¿Qvo vadis war journalism?
“Right now, freelancers are the Easter Bunny or the Golden egg for the Islamic State”
War and war reporters: an issue that we all should think about. “Media war” is disappearing, and at the same time, our eager comrades are missing in all the frontlines around the world.
Every photojournalist and journalist, mostly freelancers, has to consider the current situation. Why do we go to the frontline? And why do we go without a tiny protection, preparation or knowledge?
Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Ukraine…and a lot of dangerous frontlines around the world are covered by freelances, mainly youngsters, only armed with their cameras, some memory cards, may be a personal computer and a crazy amount of wit. We are all launched over a gripping world with a tighter budget and a “moleskin” with a handful list of media and Agency contacts. We have no more than our eagerness and all we search for new halcyon days for our work and for us. But…what are we searching for?
Just a few comrades talk about this question. Just we know the kind of things that led us to the frontline. We all have a wish…but no one talks about it. We put at risk our lives. It is our rule and it is our responsibility, but, so far, when we are distressingly touch by Jim Foley behead, we must think of what else we jeopardize.
As our mate Sebastian Junger said to Ed Caesar interview, "I watched myself grieve and I watched the impact on everyone else… I just realized, on a very profound level, I didn't want to ever risk being the cause of that kind of storm among the people that I love.” We need to think far away from us; far away from ourselves…we have to keep in mind our beloved people, and those unknown people whose lives are put at risk when we are lost, kidnapped or simply killed far away from home.
Why do we go to war? My answer is because we have our needs. We need emotion, danger, and we need to know that we could be having a place in the World. We want to see our names printed over a new, or under a really great shot in the cover of one of the main World Newspapers. I know, we have a wish too. We wish to make outstanding things with our lives. We wish to speak about the World, this crazy World, where we are living in. And finally, we need to know that we are making things to change it. But none of this is subtracted from hedonism or pride. We take photos and write texts to show others the World "reality" through our images or words. But…what is this fucking "reality"? or as it is for real? It should also reflect on this highly subjective concept. We live inside a World full of lack of objectivity, lack of prudence, but above all lack of humility.
“If we all will send to Hell all the fucked Media and Agencies who are searching for our inexpensive work, may be, they need to stop working on the march and they pay the real cost of our pictures and stories.”
Nevertheless, the fact is that wars have changed. We have on mind Capa, Taro, Hemingway, McCullin and other famous war photographers and journalists. But their wars are not our wars. Right now war has no rules. Insurgents, terrorists or Warlords are in command on dirty conflicts where a Press card is not enough to save our lives. As Scott Anderson said, after Bosnian war, “…Taping 'Press' or 'TV' to your car was like putting a bull's-eye on it". Nowadays, tap ‘Press’ on your helmet or over your chest could be meaning your death sentence.
A Syrian refugee behind the fence of Jarabulus border (C) Czuko Williams 2012
Right now, freelancers are the Easter Bunny or a Golden egg for the Islamic State, separatist pro-Russian militia, Kiev fascists or crazy Boko Haram warriors. We look like a gold mountain for them. And we are alone, because many of us don’t have a Media or an Agency who searches for us, who keeps an eye on us when we are working hard behind the fence. Many want our pictures, look for our chronicle and pay a mean fistful of pounds, dollars or Euros for a great work well made, sometimes, with our own blood. They want only our work, but they have no relationship with us. They don’t want to know anything about us. Zero problems. No way. We are completely alone. No phone number to call. Nobody to contact. We have only a cold e-mail, a web account or FTP to send our work or to say “Ok. I’m working yet!”
“We need to think who are killing our work. Are they? Or…are we following nonsense wishes? The market works following a rule: supply and demand.”
We are at risk, but…who put ourselves at risk? Truly, we put ourselves at risk because we are “wishing” a war where we can put in action all our skills. We are searching for a new way for our lives, although we can lose our lives through this search or following this wish.
It is not an easy matter. Is not a pleasing question, but we need to put it on the table and we must speak honestly about it because we are risking all we have. We must reclaim the paid for our work too. Whether markets put a ridiculous rate for our shots or our chronicles, maybe we must say “Good bye old man” and search for a better market. If we all will send to Hell all the fucked Media and Agencies who are searching for our inexpensive work, may be, they need to stop working on the march and they pay the real cost of our pictures and stories. Not only have the 20th pounds of a shot, but also all the rate of our war covered: travels, hotels and mainly fixers, security and insurances. All we need to survive.
We need to think who are killing our work. Are they? Or…are we following nonsense wishes? The market works following a rule: supply and demand. It is a crazy world, I know…but we have the chance to change it. If they have demand, they need a supply, and if we supplied them with a cheap but a high quality work, they will take it paying no attention about other expensive offer. We need to stop this crazy way. They should have not more cheap and quality work from us, and we would request for a top one rates for our shots.
Like Sebastian Junger said, “…we are ‘plankton’ in the food chain of the news business”, but it is time to stop and think. It is time to wait and see. It is time to be realistic and fair, because with our manner, we are putting at risk more people. Not only our loved people. We put at risk all those youngsters who are taking a camera and going to the frontline wishing a lot of money and a cover on an International media. Of course, we were this kind of kid years ago, but right now, we need to think about the aftermaths. We need to think in Jim and all our fall comrades and we need to say that these nowadays wars are not those past wars. People need to know and have the right to know too, and we, like journalists, have to work so hard to give truth to them. But we need to work safe and knowing that someone is waiting for us (not only for our work) so far away of the frontline.
“If we supplied them with a cheap but a high quality work, they will take it paying no attention about other expensive offers. We need to stop this crazy way. They should have not more cheap and quality work from us, and we would request for a top one rates for our shots.”
Finally, we could remember Sebastian Junger words after Tim Hetherington was killed by shrapnel in Misrata: "This is going to sound old-fashioned, but I feel like on some level a man's job is to protect the people he loves. Risking your life is not protecting them - it's exposing them to danger, emotional danger. And that's not what a man does. There's a point where you have to start putting other people first, and doing something that might give them a lifetime of grief is not putting them first. It looks like you're gambling with your life, but you're actually gambling with their lives, emotionally speaking. That's not what a man does, and it was time to start acting like a man in that sense."
Main source for Ed Caesar work: “Shooting the messengers”, http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2013-07/09/war-reporting/viewall