    If you believe that you are photographing an issue for the betterment of that community, then will you not self censor in the edit to negate any particular predjudice that arises from the publication of an image that could be intrepreted negatively by an audience primed with little real information, yet many preconceptions?

    I guess what I believe JIM to be saying is that we as photojournalists have a responsibility to our subjects and that from the moment that we press the shutter to the final use of the image we continue that responsibilty to our subjects.

    In all commercial usage arrangements you have to have model releases to protect people from exploitation but with many of the stories that involve war, famine and poverty that is not an issue. We as photojournalists have to be our own moral and ethical yardsticks.

    As MR VINK has put it ‘no there should be no constraints’ applied to journalism, but as the old paradigms are dying an excrutiatingly slow death and we are now dealing with a techno savvy and increasingly vociferously opinonated audience via the internet, we must deal with the consequences of our personal photographic decisions in a far more immediate and unprotected manner.

    What is the solution to this?

    I personally don’t believe it is to lay down our cameras, but I do believe that it behooves us (love that word!) to be more accountable on an individual level for the reasoning behind the exhibition and display of our images.

    Now this is a really great discussion!

  • jim:

    ok, oh well, back to the books, i guess ;)))…th utilitarian approach to ethics is not a bad route, by the way…i’d say i try to mix utilitarian with Virtue (although, i kind of hate the world ‘virtue’, like i dislike the taste of ‘moral’ in my mouth)…and i wasnt, just to clarify, referring to your ‘goodness’ in a religious sense (i too am an atheist, and pretty much a misshapen, ridiculously failing buddhist) but in a Platonic sense…which is related to the Utilitarian notion: do the least harm: to be good…anyway, ok, gotta fly….


  • As usual, wise words from Aussie cousin Lisa!! :-))

  • Well, Bob, we do the best we can. I don’t know of any of us who are completely consistent with our presuppositions. But I try to consider the ethical implications of my actions, including where I point my camera. It’s been a process over the last 40 years.

  • So how about this link Jim so we can see what you do ……..or is this some sort of evasion followed by thinking up a excuse to to open yourself to criticism

  • I’ve seen plenty of shooters rock up with the most impeccable ethical motives and concerns for their subjects turn in some pretty mediocre photographs and plenty turn up with absolutely no idea of where , why or how the hell they got there come back with stunning work that shows the light of justice and compassion onto situations that would otherwise go unreported .
    Is it a heresey to suggest that the best intentions don’t allways result in the best photographs? Read Best as useful,It’s a great thing to take useful pictures and no amount of hand wringing will make bad pictures more useful , perhaps Dimas pictures were too good for some?
    Much better if he was a bit more mediocre but with more of a “RIGHT ON ” attitude , than just turning up and shooting what was in front of him.

  • I’m with Imants. A stupid link would be good.

  • I am too tired to read the whole thread, but the imagery is beautifully heartbreaking. The angles, the composition, the high contrast in addition to the back story equals amazing photography for me. Great eye, Dima…I can only imagine how soul-wrenching it must have been to photograph this…

  • Yep Jim, where is this forty years of experience? I think everyone would find it illuminating. I believe there has been a reference to your web site in previous threads.

  • “Perhaps the consequences of HIV on the children and young women? How many of these children are abandoned and on the streets as they grow up? Could you include photos of them.”

    This is a quote from one of Jim’s earlier crtiques.

  • Goes to show we get what we stupidly wish for.

  • Jim,I am incensed by you trying to impose editorial control over a photographer to suit your agenda before a photographer even presses the shutter.

    We are lucky enough to live in a democracy and photography is an expressive medium. We as photographers can use our craft in any way we wish.

    It is impossible to know all circumstances and history behind of every character in an image, that is ridiculous. There will be mistakes. How can you possibly make a judgement weighing up all possibilities and circumstances in that millisecond before pressing that shutter release with an almost unconscious reaction as events unfurl before you.

    You seem also to sway in the wind, one minute advocating photographing despair then the next, deploring that it is hopeless to do so.

    It smells to me someone who just like to poke the stick in.

    I do believe though that you have started some topics that have evolved into very interesting discussions that raise a large amount of issues.

  • Too much Jim Powers, too little Dima.

    Well, yes, it would have been nice of Dima to tell us more about how the Uganda project came about and his relation to it (not the project, but that Ugandian reality).

    Jim, when it does not come as a blanket statement, I totally agree with you. I also think that vain, predatory type photographers can deliver the goods too, and sensitize people while people think they are Saints. A picture does not always tell much about the guy/gal who took it. People are complex….

