[slidepress gallery=’dimagavrysh-uganda’]

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls

Dima Gavrysh

Uganda’s Forgotten War

play this essay


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.


Related links

Dima Gavrysh


231 thoughts on “dima gavrysh – uganda’s forgotten war”

  1. Ufff!!!! I’m speecheless. Dima congratulations for this body of work. It could be Nachtwey, but no it’s Dima. Once again the bar has been lifted!

  2. excellent work. very strong single images. the program ran slow for me – so i was not able to view all of them – but i personally found the first project stronger. the 2 opening images are fantastic. i too thought of Nachtwey…. nice work.

  3. I am not typically a supporter or enthusiast of this brand of photography – ‘conflict photography’ to re-use the VII moniker – the visual profiteering of the miserable, the abused, the murdered and the beatification of the horrible. But Dima, there is a determination in your work here that transcends the devastation they portray. A very clear rendering of ideas and a direct telling; quiet, terribly quiet.

  4. I keep 1,2,5,7,11,13,14,16,17,18,20,22,23,25,26,27,29
    That is 17 pictures. Not bad…

    I can easily do without the rest.

    Would have liked to see more interaction with adults.

  5. and here we are dreading to look at ourselves in the mirror…

    thank you for this essay.
    will comment later once i recover

  6. it is always hard to say “excellent pictures” when pictures have so strong meaning, when pictures telling about pain and misery. And it’s hard to say “good job”, “great essay” “beautiful portraits”.

    I will say only… sad essay…

  7. I think it’s worth noting that all IDP camps in Gulu were officially closed last month.

    Around 2006, the popularity of the Invisible Children documentary caused so many Westerners to flock to Uganda (and other countries’ IDP/refugee camps). There was much good done, but many of these people were a bit too free with their snapshots, a bit dehumanizing, disrespectful…unintentionally of course. But from what I’ve seen and heard, it caused a distrust of and backlash against foreigners with cameras.

    It looks as if you were there for only a month, did you become close with your subjects? Did MSF guide you around? Did you experience this distrust?

    (This is probably a silly question but…) Why are the people in the portraits, in this set and in general, not named? Is it for privacy? Isn’t it more powerful to know even just their first name?

    Sorry, so many questions! Your work is hearbreakingly gorgeous…(favorites 1,14,44) and I will be coming back to it (and the other projects on your site) often. Thank you for sharing!

  8. hi dima.

    some really very well constructed photographs.. excellent work..
    christinas questions above are very interesting as well, and i look forward to reading a response..

    i’d like to ask – where does your work feature in the publishing world, apart from here on burn?
    i simply ask because more important than the style of the photographs is that this kind of work is actually getting out there and seen.

    best wishes

  9. Dima,

    with each image i kept holding my breath wondering if you could possibly ‘exact‘ yet another compositional invention. You always did. i was utterly amazed with your solutions.

    almost every image could be a stand-alone cover page for an entire written story, almost all have that dynamic ‘mantra’ power, i do think there are two or three big outliers for both ‘story’ and image quality, but it’s almost shameful for me to even mention that.

    about half way through the work i wondered if the compositions were going to steal the show, purely by being so dramatically inventive, but i must say there was a strong sense of sadness that kept my heart pinned to the story even though my mind was thinking hard about each and every one of the solved visual puzzles. i wonder what it would be like to ‘not’ be a photographer and see these compositions; how would they impact my read? i’ll never know, maybe someone else might know though.

    for me, quite selfishly, i want to know how in the world do you make the eyes of a Dima. I think feeling and sensitivity to life is something we each have with varying degrees, but the ability to find the point of views that you have found to depict life is simply genius, and i’m not using ‘genius’ as a descriptor there, it’s simply a fact of your framing abilities.

    Was there anything that you can remember that helped open your mind to find such inventive places to put the camera? How much did the relatively clean canvas of the country and the use of B&W play in to those solutions? Were there any transition projects, or people, or lessons that opened your mind to framing this way, to see shapes this way?

    i think anyone that thinks compositions are key to photographs would do well to sit and look at every image, better yet, sketch it out, figuring out where the camera was actually placed, what focal length was used, what aperture was used, where critical focus was set, and sometimes, better yet, how the heck did Dima manage to even get the camera in that place pointed in that direction without totally collapsing/disrupting the information he planned to collect.

    Dima, I hope you can give us as much of the behind the scenes as both an observer, but more importantly what were the challenges as a photographer to see and capture and edit this story.

    Best Wishes,


  10. YES.
    In these days of worrying about mortgages and payments lets hope people like you can get an image that wacks us in the face and reminds us that, we ain’t got it so bad and that, as David suggests, hopefully, some end up in the public media and do so.
    If any sort of image can make a difference, surely its this sort of photography. Isn’t it?
    How can little people not be affected by the brutality afflicted upon them continuing on through generations till something stops it in its tracks!

  11. a very strong feature, Dima, absolutely beautiful!
    Thanks for sharing them. Whenever I see pictures like these it reminds me even more of the importance of such features and, on a more personal level, why I’m trying to tell this kind of stories visually (still haven’t had a chance to do so, yet, but that’s another story).

    In times like these, when the word “crisis” is used so often and for so many different situations, it’s even harder to think about how we (as western “civilization”) have had our heads turned away from Africa and its tragedies, which we’re hugely responsible for.

  12. Great Work Dima – Tho I have to concurr with Mr Vink re kids and adults , I went to your site and got a real surge in my guts when I went to the Uganda section and saw the third picture in . Great Picture ,says a lot more than most and all round you could have said a lot more with less, But WTF ?
    Great Work!!!

  13. joe

    an exercise we did in collage was to project photographs and paintings onto a white board and then draw the dominant lines within each composition onto it.. and then switching off the projector we seemed to be left with construction lines , dominant shapes and layers which each piece consisted of.
    it´s a great game to play – just as great as looking for the naturally occurring compositions all around us.

    i did share your concern that the essay above may reduce to simply an exercise in compositional tricks, although as you say – once the story moved on into the night moments there was more feeling to engage with.. so it works out very well to me..
    and you´re right.. in terms of getting single worthy images to make the whole i think this is great – highly usable photos which could deliver clients and number of ´exclusive´ front photos to accompany text..

    i think this is important with humanitarian work, although it is important with all PJ work – the better the photos, the better the possible use, higher the circulation and therefore the more people who can be made aware of what the photographer wants to show.
    it would be a shame to confront such situations as this.. or the congo.. or anywhere.. without the talent that dima clearly has.
    to point a camera at suffering people and not gain them the greatest coverage deserved, through lack of technique or marketing after the shoot, is shaky ground to stand upon..


  14. Kind of a mix of VII and NatGeo. Regardless of the skill of the photographer at composition, I’m troubled by this brand of conflict photography. There is no doubt the photographer is talented. But what’s the point? Another window opened on man’s inhumanity to man. More photos of damaged people.

    Why did the photographer travel here and take these photos? I always wonder about the motives. What is the point of exploiting these situations if there is no hope? Sure they make great photos in newspapers, and they will get you a lot of gushing praise on Burn magazine. And perhaps a bunch of rich folks will sip wine and gawk at them blown up big on a wall in a gallery. But surely this isn’t why the photographer shot the photos?

    Of course the children suffered disproportionately. They always do. In every photo of these conflicts, every essay, the children suffer. And photos of suffering children stop us cold. And we shake our heads. And we ponder why. And then tomorrow we see another photo, another essay, in another part of the world. And we shake our heads. And we ponder why.

    Why did the photographer shoot these photos? Why did he submit them to Burn magazine? If you want to be a famous photographer you don’t have to shoot this kind of stuff. DAH is a good example. I’m certainly not one to stick my head in the sand. But if you want to really help these people, a camera is not an effective tool. We are awash in these images. They have lost their power to shock people into action.

  15. jim.
    ¨But if you want to really help these people, a camera is not an effective tool. We are awash in these images. They have lost their power to shock people into action.¨

    in general of course your are right and we are living in a time of donar fatigue, as well as a time when digital ´trouble tourists´ seek out suffering in order to produce ´worthy´ portfolios..
    but your statement above, about a piece of work as well crafted as this, simply has no base in reality.
    without researching the job, life and actions of every person who views these photos… it is not possible to hang such a statement on this work unless you have the omnipotent presence of some ethereal being, which none of us do..

    jim – the more i read you saying that work ´has no hope´ – be it the portrait of a dying man or this story – it makes me see you as someone with no hope..
    and i know you have done a great deal and care passionately about people, as you have expressed in the past.

    i am looking forward to hearing from dima, in part for similar reasons i am sure – to make sure the work is getting out there, apart from here on burn.
    and i also agree in part with you that there is a chunk of new photographers.. and perhaps form the last 50 years.. who believe to be taken seriously as a pj you have to take photographs of serious suffering.. but could it not also be true that there are some genui9nely talented humanists still working teh craft for altogether more altruistic reasons?

    the other point is that everything that happens on this planet is worthy of being placed on record photographically.. suffering through to fun there is the idea that a body of work can simply exists as a record of a time..
    i do not like the idea of suffering-tourists awash in places like this, snapping what the perceive as serious work so they can win awards, kudos or join an agency.. it´s alarming and tragic that some may ´practice´ on suffering.. but dima is clearly not practicing.. and i look forward to hearing from him, since to me his vision is accomplished.. genuine and utterly thorough..

    you are right that to become famous you do not need to snap at suffering – but jim, not everyone is photographing toward the end of fame, vii or magnum.. not everyone starts to photograph with the goal of a magazine or agency in mind – some start because they are compelled to.. and once good enough they can choose where to direct their talent in order to maximize the CHANCE that good can still come from humanist work.

    as i say though – i do in part share your concerns jim, and look forward to dima chipping in and hopefully lending the essay more context than his words above already have.

  16. In addition to Jim’s comment which I agree with 100% I have to say the following.

    The photographs are wonderful as black and white, very rich in tonality. Love them! My thoughts on the compositions are that they could have been well researched by knowing the area well or heavily posed. But I say that because they seem too good for their own sake, and too constructed, and it is a little distracting, maybe artificial. To me it seems like you’re creating these types of images, because the people are not interesting as themselves? Maybe you thought you needed more images but I felt all 3 essays could have been cut in half. I didn’t need to see 50 images. Others have commented these images work as stand alone images and they are correct, you are talented, and I hope this essay can help the people you photographed.


    My other problem is that these kinds of issues in Africa are very well documented, so much so I’m tiring of it as I’ll outline below.

    It begins to tell me that the power of photography isn’t working if photographers as a collective can keep going back to Africa, and shoot the same dramatic pictures of Africans in plight all the time. While at the same time it reminds me that we as a race need to be tirelessly reminded all the time that these social issues are still happening as well.
    The LRA victims while powerful, also annoy me because they are posed dramatic images, again something I’ve seen countless other times in the past. I as a viewer ‘get it,’ Africa has problems, and they need dealing with, and those running our countries should intervene and just put a a real end to all the problems there. But you as a photographer are recycling the same material in effect, you’re not doing anything drastically different, the images are remakes in effect because the subject is so well documented.

    Another specific problem are the descriptions you offer are very matter of fact, and I can only assume for the moment that you didn’t get to know your subjects well enough to include their names. I stopped looking at the descriptions after a while because they offered nothing in addition to the image so all in all, I found this essay a very frustrating experience for the various reasons I’ve outlined.

  17. David, the photographer can silence me by going back there and photographing the success of his work…well fed, happy children attending school and living in decent surroundings. But he can’t. Because that’s not the outcome.

    If I believed that photography could really change the inhumanity that infects the world, I would be its greatest advocate for that purpose. But it cannot in any significant way. That’s not my cynicism speaking, that’s just the reality of it. If you want to photograph this stuff, photograph the people and organizations on the ground trying to help. Don’t photograph hopelessness.

