What makes a reportage photo a good one? Is it mandatory for the photographer to risk his life in order to produce a great conflict photo reportage?
Very difficult question, not only because war is something which no one could understand until you find yourself in the middle of it, or at least until you see it. But also because every war is different, as every person is different. Maybe, if I was reporting that conflict I would have found different angles, different points of view, which could have been more dangerous than the ones Burrows chose, or much less dangerous but not less effective. Sometimes when you watch a movie or you see a picture on a particular topic you think that there wouldn’t be any other better way to do it, as the author really nailed the subject and gave it expression in its best possible way. But war is not like that, it would never be as there are too many factors, situations, people, feelings, prospectives involved. There will always be another way to show it, but no one knows which one would be the best or the less dangerous.
The question remains without an answer because of that, but deep inside of themselves, the ones who aim to become good reporters like to think that they don’t actually need to risk their lives in order to produce something which will become a piece of history, or which at least is going to rise some reflections. Or maybe they actually take the risk as a part of it and go with it toward the great adventure which is the job they have chosen to do. Probably both, as there are still very good conflict reporters today, and there will probably be in the future as war will always be a part of human beings’ lives.
Larry Burrows, for example, was the photo reporter who showed the Vietnam conflict to the world, by publishing his pictures in LIFE magazine in the 60s, before the war was even finished.
But also David Burnett, who told the world about the revolution in Iran in the 70s, when the Scia was replaced with Ayatollah Khomeyni after a very violent civil war which brought him back to the country as president, and which signed the beginning of a much more fundamentalist Islamic government in the country.
These images so speak for themselves and abut the issues and situations they portray in an incredibly effective way, and that made me think one more time about the importance of visuals over words. I love writing and I strongly believe in the power of written words, which have been able to make and brake not only the history in the course of the epochs, but so many hearts as well… But knowing that, I’ve recently been shocked realizing how strong and incredibly moving a picture can be. Some of them would make you laugh or cry at a single gaze, even in the very first second you look at them, without even needing to get closer to read or find out more. Has it even happen to you to be walking in a photographic exhibition and suddenly spot one picture from the opposite side of the room and just go straight to it as the picture itself was calling you for attention? And all of this in the course of what, three seconds? Three seconds needed to find yourself in front of the picture which keeps on screaming to you the more you look at it, understanding what is it about and spotting the various details, each one of which tells you something more and gives you a different feeling.
As I said, is this type of power which amaze me about photography and visual in general. Of course, it’s very subjective, as what I find moving and communicative could be completely silent and plain for someone else, just as a garment which I find beautiful as a piece of art could be useless and ridiculous for someone else… But still, I do believe that in some cases the value of a piece of art, which could be a garment, a painting or a photo, as in this case, is simply undeniable. Maybe it won’t tell the same to everyone, but everyone would be able to recognize its value as it’s simply too good to be denied.
Patrick Brown is another reporter who I am particularly interested about: he is based in Thailand since 1999 and he is currently working on a book about the pan -Asian trafficking of endangered wildlife, a journey from the jungles of Assam to the brothels of Ho Chi Minh. In 2003 he was nominated for the Worldpress Joop Swart Masterclass in Amsterdam. He is something completely different from many other reporters from his generation. He doesn’t report a war. He probably doesn’t risk his life apart from some kind of exotic food poison or eventual tropical fever. He is still alive and working at his projects, traveling around the world. But despite lacking the sudden action of many other photographs shot by people who lived inside of a conflict and were there to catch that particular moment that everyone was going to remember about that war, that social issue, that time period, I find his pictures incredibly communicative and brilliant. Maybe because even if it’s not the war the topic he deals with, it’s still very moving and controversial as he is focused on issues such as animal treatment and gender diversity.
Maybe because he represents them in a way that makes us consider not only the point of view which an activist could have, but also the one that the people who are actually responsible of such actions against animals would use as an excuse, or maybe just as their natural way of thinking about these creatures, which they use as a source of revenue in the exact same way we eat these chickens which have been trapped for all their brief life and cruelly murdered to become fried wings: they are just amazingly beautiful pictures. Some of them carrying a more explicit meaning, some other ones looking a little awkward when you first gaze at them, but which then becomes very clear in what they want to communicate, almost generating a smile in the viewer’s face for how brilliantly sarcastic but yet effective they happen to be… His pictures, even if picked singularly are all able tell a story. Sometimes, they are even able to generate a even wider plot in your mind, as they really are a chronicle or his journey to discover and defend the rights of these animals, but also to understand the cultural reasons which bring some people to use them in that way which would be considered unacceptable by the most in the Western World. Maybe, they could be also considered as a provocation because of that.
A very thin way to denounce the hypocrisy of the Western countries which are always up to denounce the treatment reserved to many exotic animals but which are also pursuing some of the most cruel forms of torture to many other species in their own territories, every day. Anyway, looking at that elephant crossing the waters in order to bring someone toward a mysterious horizon we know nothing about but yet we would like to discover made me remember why I chose to study this and why I’d like it to become my job one day…
Sometimes your imagination can go further than your eye, but you surely need a starting point for that, to build your story on. And now I’m sure, there is nothing better than a picture for that.