  • Lisa Ian, Preston, Good Stuff, I’ve just caught up with everything you’ve written,

    Lisa, I’m jarred a bit sideways for a second by what you say because I can’t disagree with anything you say, but with a bit of reflection, what you are really showing is the dark side of a model that has no better alternative for the scale of information that needs to flow through it.

    As far as evidence Lisa to prove what you say, the single event/image/circumstances that covers almost all of the issues might be Eddie Adam’s historic dilemma. I’m in the camp that Eddie’s image happened entirely because there was a camera there to make it happen, there was someone there to hear a tree falling in the forest. And we all know the tangle this single image caused. So I’m extremely sensitive to the horrible side effects of the existing model.

    Lisa you say:

    “If you believe that you are photographing an issue for the betterment of that community, then will you not self censor in the edit to negate any particular prejudice that arises from the publication of an image that could be interpreted negatively by an audience primed with little real information, yet many preconceptions?”

    From Snoops link:

    “Galeano: Salgado photographs people. Casual photographers photograph phantoms… Consumer-society photographers approach but do not enter. In hurried visits to scenes of despair or violence, they climb out of the plane or helicopter, press the shutter release, explode the flash: they shoot and run. They have looked without seeing and their images say nothing.

    We spend a fair amount of time discussing the “framing” of a documentary project. In other words, know what you want to do, what your project is going to be about, and that your reasons for doing it are very important to you. If they are not, the difficulties of any given situation may overcome your dedication to it, and your work will reflect it.

    Do as much research as you can. Wherever possible, develop contacts for your introductions ahead of time. Again, know the heart of the story you plan to tell with your photographs. Of course you cannot know the specifics; these will take care of themselves. And of course, things are never as you expect them on the ground, so you must also be nimble and prepared to make adjustments. Keep your eyes and your mind open, but at the same time stay focused on the main threads of your story. Otherwise you may think things are going well, only to return home and discover that somewhere along the way you lost your story, and are left with only a few nice pictures.”

    So yes, it’s not surprising that people often form opinions before hitting the ground for the sake of efficiency and for the sake of finding visual evidence to cement the story, but it’s not without its control mechanisms.

    There are still two important factors of classical photojournalism, one: they don’t make stuff up out of thin air, and if they do, the consequences are so severe that those consequences form an effective deterrent to even consider it. Two: Almost like doctors have their Hippocratic oath, classical photojournalists seem always to be on the side of good over evil, to reveal injustice, to reveal the truth. So maybe they do have personal convictions, but they will dissolve those convictions quickly if the reality is different.

    This is why the profession of classical photojournalist is so important, If there were only Columnist like Christopher Anderson, we would have a much harder time taking ‘news’ at face value, albeit ironically the columnist approach often forces a logical conclusion better than classical photojournalism (at it’s best), but it also illustrates propaganda (at it’s worst).

    I think we are in a very similar dilemma with classical photojournalism as we are with democracy as described by Churchill:

    “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. “

    So for now the best model is the most simple model, it’s free-flow of information constrained by penalty for setting up shots and filled with individuals that inherently have an appetite to reveal injustice. Sure it’s a bit like a betting model and both good and evil will win hands, but like the odds often favour the house in most gaming models, this simple model’s odds will almost always favour humanities awareness of what is going on further abroad than their armchair.

    Of course shots like Eddie Adams will get out there and confuse a whole generation, but that’s because the generation did not challenge what they saw, or seek to be educated about the circumstances of information they were so heavily influence by. Are just have the same healthy sceptisism that you might have when a stranger buys you a drink. Like most, I’d prefer to be inundated with truth and find my own way through it verses someone else deciding what’s good for the cattle and releasing only what they feel we can responsibly handle.

    But, if anyone thinks they can propose a better model, they better be damn sure they can police that model as elegantly as the existing model or doom it to failure and abuse.

    I do think one thing that causes me deep concern is the growing degree that news agencies (like BBC) use images from ‘citizen journalist’ for stories, supposedly to get news out earlier and supposedly to include their audience in the stories, but more likely it is to avoid the costs of paying a classical photojournalist. Since the citizen journalist is not bound to anything other than fame and fortune, hmmmm… maybe that’s another case for classical photojournalism, the citizen journalist is a breach of a key control in the existing model.

  • “Since the citizen journalist is not bound to anything other than fame and fortune,”

    what about a sense of justice joe? Ian Tomlinson springs to mind.