    As far recording everything that happens in the world photographically, I agree completely. As a record. But this wasn’t submitted to Burn as simply a record.

  18. Very interesting thoughts, and I don’t think I can add anything really significant to the discussion. While I understand Jim Powers’ and JonathanJK’s point of view, I think I agree with what David Bowen wrote.

    Maybe I’m biased, idealistic, naive, or just plainly stupid in believing that these are problems that can be solved, though I know they’re not going to be solved just because of a single picture or a reportage. Still, I believe that this kind of pictures can in fact help changing things. If just one person sees these pictures and is moved to do something about this kind of situations, or even to think about it for a second, then I believe the photographer’s effort is worthwhile. Everything that could come after that in one person’s mind or actions is a plus. The very fact that we’re talking about the nature of this essay is proof (to me) that this kind of pictures are still necessary and very important.

  19. i´m really hoping that dima will be available online soon, since this discussion is going in an interesting direction that would benefit greatly from his perspective.

    i can see both sides – sure.
    as i mentioned before on RT – working extensively in n. ireland was an eye opener for me.. people benefit there far more from positive press about the renewed cultural happenings and the healing of the city than they do from ´tale of two cities´ type stories in belfast and focuses on the still difficult hangover from so much war… high suicide.. unemployment..
    focusing on the difficulties does not encourage investment there.. nor tourists nor the cities self perception, yet people still want to photograph and report on them..

    and in the balkens i saw that pdfx had a story about croatia which may not actually benefit the people there – while at the same time there is lots of good news to report which does feed back to the people living there.

    there is a character-quote from ´waking life´ which i may have used before.. and i cannot find exactly.. but they exert that the media does not exist to enforce or encourage change, it only serves the purpose of allowing us to become accustomed to just how unjust a place the world can be.. that man craves upheaval and needs great disasters..
    and then the guy sits, pours petrol over himself and lights a match..

  20. Francesco, I’ve seen no real evidence these problems can be solved. But I’ve seen plenty of evidence that photography can’t solve them. We’ve seen the problem. We know the problem.

    Let’s personalize it. You’ve seen this essay. What action have you taken in response to it. Personally? What specific action did it motivate you to take to help these folks?

  21. francesco – i agree..

    it is so rare these days that a single photographs brings about change – bischofs indian famine photo from the 50´s inspired the league of nations and it was not the only photo to be passed around the halls of power in that era.. today platons grave photo getting a mention from colin p IS big news, and yet i think with mass media there is still a hope that the WEIGHT of work from a place, rather than a single image from a place, has the capacity to bring about positive results.

    i don´t believe there will be a ´live aid´ for this century, but what do i know of how the cylces will turn?
    as said before – it´s only if nothing is done that we can be sure there will be no positive cycle.. and if something is done as well as the piece here then the potential energy to inspire exists.

    DIMA.. where is that snapper?

  22. haha – jim.. francesco.. joe.. jonathen..

    i just had a crippling sense of deja vu on reading back this thread..

    it´s forcing me to go have a cigarette and then click away from this site for a while :ø)


  23. dima where art thou?

    i left BURN playing this essay as i wanted to look at it again
    and my 5 year old walked in on the pages of mutilation.
    and said “what happened to her nose? ah- hahahahah”
    i about died when i heard him laugh and held my breath.

    he looked at the mirror and looked at his nose
    and he looked at me and looked at my nose
    and said, “i guess she’s got a lot more air to breathe”

    i did not know what to make of what i felt with what i heard.

  24. Jim Powers:

    In trying to keep editorial propeity, I will make my response very short. Many of the Questions you’ve raised a critical and important and need to be ask, by photographers and of photographers. However, again, I am often dismayed by your sense that you understanding of ineffectuality means, a pirior, the hopelessness of all work. PHotography DOES NOT change, true, but it can and has and does inspire toward action (more about that later, when i chime in with an Editorial comment). With regard to your question: “Let’s personalize it. You’ve seen this essay. What action have you taken in response to it. Personally? What specific action did it motivate you to take to help these folks?” a simple anecdote:

    When i met the photographer Marcus Bleasdale (http://www.marcusbleasdale.co.uk/features/), I knew very very little about the continual civil war in Congo but what i’d read in books. After meeting Marcus in person, seeing his exhibition sponsored by Human Rights Watch, we became friends. I promoted Marcus’ work and his cause. I joined Human Rights Watch and made a donation to their fund (i would encourage everyone to do the same). I also helped get a group of young students to see the work and discuss it in class. Later, a group of young students raised money for a fund to help the children suffering in congo.

    I have put my money (little that i have) time, words and effort behind work and cause i believe in. And i am NOT alone. Have the wars and feminines and genocides and tortures and slaughter ceased?…no…sadly, our nature of people is to consume…consume others…and to consume simply for our own needs and grandiosity…

    but not all of us sit at home twittling our thumbs…Marcus’ is not only a great photographer but has dedicated his life to getting people to change their behavior. Jim, do you have gold? do you own diamonds? or other precious metals. Do you know where they come from?…These are all questions elicited by the work of reports, writers and photograhers….

    nothing changes…but that we change…and we have the chance to speak out upon the severity of things…

    consuming misery is, sadly, an act many to to placate their guilt or to aggrandize themselves, true…but should we arrest the telling of stories in the hope that worth is done?….

    Can i ask you to then, yourself, donate…join HRW or any other organiation you feel will help…

    it also does nothing to recognize failure but not attempt to address it yourself…

    you have raised critical questions and legitimate concerns, but to raise these yourself and not do anything about them (as a news editor) seems hypocritical as well…

    hope that makes sense..

    more later, in editorial comment…


  25. Bob Black, Oxfam is my organization of choice and I have supported them financially for many years. Do you really think I would have asked the question if I didn’t take my own advice? We need to take direct action to help these people, not take photos of them.

  26. but if i do not know where uganda is, what happened there or what these people have gone through, i would not know they needed help

  27. Jim, Jonathan,

    Back. Look back. Way back. Look at history. All the imaginable and unimaginable shit happened already. Everything has been told about that shit already, some way or another. Everything has been commented upon what has been told upon the shit that happened. Etc…

    OK. Now shall we try and move on WITHOUT telling that this is or that is shit? Do you REALLY want to try that?

    It is part of us. It is a burden and it is who we are: some of us make the shit happen, some of us tell about the shit which happened. I guess it is about taking sides also?

  28. Photos are part of raising awareness to enable more people to take direct action. Do you not see the correlation Jim.
    Obviously if this kind of photography is for self gratification there is a big question mark.

  29. ian, our awareness is raised. There is a constant flood of these photos. Our awareness has been raised about genocide in Africa for decades. Photos upon photos. It makes no difference.

  30. @Ian Aitken, since myself and Jim are on similar lines I would like to respond with my own point.

    Because of the way these images have been constructed I think there is a small amount of self gratification on the photographers part, there is on all our parts as story tellers in order to make our work interesting. But while you’re obviously right in what you say about photography raising an awareness, I’m beginning to question why we need to create the same photos over, and over again. How much awareness does their need to be? I’m bombarded with information about Africa everyday and have been on and off since I can remember. I get can’t as much attention as that everywhere else in the world besides the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (even that as a subject has the same problems). The content presented here is the same kind of photography I’ve seen before, photography isn’t moving forward in Africa (or the Middle East), and nor are all the people involved.

    When are we going to move forward?

  31. maybe classical photojournalism is dead if its sole intention is to move the masses. Maybe Dima’s work is a classic case of classical photojournalism.

    i think Martin Parr was the first person that made it clear to me not only the ‘passing-away’ of classical photojournalism; he also made clear there was an alternative to classical photojournalism. i don’t suspect his approach has a name, but i suppose i’d describe it as being ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’ P.J. It’s a technique where the shortest distance between two points isn’t a straight line and its impact is so severe that it could get someone like Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher’s knickers in a twist from drip feeding it into the Sunday paper before she knew it was taking place and further before she could do anything to diffuse it.

    so yes, maybe classical photojournalism is dead with regards to moving the masses and maybe there are alternatives if that’s what you care about, but maybe the masses were never that important to classical photojournalism anyway.

    how often were the masses ever really the decision makers? How often was it that the masses had to be ‘named and shamed’ and how many times was it that the masses that had to be ‘ashamed’ for letting something happen? Not often i suppose.

    classical photojournalism and more so, the efficiency of it, has a far more important purpose than moving the masses. You see i think humans have a funny way of misbehaving when there is a perceived belief that they won’t be held accountable. i remember coming to grips with this ages ago. i was sitting on a couch waiting to get a haircut, reading the cosmopolitan hoping to get some inside tips on how to gracefully release a bra strap, but instead i was shocked by a university survey showing compelling evidence that if a man could rape a women and he knew he would never get caught, many actually admitted they would do it. Shocking, but considering the degree of date rape at my university, not unbelievable.

    i know that’s a shocking example, but it’s no more shocking than what we might discover if Israel allowed photojournalist free and clear access to their activities in Gaza strip during the ‘conflict’. Or quite the opposite, the degree of grace Israel might employ if they knew classical photojournalist were on the ground, keeping them honest.

    how accountable do you think Israel felt when they all knew they had a tidy little black cloak over what they did? Time will tell. But if classical photojournalism did lose its teeth, then why would we see such a photojournalist hush effort by Israel?

    Let’s face it, Dima is not a weekend warrior, this is his job and if you look at who he works for it’s not impossible to think that his images would end up in a U.N. slide show to ‘name and shame’ someone into taking some positive steps. Dima is one of these surgeons i once spoke about, they are efficient, talented, and maybe even, dare I say, detached; detached as a perquisite to sustained exposure to this suffering and detached as a prerequisite to the production of objective and honest images. This essay isn’t here on Burn to move you into giving the cause some money, this essay is here on Burn because most of us are armature first-aid wanna-be’s, and here you get to have above-average access to a surgeon at work. We keep forgetting we are not the audience for this, we are amateur practitioners!

    Forgetting accountability entirely, let’s move into altruism, financial steps that make a change for the better. I suppose every bonfire of altruistic effort has at its start just a simple spark. Can someone really agree with Jim Powers and say with such absurd conviction that this spark is never started from a set of photographs attached to a grant submission handed to someone like the managing director of an organisation?

    Does everyone think that financial flow for matters this big comes from the chump-change that we toss into those little pink buckets pushed in front of us before we walk into Gap? Get Fucking Real! This is not how ‘big-thing’ altruism works; this is the world of black-tie altruism and accounts for an enormous portion of what supports positive changes.

    Checks get written off of marketing material, material that includes images like the ones in this essay. And it happens at things so reoccurring as a Valentine’s day dinner that will cost you five hundred pounds a plate, and at that table is a blackberry to assist you in a bidding-war where someone will buy a single red rose for five-thousand pounds. I have seen this with my own eyes, and more importantly, I’ve seen slide-shows of images like this at those dinners.

    So before we pounce on the efficiency and detachment of classical photojournalism to be a positive thing, it might be worthwhile to consider that maybe ‘us’ as fellow photographers are not the most important people in the world, maybe then you might better celebrate the photographic surgeons of the world verses condemn them.

    Jim Powers, working in your capacity for as long as you preach I would have thought you would have known this far better than me by now, I’ve not been alive for as long as the experience you preach and it seems pretty obvious. Do you really work in this business?

    Anway, if this sounded like somekind of personal rant, well, that’s probably because that’s what it was.

  32. Hi Jim, I agree awareness is high. The trick is to keep the awareness high and this is one part of the marketing mix.
    When did you last see Coke or Mcdonalds stop marketing, to keep their profile high. What keeps the newspaper you work on in business, marketing.

  33. so…
    we should give money
    not take photographs?!?
    that will help more?
    I get a strong sense thru Dima’s essay
    that he cares..
    it is obvious…
    He is not trying to exploit these people,
    he is doing what he knows how to do,
    take a picture..
    document what he is seeing,
    some images are so strong in B/W,
    that I hesitate to say this,
    I would like to see this in color,
    to emphasize the
    here and the now……
    it makes me so sad
    to think people see this as exploitation,
    and a lack of caring on the photogs part….
    we have to tell the stories,
    if not,
    who the fuck will???
    many people can NOT give donations,
    it is a struggle just to pay rent….
    But to view a photo and to be aware of what is happening
    is just as powerful
    and helpful
    than a money donation….
    photography is a visual language,
    and a powerful one at that….
    It has the ability to communicate
    across borders….
    This essay will stay with me,
    has brought me some insight into the troubles in Uganda….
    If an essay has enlightened ONE person (me)
    then I think success!!!
    are you familiar with the Aftermath project,
    if not,
    check it out!!!!!

  34. Wonderful essay. Having also traveled through Northern Uganda and seeing IDP camps, I can attest to the magnitude of this issue. The portraits are powerful. My only suggestion would be to edit down the photographs. I think within those 50 there are plenty that could be cutout. The first half of the essay left me feeling distant from the people in the IDP camp. I know how the children love the camera and will chase you down to get a photograph taken, it make a great photo but I feel there were too many that had a similar feel. The second half of the essay with the information on the LRA was definitely personal. Would you ever consider mixing the second-half of your essay with the first? This might create an interesting juxtaposition. Great work!

  35. I feel similarly to John V in that I thought that nearly half of these images were what should be kept. For me, those are absolutely effective, amazing powerhouses, completely stunning. Too, the imbalance in the number of images of children to adults was distracting for me, too much directed heartstring pulling that had the opposite effect. And Joe, I have to agree with you about the thought that the compositions might steal the show..they did for me in many instances, but some in a negative way. I was almost angry because for me they to my eyes, were too often NOT inventive..exactly the opposite. The fact that this ruffled my feathers clearly has to do with me as much or more as with Dima, but I couldn’t help but feel that the compositions, perfect as they were, were falling into the use of device and were formulaic, and were too reliant on the successes of past ‘masters’ and not enough on the heart of Dima. I am only being so direct Dima because I think you will find your way into mastery yourself, and I think in order to do so you need to trust your own heart / eye a little more, and then keep on being amazing and doing your work.

  36. editorial comment :))

    Beautiful, graceful, powerful and luminous work. All of Dima’s work is visually astue and penetrating. all of his work demonstrate an acute visual eye and a wonderfully poetic facility for story-telling. In this particular essay, he carefully juxtaposes the difficulty and tragedy of the story with a visual acument that is both refreshing and surprising. Not only is the essay filled with a basket-full of extraordinary and surprising single images (some rich, surprising angles and iconography) but maintains a very clear and honed narrative that allows us, for a moment, to gather in a story that too few of us know anything about or too few of us have had the opportunity to become aware.

    as for the question of ‘too many children’ and not enough exposition with adults, this concern/critique did not trouble me, as I actually viewed this story as that of the story of these children. Akin to Dave Eggers magisterial book about the Lost Boys, “What is the What,”, i saw this particular essay as a recounting of the lives of these children and the world and adults around them through the devastation havoc’d by war and the LRA. Thus, i saw the images of the adults as punctuating and bringing into bare the world and offered another depth of detail for these children’s lives. A fully fleshed out story (including more adults and relationships with the soldier prior and in the aftermath) certainly would bring to richness more detail about the lives of this nation, but i saw this particularly story to be focused on the children…thus all those extraordinary child-like points of view and framing….

    As to the question of the efficacy and value of this kind of photographic work. The points that Jim, Jonanathan and others ARE VERY IMPORTANT QUESTIONS and I think they necessitate being spoken and discussed. Photography does NOT solve problems, nor does photography end the misery of our human condition. What photography does do well is tell stories and depecit lives (although this is arguable as well). The language of witness is a critical one, for though the photographs stop, the horror will continue for sure. However, the arresting or changing of horror and suffering surely cannot either be countered by innaction. Action can only be sough after awareness has taken place. Without awareness, nothing is accomplished. Jim and others are correct: too many stories, not enough done. too many photographers going for glory and beauty and fame on the backs of the lives of the huddled suffers. This particularly true in the west. Sontag and others have written about this, about grief tourists and our own placating need to ‘see’ horror to ‘learn’ about suffering feeling that our own awareness is enough. As Jim correctly poitns out: it is not.

    However, action can and is possible. I sited my own personal example, small, born on the inspiration of the work and friendship with Marcus. I’ve tried also to continue that. We live in a world increasingly defined and managed by the visual, by images. We communicate and disseminate through pictures/images. More people spend more time at internet than reading books and so,, the role of pictures has, more than ever, importance. How does one tell stories and what is the reason?…each photographer answers this on their own…and all the packets and packages of information greats a numbing miasima of sadness and nothing is done…


    the question is that: can we still make good in the way by telling stories and by asking stories…if they lead us beyond awareness but to action…even if that is the alleviation of suffering of one, than, at least for me, the story will have helped..

    I am thankful that Dima has shared his story and the story of the people and the children of Uganda and i hope, …yes, maybe, someone else will be called to action..


  37. Pete Marovich

    “I’ve seen no real evidence these problems can be solved. But I’ve seen plenty of evidence that photography can’t solve them. We’ve seen the problem. We know the problem.”

    Well then maybe we should just all shoot weddings and little league!

    Maybe photography can’t solve the problem(s). Still we should NEVER give up trying. NEVER.

    Nice link Stoop.

  38. “But to view a photo and to be aware of what is happening
    is just as powerful
    and helpful”

    No, it’s not. It’s not helpful at all. Observations and emotions that don’t lead to some kind of action are worthless.

  39. Jim Powers:

    As i wrote earlier, I don’t believe a single photograph or reportage can change things, but I do believe that it can help raising more and more awareness about the issues. True, we’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of pictures shot in Africa, and we haven’t seen any real lasting progress so far, but is it too utopistic to believe that hopefully with time something is going to change? Or should we just say “there is a problem, we haven’t solved it yet, so let’s just not think about it anymore”?
    Look at what’s happening with the Climate Crisis: more and more people are becoming more aware of it, and some of them, perhaps still a tiny little percentage, is actually trying to do something about it. It’s not pictures of melting glaciers and of droughts that are going to solve the problem, but it’s pretty safe to say that they can be a valid contribution by showing people what’s actually happening. I don’t expect revolutions, I don’t expect people to look at a reportage about Africa and march in the streets, but I think that it’s better to have this kind of pictures rather than not having them. In a world flooded with too much useless information and with too many meaningless pictures, important issues like this one risk disappearing from the map. You may say that there have been too many reportages like this, I’d say that they’re never enough. There are people out there who ignore the problem, and even more that simply don’t even know anything about it.
    You asked me what kind of actions I took in response of Dima’s essay: none yet. I’ve been actively trying to contribute with donations to specific NGOs for years, while trying to dig deeper into these issues and get a better understanding. I’ve tried to go to Uganda on a photographic project last year, thanks to some connections at UN, but it didn’t work out because of lack of funding, but I’m still trying to find a way to make it happen anyway. I don’t even know if I’m ready for something like that. Finally, perhaps it’s useless, or maybe it won’t change a thing, but I believe that talking about it is very important, and you can’t even imagine how many verbal fights i’ve been into beacause of just talking about it. Have I changed people’s minds? I don’t know. All I know is that some of them got interested and wanted to find out more.

    Bob Black:

    thanks for the editorial comment, I completely agree with it.
    Ironically, i went through something very similar to what you wrote about Congo: I knew little about it before seeing Bleasdale’s pictures. I would love to thank him, but since i don’t know how to do it, please hand my very Italian “grazie” over to him. :-)

  40. Jim- I respect that you’re suggesting as a whole we need to do more than just observe. As a consumer it is hard to absorb the countless images of people suffering and “do something” about it. But photographing people suffering isn’t just observing. Even if the photos remain unpublished, going beyond our comfortable world to recognize other human beings is a noble act. Sharing our experiences with others is even better…What if all conflict photographers stopped doing what they do? What if all the cameras were turned inward or focused only on things we enjoy?

    Last year I went to India- a country with endless social issues- and I admit, I initially just wanted to experience something for myself, and to expand my portfolio. But all the “observing” I did made me a more conscious person, and raised consciousness in general. My partner and I photographed a hospital burn ward for a few weeks with the intention of publishing and raising awareness, maybe bringing in funds for the hospital- a tiny endeavor in the grand scheme of all the suffering we saw. In the end the images were never published and it was upsetting. But looking back, I made connections with some wonderful people, lifted their spirits, made them feel that someone cares. Just by being there. And those close to me that have heard the stories, seen the pictures, are now also more conscious about the world around them. Maybe they aren’t donating to this particular cause…but it’s about small steps man! It’s pretentious to think we’ll make huge leaps in social change as photographers, but to me it makes sense to educate and be educated.

  41. Great eyes Dima, Great eyes! Rather lengthy in my opinion, but you still had me captivated with the vast majority of your images. Each one is very well seen. In terms of the narrative (esp. in the first piece) the story could be expanded, but overall very strong work. Will certainly revisit later this evening when I have more time.

  42. it can be helpful…
    to promote awareness..
    for the larger picture (not photograph)..
    to educate..
    to communicate….
    as a language..
    as a tool for
    to promote dialogue…
    I think it has to do with a photogs
    with a story…
    But to say it is worthless…
    I dunno….
    makes me sad…
    quiet now….

  43. Ian, I’m not devaluing the essay. It is exactly what it is. The photographer, as I’ve said, is an excellent photographer. Technically and artistically he is very good. If the photographer’s goal was to draw attention to his photography he succeeded. I an see this on a newspaper page, in an essay, on a gallery wall. But, again in my opinion, and as I’ve posted, I think this kind of photography, considering its lack of impact on the people’s lives, is exploitive.

  44. Dima, good essay. Some very good photography here. The essay as shown here is a little long for me, as is the lapse between photographs. Some repetition of similar scenes. Needs an edit to increase it’s effect. For me.

    Also a very good discussion. Does this kind of photography actually help?

    Some here say that we are awash with this kind of story but, actually, are we? I don’t think so. As photographers we may see many examples of this genre but does the general public? Again, I don’t think so. They see what the celebrities are wearing and who they are dating / divorcing; they read about the top ten consumer items etc. but little hard news. If hard news is shown it is usually sanitized so that the viewers are not too shocked by the horrors that too many people have to endure.

    Does showing photographs such as these do any good? Yes. The simple answer is yes. As others have pointed out in other discussions, our opinions and values are shaped over time. It may be immediate for some and more of a drip-feed for others but our sense of right and wrong is shaped by what we see as well as by what we personally experience.

    The 1984 famine in Ethiopia was revealed to the world by television and still images that shocked the world and gave rise to the Band Aid concerts that raised millions of pounds / dollars etc. and shamed many a government in the process. Band Aid showed that the public were willing, no eager, to help their fellow Man. Did they help the people who were actually photographed? YES!! At a later concert some of the children facing starvation were on stage as a testament to the public’s success.

    Should Auschwitz be closed to the public? No. It should be required viewing for every teenager who can possibly visit.

    Photographers who takes such photographs are, for the most part, dedicated to bringing the horror that they witness to the attention of the public. Too often they are stifled by the newspaper industry who fill their papers with celebrity froth.

    Dima, I do hope that you can join us here to answer some of the points raised.

    Best wishes,


  45. I said this earlier, but I think it bears repeating. The IDP camps are officially closed, many of these huts have been razed and most of these internal refugees have left for home or places closer to home.