  • There are outliers in all models Ben, but they are still unconstrained outliers and their benefits come in unknown quantities and thus should be viewed with scepticism. Sorry i know why you bring this up, but it doesn’t at all make this fact less true.

    Classical photojournalists come with a pedigree, the cuffs of consequence that if they break the prevailing rules they will lose their job and likely their livelihood.

    For citizen journalist, it’s often not their job, it’s often just a hobby interest, or even if they are professional photographers, it’s not a risk to their photography business to break the rules of classical photojournalism.

    I’m sure loads of orphans don’t end up in the homes of worth parents because the scrutiny over candidate parents is draconian. This is a tragedy, but the consequences of even a single misplacement seems to warrant this. I suspect citizen photojournalist suffer this same dilemma.

  • I must say that the Ian Tomlinson case has got to be proof positive why transparency leads to accountability.

    Can it honesty be a pure coincidence that the UK recently imposed rules that you can no longer photograph a police officer and then only weeks later the police force seems to suddenly erupt into what can only be described as barbarian behaviour? Again; pure coincidence on this sudden change of human behaviour? I don’t think so.

    The UK really pulled a fast one on the British Public when they let ruling this slide into practice. I’m certain most of the public thought, fuck the photographers; I don’t want them taking pictures in public anyway. Little did the public know that an unaccountable police force was not going to harm the photographers, they were actually going to go Rodney King even on innocent people now.

    I hope someone high up sees this connection.

  • Joe/Ben:

    quick note on Citizen Journalists….2 nights ago, i listened to a lecture/presentation by Mark Powers (was brilliant) and Mark told the story of his uncanny (and serendipitious) return to photography…..he’d been working as a carpenter, and was in Berlin in ’89…and a friend happen to tell him that, in ____ hours, the wall was coming down…and another german friend told him..’this part of the wall will come down first’…and, not for fame or glory, but for the excitement of being there, he took his camera (not the lg format camera he returned to later), small 35mm, and shot like hell….and, his pictures ran world-wide and he was just a carpenter…albeit one who’d loved photogrpahy, been one early in life and put it away….

    and by the way, anyone remember that engineer dude who was primarily making designs and snapping pics of his theatre friends……and then got word of the tanks, rumbling from the eastern flank of Czecho…in 68…..Mr. K ;)))

    Ben is right, not everyone who is a ‘citizen journalist’ is moved/motivated by the idea of fame/glory….for some it’s still their love (snapping) for others it’s simple as this:


    and photography is nothing if not serendipitous…


  • i do wish that dima could chip in with his opinions, although of course he need not.
    for all we know he was contracted by doctors without boarders.. as was MB for georgia which produced an interesting and in part similar discussion on LS.

  • I would be interested to know the rationale behind putting this essay on Burn. Who made the decision?

    I think that, if you have decided to showcase politically loaded photography, you should hold it to the same standards a news magazine would. Because you are exposing it to a large audience. And its going to result in people drawing conclusions. You can’t put a box around it simply because it is featured on Burn and say, “Forget the context, just look at the photographs.” And maybe the editor simply wanted to poke a sleeping lion with a sharp stick. But I hope not.

    There is a big difference in featuring current Nachtwey photos in Stern magazine accompanied by a story giving the context of the conflict, and putting an essay up on Burn with photos taken three years ago where things have clearly changed on the ground.

    If this kind of material is going to be presented on Burn, there needs to be some kind of journalistic integrity in the decision making on publishing it. Otherwise Burn should stick to fine art and photos of prostitutes.

  • So Jim it’s all mouth and no photos by you…… I doubt that you practice what you preach just a load of cowardly comments

  • Imants, even if I were not a photographer at all, it would not invalidate my opinions. And I surely don’t resort to ad hominem attacks as you have.

  • All I have asked is you to show what you do photographically, this would give us a indication of what you are about.You criticise others but are hell bent of keeping your work a secret so you won’t come under any scrutiny.That is just sandpit mentality

  • DB, would you bother sharing information with Burn’s audience if the person in the audience attracting the most attention is the one shouting your intentions were dubious and that it doesn’t even belong here?

    i’d be like ‘i don’t need this’ and with Dima’s level of talent he doesn’t.

    An inside look at something of this calibre was for our benefit through his charity, but if you’re in an audience with a severe heckler, then the performer has every right to walk off stage.

    Hope it’s more clear now the degree of negative impact that a single individuals can make on the appetite for photographers to share information. Who wants to walk into a witch-hunt? It’s too bad really, I’m sure we would have all benefited from an eager to participate artist like Dima.

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