    Now, I’m sure there are some who oppose the Gulu camps closing, who say its not safe, who say they’ll just end up in the same circumstances in a different place (pessimism) who say the violence is just taking place in another area of the country BUT there is more peace than before and this means there has been progress in the right direction.

    Pictures like these certainly won’t influence everyone to act, but they do influence some. Pictures are far more persuasive than words with this subject…And I’m sure every aid worker, donor, or volunteer who supported all the NGOs ran on this camp saw a picture before deciding to help. Thousands of people and humanitarian organizations not only have tried to help, but they’ve succeeded in helping. Sure, there are still rampant problems, but there’s no quick fix to this or any circumstances like it. Photographs like these keep encouraging people to fund the NGOs or rally for international help.

    And as a result, the “night commuters” have survived. Children have received vaccinations and education. People have gone home.

    How can that be called “hoplessness”? How can you see that and not feel inspired?

  46. I am not very knowledgeable about the situation in Uganda… which is why the name is so perfect.
    These photos sure helped me understand the situation a lot better – the mutilations, the living conditions, the struggle to exist. I feel it’s an excellent documentation and well executed to boot. I could see this in a special issue of a major magazine or a book all its own.

    Thank you for sharing.

  47. So they closed the camps. So show me some photos of the same people in better circumstances. I’d close the camps, too, and then the problems aren’t all in one place easily photographed.

  48. Dima, just had a quick look at your website: fantastic! Wonderful use of colour – and B&W. You have been to places that I have only dreamed about. Your work is a vindication of photography as a learning tool.

    The wonderful photographs of exotic places only help to increase the indignation felt when viewing scenes of war and need. I would not have heard of obstetric fistula – in Niger or anywhere else were it not for photography. The condition is relatively easy to cure in the West but causes untold misery in some countries due to poverty and cultural behavior patterns. How do i know? I read about it in an essay on a photographic website: you know; one of those essays that we are awash with that serve no purpose other than the photographers self-aggrandizement.

    Christina, thanks for the update on the situation in Uganda.

    Best wishes,


  49. Joe

    You wrote “with each image i kept holding my breath wondering if you could possibly ‘exact‘ yet another compositional invention. You always did. i was utterly amazed with your solutions.”

    I agree with pretty much everything you mentioned. I also agree with the opinion of some that there are too many photographs.

    First, to re-state the obvious, this is a photographer of enormous talent. This is spectacular stuff. Almost every single photograph here is very strong on it’s own. It is a catologue of masterful compositions. Very very nicely done, to the point where it is a distraction. I’m enjoying the photography more than I’m thinking about the message.

    This is a tough one. Do we suggest Dima should “dumb down” his photographs?

    Is every situation a photo-op? I’ve been wondering if I’m treating my whole life as a photo-op. Is there anything wrong with treating everything as a photo-op? After all, for many of us, the camera is absolutely and extention of our eyes, a device that helps us look very hard at what is going on around us, and to be aware of significant moments in the stream of time.

    A lot of this discussion is “deja vu all over again”. Important questions raised to be sure. Not likely to reach any sort of consensus or change very many minds, or change the world. This is a forum about photography however. And we are seeing some amazing photography.

    Gordon L

  50. Jim, you write like a naif, someone who has no sense of a long tradition photography and reportage, a century of intellectual and aesthetic debates about witness to suffering, the careers of dozens of photographers from dozens of countries, how media impacts perception, photography as manipulation, seeing vs. advocating, etc. I’m not saying you are not aware of the considerable intellectual history of photography, but you choose to write willfully ignorant of it. So your Burn responses are little more than itemized personal gripes. The photos fail you for various silly, petulant reasons.

    So you don’t like Dima’s photos because you can’t figure out why he took them? You want to know what motivated him? You don’t like the pictures because they don’t advocate for or enact change? Because they don’t help the suffering Ugandans?

    Honestly, Jim, this is drivel. Photos are photos. They don’t DO anything. The photog can be a total bastard or Mother Teresa herself — we all know examples of each — and what possible difference does it make? Why is this not clear to you? Why do you continually ask the Burn photogs to justify their work to you?

    You bring nothing to the debate. You don’t bring compelling counter arguments, gadfly positions, challenging assertions. You bring nothing at all.

  51. Some powerful images and a story that needs to be told…. but…..I would say the essay would better serve itself cut in half and some of the more “clever” compositions extracted (and repeats). I found myself too aware at times of the photographers presence (dare I say “manipulation”) to the detriment of the subjects and their plight. At times it became too much of an exercise in creating interesting images when in fact (too me) the most interesting and effective images were the most straightforward ones.

    Interestingly enough, Dima seems to buck the trend on Burn- to me the most powerful images tended to be the verticals which often isn’t the case here. The picture of the boy with mush on his mouth reminds me of the classic shot of the Korean war GI with the thousand yard stare. No need to shoot through foreground objects etc etc – just a fragile human face in the midst of their plight.

  52. Pete Marovich

    From Stoops link:

    “You don’t “take” pictures, you make pictures; you make them well and use them to communicate, to help the people and the situation. Many times the suffering people in the Sahel would see me working and they would ask me to come and photograph them or a loved one as a way of helping to solve the problem. In time they come to your camera like they would come to a microphone, they come to speak through your lens.” –– Sebastiao Salgado

    I think this says it all. As photojournalists we give the subjects a voice as well as create a record of proof of their existence. And what I mean by “proof of their existence” is that most people leave some type of mark on the world, no matter how small. Most are remembered in some way by their family, friends, photographs, people they touched in their lives…. A lot of the people that photojournalists photograph in these horrible situations, will not be remembered. Mainly because the people who would remember are also dying or being killed. Some are born and die with no record that they ever existed. To me that is a shameful waste.

    Preston… well said.

  53. Gordon, “the camera is absolutely an extention of our eyes, a device that helps us look very hard at what is going on around us” – absolutely! Nothing makes you see; really see, as carrying a camera.

    Preston, I’d like to see Jim post and then play devil’s advocate and contradict himself.

    Good light to all,


  54. long view please.

    dima –

    i’m a bit disappointed with your characterization of the situation in northern uganda being the result of the lra. after spending extensive time working in the region i find it not merely shortsighted but negligent. i’m not sure of your working methods nor whom you chose to speak with on the ground but know all too well that this conflict does not exist for the will of joseph kony but the power mongering of yuwero museveni. your description echoes the mass media’s limited portrayal of the last decade and further entrenches the misunderstanding of this conflict. museveni received hundreds of millions a year (and i believe still does – though my research was all in the middle of the decade) from the united states along with material military resources for the sole ‘purpose’ of dealing with the north. all of this bounty was/is contingent upon the existence of a threat, the continuation of the lra, kony, the abductions, mutilations etc. i completed 50 interviews with former child soldiers in 2005 – all of them well away from the ngos – many whom served kony directly. none of them placed the core surrounding kony at over 100. the point?

    this war does not exist because of kony. profiling the lra as holding the sole responsibility for this conflict is negligent. the ugandan government could have ended this a decade ago. the numbers simply don’t compute – a hundred rebels with a hundred children (all of them most likely being watched by satellite) opposing the most well funded army in east africa? hmmm…

    of course, the question becomes, why doesn’t the ugandan government want this to end? is it just the money? the tanks? no. that’s only half the story.

    the other side of museveni’s ‘inaction’ regarding the north is a result of a power dynamic that has existed in the country for most of the last century, that drives museveni and his cronies to maintain the north in a marginalized state. the entire post-colonial history of uganda has been defined by a north / south power struggle that began during the british rule and intensified as a result of their disproportionate choosing of the north, particularly the acholi and langi, to act as military, police, security. the north was better and more often trained for the kings african rifles and as a result would later preside over a period of supremacy over the south (milton obote). this, as power dynamics often tend to do, would eventually be flipped and the southern bugandans would could to dominate with a twisted, heavy hand (idi amin). this, in turn, would be flipped again (back to milton obote and briefly tito okello).

    and again, finally, it flipped us to the present museveni regime.

    museveni needs kony and the lra to maintain his grip over the country. in effect, the lra is the ‘easiest’ way to marginalize his traditional political opposition. this is no accident. it’s no accident that museveni changed the constitution in 05′ and sent unmarked military to depose his political opposition during elections. sound familiar? yes, this is africa, museveni is not the poster african leader of the 90’s. he never was.

    kony is not the problem, the source, the supply, the cause – he is the effect, the symptom, the demand.

    please look further into ugandan history, predating the king’s african rifles, and present this conflict for the complex situation that it is. a failure to do so may result in the opposite effect than the one you hope to have by further entrenching a misunderstanding as to the root causes of the situation. further, kony and the lra – as they exist in the media – are precisely the stereotype of african savagery that has existed in the west since before colonialism. by employing this narrative you not merely fail to communicate the complexity of the situation but you disarm our own imagery by branding them with the myth of the “African Savage®.” Most of your audience will never step foot in Africa – the last thing you want is to appeal to this cheap myth, this otherness.

    i have stayed anonymous here because i don’t have time to respond nor do i wish to participate publicly in such a dialogue. i have posted this information because i feel that the audience should not view such powerful, well crafted imagery without it. dima, i will send you an email in case you should wish to discuss this further.

  55. DIMA: This is a very powerful essay. Strong compositions, congratulations. The only thing I would say is that there may be too many images of the children, just a personal opinion…. I sincerely hope you are going back to do long term coverage and not leaving the story where it is.

    I think every photographer in these situations has their own motives for going to such places. Sure, there are the “conflict voyeurs” who only want to build a portfolio. Or worse still, the spectre of “slum tourism” where travellers pay to be taken through slums.

    I feel that it is imperative to have your motives set before you go to do this sort of work, because there will always be some naysayer who can’t wait to jump on your case. For me it was my brother in law who said to me “I admire what you’re doing, but you’re not going to make a difference” I answered, “What difference could I make if I was still working in the supermarket?”

    I decided before my first trip away that if I didn’t make a big enough splash when I returned home (highlighting the problem, not my profile), then I wouldn’t return. The airfare money etc would be better sent directly back to an orphanage etc.

    I am in the process of organising a small trust; all money will go directly back to a local orphanage/school, (back to the coal face). There will be no “middle man” clipping the ticket. Even $50 will be enough to buy a sack of rice for the kids at the orphanage.

    I am also seeking sponsorship through a camera company to provide some point and shoot cameras to the same people. When I go back (soon), I will take a week out of my month photo trip to run a small course for the kids. The cameras will be left there to continue the course. I have seen similar courses work wonders with underprivileged children in the squatter settlements of Port Vila (Vanuatu).

    I have also undertaken many lectures (all at my own cost) to highlight the problems back home. My own point of view may be different though. At the age of 46 I know I will never have children, but would like to think that I can do something that may bring help to others who are less fortunate than me.

    Jim; I feel that in some ways newspaper (spot news) photojournalism is probably one of the most cynical forms of photography. Go to the disaster, take cliché “news” images and then off to the next trouble spot. And look how much news coverage we are finally getting from DRC after Bleasdale and others first highlighted the ongoing problem there…

    But conversely, documentary photographers should also feel duty bound to do long term in-depth coverage of their story. A few weeks is never enough either & makes you just as cynical as the newspaper photojournalist.

    If I don’t reply to any comments it’s just that usually my comments end up in spam, and I’ve gone to the library specifically to look at this essay and comment.

    Thank you.

  56. Observations and emotions that don’t lead to some kind of action are worthless.

    Your best one-liner I can recall, Jim. You are damned right. At the same time, if all you can elicit, reading long view’s post, is a “wow”, I am definitely more worried about the survival of News, compared to, say…. Photography! :-)

    Longview, frankly, fuck the myth of the african savage. It never held the machetes, guns that killed and maimed millions in Liberia, Rwanda, Darfur, Congo and etc….


  57. Herve, so you think you response was any better?

    This thread is about to spin way out of control, I fear.

  58. Thanks for your post longview.
    I’m sure you know lots about the region and its issues, and I’m tempted to ask you a few questions regarding the role of Southern Sudan and the International Crime Court arrest warrants issued agains LRA leaders, but I guess this is definitely not the place to do it. Perhaps your post, along with all we’ve been discussing about, will make people want to learn more about it all.

  59. Dima, these are really strong images. They are powerful, beautiful and sad.

    What “long view please” has said is very informative. It seems to me that your text simply serves as an introduction to place the photos in context. You are using your photos to tell the story, they are your testimony.

    The photos need context, so you need some text to give that. In a situation like Uganda it must be a massive job to strip the situation down to facts as I imagine there are many people with agendas trying to control and distort information.

    At the end of the day you have taken these photos. They should be seen, you have to put them out there – that is why you took them. They are great photos and you have done an awesome job. It would be a terrible waste if you just kept them on your hard-drive for another 12 months while you researched the situation in Uganda a bit more thoroughly!

    I deeply agree with the sentiments of “long view please” with regards to your responsiblity to not perpetuate misinformtion (I am not saying you are – I just don’t know enough myself to judge). It sounds like he may be the perfect person to team up with – his text with your photos. (Of course assuming he checks out OK and is not pushing his own agenda!)

    Keep up the good work.

  60. Johan Jaansen

    Normally I am quite wary when confronted with images of ‘decay’ on the African continent. It is true that some photographers go there with motives that aren’t totally pure. They are perhaps looking to be the next Salgado for example, at the expense of their subjects. Their motives normally come across in their work – how they interact and connect with their subjects. I would also say that ‘conflict’ photography is a specialised genre of photography. Not many photographers can take photographs of people in such harsh conditions, while still leaving their subjects with a certain dignity in the photographs.

    So, I found this essay compelling. Dima was one of the few photographers who managed to portray his/her subjects in a stark light, while at the same time not stripping them of perhaps the only thing they have left when all is said and done – to be able to still gaze into the lens while preserving their dignity. When a photographer strips that away and humiliates them for cheap gain such as recognition or fame, then it is surely a tragedy. However, Dima managed to preserve their dignity while at the same time delivering their story in a truely unique and artistic way.

    Dima’s delivery and technique was perfect. Some writers mentioned above that is was almost too perfect – I disagree. Dima has given the people he photographed justice in that his technique was excellent and there wasn’t any wasted shots in the essay through lack of photographic skill. I would prefer to view this conflict photography through the lens of an accomplished photographer such as Dima, than an amateur with little technique who was in the region for cheap fame.

    I have rarely posted on this website due to time constraints, but I enjoy reading the dialogue and viewing the photos when I get the chance. DAH has done an excellent job in giving photographers the chance to get their work out there.

    Joe in his first comments raised some excellent questions about the photographer’s technique that I would also love to hear. I would have to disagree with Jim who calls into account the motives of the photographer. This is not necessary and the photographer’s motives should be illuminated in their work/essay. It is up to the viewer to summise that. I was not aware of this ongoing war and I am sure that their are many others who log onto this website and are also ignorant of these displaced people’s plight.


  61. WOW!

    There is a lot going on here…


    I think that the photos are well crafted, beautiful in their own manner, though I would edit them down a fair bit. Number 18 is an absolute kicker though. I’d reckon thats the winner… Makes me think…


    The discussion about the validity of photography as a tool for change is, in my humble opinion, totally irrelevant and has been as MR VINK so succinctly puts it, all said before. What is relevant is GRACIE’s childs reaction to the photos and LONGVIEW’s informative post.

    Both are human reactions- one from a child who has (fortunately) no idea of the crimes that people will commit on one another, because of necessity or hunger for power and has no idea of the implications of such an image that he has seen. He tried to explain it as best he can, in a positive sense that does not strip the subject of the photograph of their essential dignity. ‘She will be able to breate more air’

    GRACIE will now have to offer up an explanation to her child and having read what she has written before I am sure that she will do it with tenderness and integrity, but without creating a fantasy about the situation in Uganda. This explanation will stay with her child forever and with luck he too will have a realisation that somethings do not need to be done to other people and he will lead a better life because he is aware of that.

    LONGVIEW has obviously researched Uganda extensively and he/she has a very acute comprehension of the WHOLE story and the actual human cost and of the people of Uganda. The complexities of situations that are similar to the Ugandan story right across the world can often only really be told by people who have spent an inordinate amount of time with their subjects or as in the case of photography can really get ‘inside’ their subjects. The link that STOOP gave us has a great explanation that SALGADO suggests as the approach he takes. (never thought I’d say this, but hey thanks STOOP)

    Correct me if I am wrong DIMA but were you shooting primarily for an NGO? I think that there is a difficulty with that because well you often get chauffered around to see a particular point of view which can often put a pyschological distance between yourself and the subject. I mean the photographs are sometimes breath takingly beautiful but as LONGVIEW points out there is more to this story than meets the eye.

    So while I often question people’s motivations in photographing this kind of subject matter (I remember a discussion on homeless people, that I got caned for for questioning the photographers motives) I don’t think that DIMA’s motivations were about anything other than trying to get out a decent (and I use that in the proper sense of the word) story- he has treated his subjects with a dignity that a five year old child can recognise.

    So do these photographs adequately tell a story that could act as a catalyst as a tool for change…probably yes and no. And really I think thats pretty good, afterall we can only try.

  62. Johan Jaansen

    “What will your response be?”- well Jim, the best that I have managed in the four or so hours that I first saw the essay and subsequently posted, is to surf the net using google as my search engine, while utilising the key search words that I memorised today: LRA @ IDP. Using Dima’s essay as a base or launch, I have marginally investigated a subject that I was admittedly ignorant about before.

    No, I haven’t donated a monetary contribution in that four hours, I haven’t booked a flight to Uganda to enrol for a voluntary position with a famine agency and perhaps most telling, I haven’t mangaged to find a solution to this complex problem. Hence, maybe I am not pragmatic as you had expected Jim, but as I wrote in my original reply to the photo essay, there maybe someone else who finds Dima’s piece on Burn, or published elsewhere on the net/print. Consequently, that person may have the power to instigate real change within the international community. The most important thing is that Dima’s piece is now out ‘there’ in circulation and in addition it has been photographed/edited very well. A professional essay, executed with artistic flair and as far as motives, well that is best left for the viewer to extrapolate.

    It’s sometimes a sick world we live in Jim, hell I’m no doctor, but I’m certainly not ready to be institutionalised in a retirement home for pessimists.

  63. Jim, (sorry Mike R) there is a difference between ambulance chasing and good documentary. One is for shock news value and there is little public response except shock horror, the other is for understandin and longterm awareness. I think you might be mixing the two.

  64. I would like to thank everyone for their comments.

    To “long view” and Jarrod H: I was not trying to tell the entire history of Uganda — this is a snapshot into the lives of the refugees as I saw it in 2006 while working with Doctors Without Borders.

  65. Dima’s entry into this discussion is somewhat anti-climatic.

    I would also like to ask why Jim is receiving a lot of flak for his comments while I get off scott free? Are we all as a group (myself included) polarised around Jim’s comments once again?

  66. I would also like to ask why Jim is receiving a lot of flak for his comments while I get off scott free?……..just lucky

  67. Johan Jaansen

    JonanthanJK you raised an interesting point: that the photographer is recycling the material without doing something drastically different. I’m wondering myself what else could the photographer have brought to the table that was different from main stream conflict photography. Names of the people in the photos could certainly personalise the essay, but would that help solve the crisis?

    For example, I remember that Steve McCurry’s famous photo of the Afghan girl had a name attached and a willing media/public following the story as she was located for the second portrait. That certainly brought a lot of attention/financial assistance to the plight of Afghani women in general. I think before and after stories probably garner more media attention because there is the concept of resolution. Did for example, McCurry’s photograph with the subject’s name solve the precarious position of women within Afghanistan? According to media reports, that country still has a long way to go with women’s rights. However as most readers know well, his two photographs with accompanying essay raised awareness and large financial donations.

    Hence, before and after stories with individual subjects is one way to maintain interest in a conflict. As contributors have pointed out, the western media is often inundated with stories of mass disaster, conflict, humanitarian crisis, famine. So, in a way people can become desensitized to these stories. However, a long term story of an individual with a name attached can prove compelling viewing. That for me was the where the beauty of Steve McCurry’s story lay.

    Anyway, it would be good to see the photographer contribute more to the discussion and answer some of the questions from the other contributors.

  68. @ Ian Aitken its not feeling left out, its this reaction everybody has towards Jim and then concentrating all discussion on Jim’s statements, as one of the few to closely align my thoughts with Jim’s I thought I’d be in the firing line, and then after that the discussion would be between everyone. Jim is the centre of the discussion again and I find it interesting when Jim is a very ‘poke the universe’ kind of person, and everybody reacts even when they don’t want to.

    Patricia Lay-Dorsey’s comment, ‘Too much Jim Powers, too little Dima,’ is an example of this, its just noise in the discussion.

    @Johan Jaansen, the personal touch in the essay would have been appreciated, but don’t focus too much on this. To me doing something different would be to stop painting people as victims, and maybe photograph those causing the problems. The photography that is coming out of North Korea is very exciting at the moment because we don’t know much about that country, and what photographs do come out, are pointed at the institutions that govern. Photographs of the people would also be interesting but that isn’t possible at the moment, but in any case (can’t remember the names) the photographers bringing back essay material with limited access is very interesting.

    My point is Dima should have more freedom in Uganda compared to North Korea, pointing the camera at the victims is easier when I think the solution is to point it at those who can be held accountable for the misery that is going on there. Especially when people (myself included) are becoming desensitised to starving/naked/crying/limbless Africans, I think a break is needed.

  69. joathanDK,

    I agree there is a level of desensitisation, I also agree that I too have a knee jerk reaction to Jim because this is the way he has set out his stall and I kick myself when I react to it. Things do get a bit Jimcentric and that often detracts from the real issues.

  70. 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. And often the light simply reveals that the relationships between the actor and the victim are complicated beyond understanding, and all the light in the world won’t change anything. And to a public awash in images of all kinds, few note the photographs very long. Another abused woman, another abused child, another case of racial cleansing, millions of more people starving to death while surrounded by food that some political power or another won’t let them have, and who we have no power to influence (because they don’t care what the world thinks).

    Dima appears not to have had any agenda. From his brief post, he was there. He shot some photos. Great. I guess the bigger question, then, is why they ended up in an essay on Burn. Why did he submit them here? He says they are a snapshot of a specific time and place. The camps are gone. Time has moved on. What is left is the photographs. Questions without answers. What happened to these people? Are their lives better? Have they all now starved to death? Been brutally killed? Questions for which we’ll never have answers. The photographer appears to have little sustained emotional involvement. What’s the point?

    But they are well made photos.

  71. Barrie Watts

    Much as though I have disagreed with what Jim has said in the past, on this occasion he raises valid questions that go to the core of this sort of photography.

    It’s a shame that these important questions have tagged themselves onto Dima’s piece here on BURN because I love his work. But in my opinion these questions are too important to sweep under the carpet, and maybe a bit too painful for many people to discuss.

  72. The annoying technical note! Some images have very darkened skies (I’m guessing filtering through photoshop and not an actual filter on lens), while others are blown white. I find this lack of consistency a bit distracting.

  73. 2006 could be seen as opening old wounds. This opening of old wounds is something that some nations/sectors of societies have turned into an political art form and use photos to advance their cause. Unfortunately and probably unfairly these actions in turn tar a lot of other work like Dima’s with the same feather.

  74. Beside my own view on this discussion, I must try look at things from Jim’s point of view, to have a balance in my own stupid head. Jim reminded me or something important. I know a man who went to the poorest parts of the world to visit, and came back with a will to dig wells in villages without water. Little money, lots of heart. He took along a camera and recorded all the good that came to a whole village because of one well he succeeded in financing by himself. He brought those pictures back to the rich world and used them to raise more money from friends, to dig more wells. He raised so much money that now he’s branched out from only digging wells, to also building schools. He supplied cameras to the villagers to record their own successes. So much money is pouring in now, he had to establish a charitable organization. This may not be the point Jim is trying to make. But it is the one I’ll take away from this discussion.

  75. Pingback: La guerre oublié de l’Ouganda – RapporteursPhoto

  76. 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.

  77. 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.

  78. 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.

  79. “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.

  80. 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.

  81. 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.

  82. 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.

  83. 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.

  84. 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.

  85. 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.

  86. 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.

  87. 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.

  88. 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.

  89. 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?

  90. 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.

  91. 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.

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

  93. 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 ;)))

  94. 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!

  95. 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.


    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!

  97. 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….


  98. 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.

  99. 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

  100. 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.

  101. 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…

  102. 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.

  103. “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.

  104. 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.

  105. 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….

  106. 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.

  107. “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.

  108. 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.

  109. 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.

  110. 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…


  111. 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.

  112. 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.

  113. 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

  114. 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.

  115. 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

  116. 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.

  117. That’s funny. Imants, I don’t have much on the web. It’s not my thing. You must be a late comer to the game, here. The only thing I have on the web are 50 feature photos I shot for the newspaper chain I am an editor for last year. And I put them on the web only because folks from the area where I live asked me to after a gallery show I did featuring those photos. I have, though, posted that link here. But I doubt they have much appeal beyond my area.

    After 40 years as a newspaper shooter, I focus on the upbeat these days.

    Still not sure how that has anything do with the validity of my opinions, though.

  118. Joe, how is this a witch hunt. I have said repeatedly that I thought the photographs were outstanding and the photographer talented.

  119. JIM:

    Now, I am holding my tongue, but, frankly, I find your comment “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.” not only crude, purposefully incendiary and absurdly so far amark that I am at a loss to decide how best to go about answering you. But, ok, some basic working description:

    First, David is the publisher, curator and ultimate arbitor of what is published on Burn. He has final decision and ultimately is the only one who says who, when and why something is decided. I am the editor and working very very hard (for some time now, before it went ‘public’) at it. David and I work in tandem, with Anton (who without, there would be NO Burn) to produce the content and ideas of this magazine. All of this is done on a volunteer basis and at some considerable amount of personal investment for each of us. Anton has put in an extraordinary amount of time, effort and patience in making the geers on this clock click. However, there have been a whole/entire host of people working tirelessly behind the scenes for 5 months on keeping this ship afloat. This is not a 1 person or 3 person operation, but a literally-speaking group effort. I might add that the magazine would also not exist without the contributions of the commentators, who are just as integral and as important as anything that David, Anton, Carrie, Tom or I do.

    As editor, I bring to David work and photographers from around the world through a network of colleagues, friends, galleries, agencies as well as my own digging. I’ve just spent the last 2 1/2 weeks doing just that. However, the VAST MAJORITY of work that has come into Burn comes entirely unsoliticited, through submissions. These are generated by the magazine and word-of-mouth itself. All of the work published by Burn was work that was submitted. As editor, I look at pictures, essays, contact photograhers, engage in conversation and dialog with them and suggest possible fits to David. We discuss, debate, argue, agree. We have a very close and fraternal relationship and work well as a team. But, ultimately, this magazine is David’s vision. I am only a friend and colleague who believes in his vision and is working hard to see it brought to life.

    Ultimately, David decides who is published, what is published and when. I stand 100% side-by-side with all of his decisions. As editor, it’s my responsibility to stand by the cotent and to offer, if necessary, an editorial perspective as to the value and insight of the work. As editor of Burn, my job is to tell make sure Burn is as challenging and exciting as possible. My job also is to lessen the weight of David’s work load as best as I can. David saw this essay first (it came as a submission, and I was not aware of Dima’s work until it came into Burn).

    I am sure that David will speak later if he wishes (although frankly, I find your questioning of the validity of the editorial decisions spurious), and offer you the larger perspective on Burn and your questioning of the Magazine’s editorial decisions. Questioning our integrity is not only brazen, but frankly, so scattered shot that even I am amazed. To begin with, Burn is not a newspaper. It is a showcase of the work of photographers. The use, application and context of content is very different. Running journalistic pictures in a magazine dedicated to photography does not invalidate either their historical, journalistic worth, nor does it impinge the integrity of the editors. I’ve been, by the way, to exhibitions of Nachtwey’s work in galleries that ‘strip’ the context-of-immediacy away, and the pictures still remain as testament and witness. Publishing photographs in a newspaper (a media defined by the requirement, generally, of promulgating information that is focused on the timeliness of an issue, primarily) has a completely different mandate, standard and goal. I am, frankly surprised, that since you bring to the magazine ’40 years’ of experience, you have failed to realize or eloquently pitch this difference. What I suspect in your hyperbole, is that you find Dima’s work distateful, unethical and wrong-headed because you see it’s concerns (and the fact that we published it) as a gesture of self-aggrandizement rather than dedication to the content (the people and the historical facts; i.e, the camps have been closed). Burn is not a source of journalism but photography. That this story represents one person’s story about a group of people and their struggle with the war does not vitiate it’s power or its validity.

    I guess you’ll be even more incensed when I bring to Burn (soon) a story, by a journalist, that deals with a catastrophic event.

    I am disheartened that you view Burn and the photographers whose work we publish and the decisions that Burn makes through such an convulted lens. That is unfortunate.

    all the best

  120. Bob, I’m not in favor of putting journalistic work up in galleries, either (Nacthwey, for instance).

    Journalism in general should not become a common commodity. And journalists should not become media stars. It is for journalism I advocate. Just because it is becoming “art” and a commodity doesn’t mean that is the best outcome. You are arguing that because things are as they are with journalism, that is as they should be. I disagree.

    I’m not questioning your integrity. Just asking that you consider the impact of your decisions.

  121. I’m sorry Jim, ‘witch-hunt’ was a bit sweeping. I’m a bit ashamed i put it that way.

    Is it fair to say Jim that you are ‘inhibiting’ the desire for the photographer to paricipate because the starting point for the photographer was to justify why the photos were even here or why they were even took in the first place?

  122. No, Joe. The photographer was clear why he took the photos and the context (working with Doctors without Borders). No problem at all with that. I was wondering at the rationale for giving them a bully pulpit here on Burn. Apparently the editor felt they had merit as art.

  123. Jim:

    one thing that is true about Burn (from the beginning) and is true about David (I say this as his friend and colleague) and is true about myself: all is open. We do not hide or are concerned about ‘protecting’ editorial content/decisions. We’re, like the web itself, trying to be as open as possible, including sharing the mechanism of decision-making processes. That’s david in a nutshell.

    The debate about the ‘use’ of journalistic imagery (how should these stories be used, sold, profited by, etc) is a long and complex discussion. Your question begs a more complex one, one that has been discussed here and elsewhere. What is the moral or legitimate place to use, showcase and sell photogrpahic work that exposes misery and suffering. Profiting on the suffering of others, even within the context of document, witness or reportage. However, newspapers also exist to profit. As an editor, surely you know that. That even the best of newspapers need advertising and earmark their budgets accordingly. The issue of whether or not to photograph someone/story and how to distribute/use/sell it is really a very very profound and difficult one. ALL photographers worth their merit who practice documentary work think or reflect or struggle with this.

    This conversation also exists here at Burn. Yes, we do put in considerable thought and discussion(in emails, over a beer, across a wooden table outside the Drake hotel before a Magnum lecture) about the consequences (both good and ill) of what we’re trying to do.

    David, can add more. Maybe, i’ll write a post that generates discussion about this issue. Rest assure, we are not flippant nor unaware of what and why things are published. David is a pretty sharp tack and a humane one. That should be readily apparent by now.

    all the best

  124. there has been these questions of ‘why now’ and ‘why this’?

    hasnt it occurred to you jim that this may be dima’s best work and this just happened to be 3 years ago and on this topic? he did not go on assignment for burn. burn asks for submissions. if dima felt this was his best work, this is the only work that he can submit. therefore, this has nothing to do with timeliness as was your argument. in essence, if my best work was about documenting the horrors of world war II this would be the work i would submit.

    i think it is clear about what you argue for, accuracy in journalism as it is supposed to be for, sensitivity instead of gain, these have not been the real stimulus to this discussion.

    it is your criticism of burn as a whole and the extra insensitive (ironically) snippets
    you say that have incensed most.

  125. Jim, i don’t think your impact is as simple and benign as the comment you just delivered. There’s loads of comments that make it seem like we were all aruging against you for the merit of this essay. What photographer would want to wade into that without danger-pay?

  126. Joe, if my comments chill people’s desire to have their work published here, and they hope for a career in photography, they had better grow much thicker skin! I once had an editor that would either publish my photo or say, “burn it and stir the ashes.”

  127. “I once had an editor that would either publish my photo or say, “burn it and stir the ashes.” So you feel that just bcause that happened to you justifies the aggressive quasi editorial role you seem to have taken up here.
    Then as an editor you would be more used to selecting images to increase circulation of the newspaper, otherwise your job would be on the chopping block. This must be new territory for you seeing that there is no money involved in this fantasy role of yours
    Catcha later midnight here

  128. joe – man, i would really dig into this were it my work and not be put off in the slightest.. all i can think is that dima has some peace about what he does..

    i do think that a comment from him could have kept us more on track and also helped to focus the discussion.. people exploring intentions and motivations is obviously not relevant to him, although some indication or responce could have pulled us back to the point rather than towards the various digressions and too-ing and frowing.. some kind of balance could be bought back.

    you know what though? perhaps there is an element of self-flattery on my behalf that us comment lurkers are worthy of engagement.. certainly there are interesting points going on.. and on the first page some interesting questions, but without the input of the works author the interest becomes limited in a way.
    i think that mishas in your face is one of my favourate threads here because of his interaction and willingness to engage the audience.. i think it has also helped to keep things on track.

    and so.. far from wanting dima to justify himself or take the heat or accusations of some points raised i hoped his interaction would have helped direct and helped form the opinions of some of the people exploring what are contemporary issues in the digital age – the age of cheap airline tickets and the era of ‘holidays in hell’.

    on another point – someone mentioned that there is no code of conduct for PJ’s and that is quite right.. anyone with a digicam can play the game..
    i would recommend finding and downloading PDNs e-book regarding ethics which i cannot for the life of me find a link to right now – read and think on it.. there is a little from history and a little on contemporary practise which could help people reach conclusions within their own practise in order to move forward clear-headedly on just what constitutes a worthy subject to practise upon.. and how to go about sensitive issues in a way which helps the subjects, the viewers and the photographer find balance.

    briefly – i have enjoyed reading thoughts and theories spinning around here and so – thanks – to all of the main contributors to the discussion for that..
    a photographer who photographs far from simple or benign subjects needs to think carefully and have a measured personal goal, because it will bring comments which are far from simple and benign.

    i have yet to read this page above and so may tuck into it again – although to be honest i think the ground covered is all-encompasing and i’m not sure of what i could add at this stage .. there is obviously more to be said and thought and as with so many things in life, it may take the rest of life to reach a conclusion :ø)

    as an aside my perspective has come from photographing hardship in my teens.. living with and amougst those i was photographing and becomeing involved with the dynamics therein – i do not really dig ‘hit-and-run’ snapping in any form.
    poverty, mortality and pain.. witnessing more than i could photograph to the point that i wanted to spend 10 years involved with celebration and unity..
    go figure :ø)

    much respect to all

  129. “if my comments chill people’s desire to have their work published here, and they hope for a career in photography, they had better grow much thicker skin!”

    and in part jim that is why i enjoy reading your posts, regardless of agreeing or not.. and regardless of how editors present themselves.
    people who see work in any publication or gallery have the right to reply.. and to experience for themselves.. to me thats the whole point of it.. BUT it is a paralell happening and not central to the photographer.. it goes on alongside..

    did sid viscious give a fuck what anyone thought?
    dicussion and argument is all good by me – trying to silence an opinion no matter how obnoxious or toxic it may seem is most certainly not.
    pea’s n chips.

  130. nnb – jim – i wonder if the answers you are after lay within dima rather than the editorial team here.. since this is a site of photography and not of current news..
    okay.. too much.. getting bored of the sound of my own tapping..

    days when i’ve been teaching
    can push me towards preaching, and so
    the less time i spend
    massaging my own end
    the better it will be for us all


  131. Powerful compositions. Just knowledge of the craft and a pure photographic vision. It effects me and that’s good. As just a spectator and photographer myself, I will leave further interpretations and thoughts for art critics, editors or somebody who thinks their opinion is very important.

  132. Pete Marovich

    and it goes on and on and on…. and on.

    Nobody here has the answers to these fathomless questions. If they did, they would be writing a damn book or teaching. Probably from the top of the mount.

    These questions will probably never be answered and if they are, certainly not to everyones agreement.

    While comment, dialogue and discourse is good, we as photographers would probably be happier and certainly more productive if we spent more time shooting and less time yapping about it. I have always admired the photographers who made the photos and then let the photos do the talking while they go out and make more photos.

    That is just my opinion, and now back to WORK.

  133. Preston, do you really think my real position is the opposite of what I say here? (concern troll). Or is it just an ad hominem effort to discredit me?

  134. While I am grateful to everyone who participated in this discussion and have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the comments, I have mostly stayed out myself to see how the discussion will develop. In all honesty, the discussion about ethics in photography is not new or original, and while I have thought about the issue discussed here, I do not “straggle” with them as one of the discussants has so rightfully guessed.

    Let’s say that I go to Africa, photograph a child in some remote location, and become famous for this work. I simple fail to see how this exploits the child or worsens his life in any way. If I do not take the photo, the child would keep living in his God-forsaken village. If I do, he’ll still live in the same disastrous environment, but at least there will be a chance, no matter how small, that someone will see the photo and try to help.

    The argument that the photograph will be used by someone on a local level and the subject will be harmed is rather ridiculous in most cases. With all due respect to the people in all the places that I’ve visited, I have to say that they do not surf the web in search of photographic and/or journalistic work about their lives. Most have never used a computer at all.

    I think that the more we worry about producing “safe” work, the least likely we are to touch the viewer and make a difference in the lives of the subjects. I will not repeat what Preston Merchant said because he explained it beautifully already. No work is ever safe from a “wrong” interpretation, unless someone is willing to spend their entire career photographing pretty flowers and cute furry animals. The more risk we take as photographers, the more benefit we will reap for both ourselves and our subjects.

  135. These questions will probably never be answered

    BUT should always be asked, if not here, to oneself.

    I know I may be the first one to bark back at at Jim for his dismissive short-hand style, but he’s explained himself further and I find his commentaries, when expanded, beneficiary to the liveliness and interest of BURN as a forum. I will take a Jim’s quote that provokes and engage over a dozen “wow, the beauty, the drama, I am speechless” comments that are routine on every damned photosite forums we’d care to name.

    One funny thing, Jim, there is nothing wrong with me going to the bookstore, the library and looking into a book for the first time on some war or crisis that happened in 2006, but in a net format, I should not be given the chance? Better put the essay on and discuss it as we just did, than nothing. BURN is not exactly a mouth-piece for exemplary PJ, just a damned inspiring “shoe-box” where pictures keep piling up.

    Gracie, I was not overly taken by the essay itself, maybe I have seen too many “Africa in crisis” picture essays/books, and this one, to join in with Longview, takes indeed a run-of-the mill vision and not very inventive, if varied, approach to it. The variations themslves have a diluting effect on me, probably 2 or 3 stronger (unforgettable) images would have been needed to make it more memorable. I think Dima has “better” work on his site, in color.

    BTW, why are “african humanitarian crisis” always in B&W, when so much of the rest (on the same photographer’s site) is in color? Enquiring minds….

  136. Oh, and Jim, my brides were not really brides, I admit, but they were not prostitutes either…..


  137. Pete Marovich


    I agree. It just gets tiring to read the back and forth ad nauseam.


    Well said. It seems like you have a handle on who you are and what your work is about. Go forth and make more photographs!

  138. Dima, it exploits the subject if you become famous and he still sits there in poverty. That is the very definition of exploitation. If you profited from the photo of him, it is you personally who owe something to him, not an amorphous “they” who might see and respond to it (or not). You are trying to skirt personal responsibility for your actions.

  139. “BTW, why are “african humanitarian crisis” always in B&W, when so much of the rest (on the same photographer’s site) is in color?”

    I use color when I think that it is justified (the best example is the Holi festival on my website).

    Refugee camps in Uganda were mostly devoid of color, so “color” photography would not do the justice. Using B&W and high contrast key emphasizes the harsh reality of the environment. However, please note, that my work on Nigerien prostitutes (also on my site) was done in color in high contrast key, although it can also be classified as an “African crisis”.

  140. Jim, I believe that everyone should do their job. If I were going to help every single person who I photographed, I’d have to drop photography altogether and become the second Mother Theresa. My work for a couple of humanitarian organizations was done pro bono. They can use my work for their purposes, and hopefully it can benefit them, so they can do their job better and help more people.

  141. Nigerien prostitutes…….. can also be classified as an “African crisis”.

    With a softer reality of the environment?

    I think some of the problems eluded by Longview and JIm find their justification in your last sentence. The consumption of african imagery as a constant reduction to “crisis” (note that my own use of parenthese was to highlight this reduction). No, I dod not think that for being the result fo a possible conflict or catatrophe, the plight of being coerced or turning intto prostitution is a crisis.

  142. Jim wrote: “it exploits the subject if you become famous and he still sits there in poverty.”

    Jim, by that logic, every photographer you have ever heard of is an exploiter. You make the silliest arguments.

  143. panos skoulidas

    Quote: “I’m more interested in a photography that is ‘unfinished’ – a photography that is suggestive and can trigger a conversation or dialogue. There are pictures that are closed, finished, to which there is no way in.”

    Paolo Pellegrin

    In my panos words:
    these are a Nachtwey school straight PJ… but those photos seem to be “finished” for me…
    ( for the definition of “unfinished” from Paolo P. above..:)))))))))))))))))

  144. It doesn’t follow that just because an action is widespread or of long duration that it is therefore ethical.

  145. Panos, one of my favorite quotes, and photographers. I think about that much.

  146. Jim i just don’t think geometric proofs are going to work here. It’s not an exact science like pool table physics, or the legalities of if P then Q.

    This effort is for a complex organism (humanity), it’s like choosing your diet in the hopes you grow up to be healthy, it‘s too complex to perfectly predict the outcome and one can only rely on probabilistic tendencies. So again, it’s a dead-end street to apply such deterministic logic.

    That being said, people that make an effort to provide a benefit, whether they do it for free or they do it for a gazillion dollars, if it benefits even one person, then is seems to me that effort is still better than no effort at all.

  147. a photography that is suggestive and can trigger a conversation or dialogue. There are pictures that are closed, finished, to which there is no way in.”

    If we let Jim in on it, there are, IMO, no photos that can’t (and did not!) trigger a conversation or dialogue…. ;-))))

  148. Hey! About time we all got around to my point, over and over and over again. Photos by the best ask questions. If they don’t, they better be good records. Only stupid records, no voice, no artistry.

  149. Jim, you wrote:

    “Dima, it exploits the subject if you become famous and he still sits there in poverty. That is the very definition of exploitation.”

    Good Lord Jim, do you think Dorthea Lange ever sent the “migrant mother” a few buck? (I know she didn’t because I read an interview with one of the grown children pictured who stated “we never got nothin’} . The same goes for pretty much any other classic you care to mention.

    I think you are out of line here.

    Gordon L.

  150. Dima

    I’ve just re-visited this essay, and your site, all of it. All I can offer is my admiration and congrats.
    This is brilliant stuff.

    I can see that you are in love with the image and image making, one common thing those here on Burn share. Your images are simply amazing and beautiful. Your “bag of tricks” is obviously very very large. I visited the essay with a pencil and paper. I should take the list with me on my next shoot. Low angle, high angle, silhouette, symmetry, pull to edges, panorama, extreme close-up reflections, high key, low key, etc. etc. etc.

    Bobblack, help me out here, you have such beautiful insight and the means to express it.

    Anyway Dima thanks for this. It is an inspiration.

    Gordon L.

  151. Dima you wrote

    “No work is ever safe from a “wrong” interpretation, unless someone is willing to spend their entire career photographing pretty flowers and cute furry animals.

    Dima even these folks are not safe, I’m afraid your comment is a bit of a judgment of them too.

    All photographic by-ways deserve respect.

    Gordon L.

  152. Actually, Lange misrepresented the photograph and the family doesn’t seem very happy about that.

  153. god, i have a friggin’ headache reading all of this.

    DIMA – you are a hell of a photographer. keep up the incredible work and passion.

    i would love for nachtwey to comment on all of this…

  154. Yep. It would be interesting to hear Nachtwey’s take on this thread. Unlikely, but interesting.

  155. i’m not sure how busy Jim is right now – but i just dropped him a note and asked him if he would comment… fingers crossed.

  156. I wonder what direction Nachtwey will take, now that he is 60 years old? War photography isn’t a game for old men.

  157. JIM – have you been to LOOK3 yet? Nachtwey was one of our legacy photographers last year and gave an incredibly moving talk of his work. This year is Martin Parr, Sylvia Plachey and Gilles Peress. Nachtwey will be teaching (with DAH) and having an exhibit of his TB work. Paolo Pellegin will be exhibiting as well and many others. check it out… http://www.LOOK3.org. i hope you can join us and you can tell Jim in person that he’s an “old man”…. ha ha

  158. “I thought war wasn’t really a game either, be it for younger or older photographers.”…..it is for Jim, he loves playing war ………

  159. “Journalism in general should not become a common commodity. And journalists should not become media stars. It is for journalism I advocate. Just because it is becoming “art” and a commodity doesn’t mean that is the best outcome. You are arguing that because things are as they are with journalism, that is as they should be. I disagree.”


    As always you deny the rights of human nature and you want make your wishes a general behavior.
    What is basicly quite normal for human beeing, but…
    if you always will focus on what should or not should be…
    if you always will disaree because something is not like you wish should be…
    you will never find the good part of many things.
    Like in this thread.
    nothing is just black or white…
    nothing is just good or bad.
    maybe in movie only…
    you never divide the problems for pieces to analyze them.
    you just presented opinios as a voice of god.
    I never see you have doubts with your opinios…
    I wish I could be so sure about everything and everyone as you are.
    it could be easier…. hmmmm… so so much easier…
    but it this world nothing is easy or simply or just black or white.

    even if you wish to…


    I apologize for my absence last time.
    to many work I have.
    I am just reader right now.
    but my mind is with you :)

    peace (for Tibet)

  160. Johan Jaansen

    Jim, as the topic of conversation invariably seems to strongly drift in your direction, I was wondering how someone with 40 years of photographic experience only has 50 obscure photos floating on the web. If I had been at it for that long I would hope to have a little more to offer, also accounting for the generation gap/shift from film to digital. The validity of opinions are as you pointed out not so important, its just the images that stand at the end of the day that I was curious about. I’m just a young ‘photographer’ trying to improve my talent and I’m trying to ‘absorb’ as many quality photos as possible – via both the net and printed material.

    To David Alan Harvey, although I have never met you, I was initially saddened when you announced your departure from your residence in New York. I would have loved to visit one of those ‘parties’ that you hosted in your loft! I guess I may still have the chance if the gallery idea is up and running. But, at the same time I’m happy for you that you are moving to a more comfortable house near the foreshore.

    Here is a strange question; do you think that your photography could head in the direction that Edward Westons did when he photographed the dunes on the coast? Is it feasible that in the future you move away from documenting other cultures/subcultures to a more personal documentary style of still life and or landscapes. I remember reading about Paul Strand moving onto photographing plants and other still objects in the near vicinity of his house. Consequently, could a transition from an urban setting to one with more nature change your focus of photography? Anyway, good luck with the move!


  161. Johan, believe it or not, most photography from we old guys in not on the web. I like to hold photography in my hand or stand near it on a wall. I guess most photos these days is never printed, but that’s not my preference. I guess that seems strange to those who grew up with digital and the web.

    But what if I weren’t a photographer? I would hope for Burn that a far larger audience than just photographers commented here. Would their lack of photographs cause them to be ignored or marginalized? Whether or not I’ve produced a single photograph should be irrelevant to this discussion.

  162. The last and first time James Nachtwey kindly “came” and had a talk with us (on Road trip), trolls came out of the woodwork to spoil it all. It was an awful and shameful experience and I was only glad I read it all afterwards, having to work that day. Glad too he took time to answer my (recorded) question before the shit hit the fan.

    But really, there are only questions here, no answers.

    So, A question to Jim Powers: since you are sure about how PJ work is to be done, Why do you think James Nachtwey agreed to the film war “photographer”, a glorifying no warts apology of the man that gave him a wider fame or recognition his pictures ever did? You can answer the simpler way and tell us what do you think of the film itself.

  163. I have no idea why he did the documentary. I liked (and own the DVD) the documentary, because it gave me some insight into the man. As was noted in the documentary, his work has changed him. It has set him apart from others (physically and philosophically and emotionally) because he has seen so much misery. He has done what he has done at great personal cost, so he clearly acts from conviction. Whether I agree with his gallery shows or books making money from misery, I admire his skill as a photographer and his personal conviction to a cause he clearly believes in.

  164. Marcin, there is a world of ideas, philosophies and beliefs out there. We should examine them carefully, even try them on if that is your thing. But at some point in life, we’ve got to find a place to stand. We have to say, “this is what I believe.” Draw a line in the sand, if you like. Otherwise we spend our lives tossed on a sea of pan-everything-ism. And we never achieve our goals.

    There are a lot of gray areas in life, I agree. But you cannot function in life if you believe they are all gray. You do not personally, whether you’ve examined it or not, live your life as if every idea has the same value. I know this because you disagree with my ideas and the way I express them.

  165. Johan Jaansen

    Fair call Jim: that stands to reason. You are from the older generation which perhaps places less emphasis on online photography. That is in no way unusual. So, if you could direct me to some of your published work in magazines or newspapers then I would be most obliged.

    As you mentioned, it is irrelevant whether someone is a photographer or not to make a valid opinion on Burn. I agree with this 100%. Burn (as it has done) should encourage teachers, gallery owners, publishers, curators, editors etc. Participation from all sectors is paramount if Burn is to survive in the ‘new age’. But you have stated numerous times on this forum that you are an accomplished photographer, hence that is your confessed standpoint. Subsequently, that is the version of ‘Jim’ that I’m trying to communicate with and understand.


  166. regarding the spectrum of motives for photographing the Suffering, i suppose there is pure charity, i suppose more often than not there is a symbiotic relationship between the motives of the Tog and the benefits for the Suffering, and almost never, but yes it’s possible, there is pure entrepreneurial financial strategy.

    none of these motives prevent the actual benefit of bringing attention to the world that unnecessary suffering exists and to know it exists is a prerequisite to doing something about it.

    J.N.’s XTB story was a perfect example of bringing attention to what he thought to be unnecessary suffering. NOTE: Not Solving XTB, or Not Telling you the Story of XTB, it was to Bring Attention to its Existence, and it did. That’s what J.N. can do with his god-given talent and now it’s the work of people that will use this awareness to carry the torch to the next level. He can now go on and do more of what he does best with his god-given talent.

    There was testimony from people on the ground that images like Dima’s have been used for recruitment activities for people to drop their personal agendas and devote their time to a cause. Jim do you refute this benefit?

    Since I can’t think of any pattern of photojournalist making their fortune in exploiting suffering, more than likely just ‘existing’ from the activity, and more than likely ‘insolvent’ from the activity, I will always fail to see the linkage between classical photojournalism, the suffering, and the derogatory term you always use to Jim: ‘exploitation’.

  167. Johan, I don’t think I’ve ever said I was an “accomplished” photographer. Only that I’ve been doing it a long time. I’m a blue collar photographer, a newspaper shooter forever. Working for wages. All I’ve ever wanted to be. And I don’t think I represented myself in any other way here.

  168. Joe, I don’t question the primary work that Nachtwey does. I’ve read the stories that his photos have illustrated for many years. I do have problems with the secondary use of these photos, isolated on a wall at MOMA or in Coffey Table books.

    Some photographers actually plow the profits from photo sales or books back into the effort to help those photographed, and I applaud with that.

  169. JIM…JOHAN…

    i agree with you on this point Jim….it would be most relevant if in fact non-photographers were at least sometime readers of BURN….since Nachtwey’s name is being bounced around now, i will say that Jim has agreed to do an original assignment for BURN…new work produced specifically for BURN…he is not the only one….perhaps in depth articles and original photography on relevant issues may attract a wider audience….some of the writers here are professed non-photographers…if the ratio non-photographer writers is the same as photographer writers to our recorded readership, then we already have many non-photographer readers……however, i think we should always stay relatively boutique in nature…getting too big is my worst fear…

    i too have print as the ultimate use of photography…at the same time, i have seen the power of the net that reaches out in a way that print never did….i am sure you see BURN as some kind of exercise rather than an actual use of photography…i can see why you would think this way…however, as i travel around and meet young BURN readers, i am constantly surprised by the weight they give material on the net….and were we to publish one or more of your photographs here it would reach way more readers than you reach on your paper…and to an international community to boot….of course a print version of BURN has always been in the works…

    many photographers share financially and otherwise with the subjects they photograph…Magnum gave the largest percentage of profit(1 million dollars) of their 9-11 book to the New York Neediest fund to go towards aid of various kinds to families of the victims…hardly a week goes by in New York and elsewhere where there is not a print auction from legendary photographers who donate prints where the sale money goes to help whatever cause….

    thanks Johan, you are right on it…..

    cheers, david

  170. Johan Jaansen

    Choice of words Jim, take it or leave it. From where I stand, accomplished is defined as an acquired skill. If your forty years working in the game isn’t long enough to merit this definition, then there is still hope for amateur shooters like myself.


  171. Johan, I’ve shot a lot of photos. Those images don’t belong to me. And I’ve never been interested in ownership. Only shooting photos. (And, please, not another exchange on retaining copyright! ;) There are all kinds of ways to spend a lifetime. My dad worked in a refinery for 41 years. I think I’ve had a lot more fun!

  172. Pete Marovich


    Why are you surprised by “the weight they give material on the net?”

    I think the one of the hardest concepts for the “older” generation to get a handle on is that the net is the new world of print. Don’t get me wrong, I agree there is nothing like relaxing with a good photography book. And although I don’t do a lot of reading, I am not sure I would ever be interested in reading a book on a computer screen. It seems to cold and uninviting for a novel or such.

    But I think the net is becoming a wonderful place to view photographic work. And it may end up being the ultimate free advertisement for the photographer’s work to entice people to go seek out the printed version.

    Or did I misunderstand your point?

    Hope all is well and Jen and I will see you at Look!

  173. PETE…

    i do not think i was making a point….just an observation….of course, i realize the power of the net…after all, here i have been for the last couple of years….but, there is still an element of real surprise when i show up at a place like Ryerson Universtiy for example and quite literally meet the dozens of readers here who are hanging on your every word!!

    cheers, david

  174. “And it may end up being the ultimate free advertisement for the photographer’s work to entice people to go seek out the printed version.”………..more likely the net will be the means to the end and that is the wonderful part, my walls will be free to be walls

  175. The sad part is that everyone will think 72 dpi images on fuzzy, badly color corrected monitors is what “real” photos look like. I think that’s a huge loss for those who will only see these photos on their laptop.

  176. Kathleen Fonseca


    “The sad part is that everyone will think 72 dpi images on fuzzy, badly color corrected monitors is what “real” photos look like. I think that’s a huge loss for those who will only see these photos on their laptop.”

    Photos on the net are as real as photos held in the hand. They are as good or bad as photos printed well or poorly. The internet is far more accessible, does not eliminate museums, galleries, photobooks and probably stimulates appreciation for these outlets. The net has undoubtedly had a depressing effect on newsprint. But a newspaper image is certainly the physical equivalent of a 72dpi fuzzy print on the net. And the net’s a far more democratic outlet than any other, bar none.

    I find this statement from you very odd considering that you have been compulsively browsing the net and viewing photos on line since the early 90’s. If it was so unsatisfying to you why, um, well why do you still do it? And that’s a rhetorical question. I don’t need or want an answer which would only be more of the same. In fact, why oh why did i post this? i swore i wouldn’t…grr…i am guilty of the same “noise” mentioned above..ok, well, my name is Kathleen Fonseca and i am a “Jim” addict. Hi, Kathie, don’t worry, that’s why we’re all here. It’s not too late for your 3 month pin, just don’t get sucked in again, k? phew…said with some relief, ok..i won’t do it again, i promise!

    my best to Tyler County anyway


  177. Pete, it just seems that way in a forum filled with glass overflowing and filling a swimming pool kinda guys.

  178. Stoop you cant do this to me, I’m supposed to be getting an early night for a dawn shot, I won’t be able to sleep for laughing……

  179. Photos on the net are as real as photos held in the hand.

    Kat, not sure what you mean by real photo?!?!? But I myself am not so sure that the computer screen could be the only and last abode where a photo would achieve its worthiness as an object of artistic expression. There is something about prints and books that really brings out what photography is all about, and that a screen does not quite achieve. Somehow/sometimes for the soul to be engaged, the tactility of touching that object, or one’s singular presence in front of it, matters more than the swiftness of cyber delivery.

    I do not love screens but I love books is a shorter way to put it, and I think it’s a distinction that matters.

  180. Kathleen Fonseca


    i totally agree with you. But i have been able to view much more photography thanks to the computer than i could possibly have books in my house. i have more than i can accomodate as it is, plus art and photos all over my walls. i have to say that before i ever went on the internet i never bought a single piece of art or even an art book to tell you the shame-faced truth. And i was an art major for heaven´s sake. But the internet connected me with the most amazing work, stimulated my curiosity and ignited a passion for photography that i could not have believed possible. The internet has been my contact with a world of beauty and magic and mystery…a WORLD…not a country, not a city, not a coupla friends sharing prints, but a WORLD of creative photography. It offends me to hear someone sniff at the idea of a fuzzy 72dpi photo as being unspeakably inadequate. If the viewer has a fertile imagination and a curious intellect and an open mind, even a 72dpi fuzzy photo can evoke magic.

    my best to Hervette, the little minx

  181. I used to be recommended this web site by way of my cousin.
    I am now not positive whether this post is written via him
    as nobody else know such special approximately my trouble.
    You are incredible! Thanks!

    My homepage :: plastic surgery sydney [Willa]

Comments are closed.