|Written by Michael David Murphy|
|21 Jan 2010|
Last week’s crisis in Haiti has yielded a significant response from photographers and editors in the photojournalism community. Photographers were sent to Haiti on assignment, and others left for the Carribean on spec to document the devastation and help tell the tragic story.
In looking at the various outlets for imagery from Haiti, I’m wondering if there might be a new way that photojournalism could capture a story of this magnitude, and if the current, traditional way in which multiple media outlets send multiple photographers to places of crisis has preventable pitfalls of its own.
Currently (from what I can tell) regardless of their media outlet (the New York Times, AFP, Reuters, CNN), many of the photographers (with few exceptions) are taking very similar pictures. There’s an unbelievable amount of redundancy, which, in the end, means the entire story isn’t being told.
Sure, there’s clearly an unbelievable amount of devestation and destruction to “cover”, which is why the photographs tend to look the same. But why couldn’t these media outlets band together to paint a wider, deeper, more involved picture of what’s really happening in Haiti?
Are conflict photographers, or the kinds of photographers who are on the first flights into situations like Haiti, more experienced in reacting to quickly evolving events, rather than telling a story that spans a sequence of pictures? It looks like everyone’s running around trying to photograph the next iconic image that will win a World Press Photo award, rather than trying to visually tell the stories of the Haitian people.
Some “Palace Gates Helicopter Redundancy” from Reuters and AP:
© AP, Ricardo Arduengo
© AP, Gregory Bull
© Reuters, Carlos Barria
© Reuters, Bianca Marin
Why don’t media outlets join forces to divide and conquer the enormity of a situation like Haiti’s? Media outlets could assign individual photographers to follow one aspect of the Haiti story, and the story could be published by all participating outlets. An editor could send a photographer to cover one or a few of these:
* Hospitals: existing and mobile
* Infrastructure: destruction, rebuilding, and homespun improvisations
* Utilities: the effort to restore power, water, sewer
* Burials: cemeteries and mass graves
* Architecture: visual analysis of loss of historic sites and improvised temporary structures
* Orphans: the newly orphaned, and survivors at orphanages
* Law enforcement: the struggle of a decimated police force in its attempts to establish security/safety
* The full story of one particular building; covering the families affected, the rescuers, the role of that building within the community, pre-quake and post-quake
* The global response: up-close and personal photo stories with specialised teams; doctors, firefighters, K-9 rescue units, etc…
* A community where a family with more resources is helping their less fortunate neighbors
We’re beginning to see some of these specific assignments. Damon Winter, who’s taken some striking single images, just published a longer essay on the Port-au-Prince prison. Perhaps it’s just the nature of an unfolding disaster that the first pictures tend to be more sensational, reactionary, and less about telling a story. This week, The Times embedded a videographer aboard the USN Comfort, which will be very interesting. And it’s taken a week, but the Times is finally starting to branch-out and develop some of these specific stories here.
I would have liked to have seen a story following a single family through the first week’s quake aftermath. Where’s that story? Do photographers leave those more in-depth pieces to writers (Jon Anderson’s short interview brought the scene alive for me in a way that photographs have not) in favour of more action-shots of survivors wrestling over what’s been left in a collapsed store?
Ron Haviv, a seasoned photographer of desperate situations, intimates that photographers are working on video pieces. Perhaps these pieces take more time to develop, produce, and deliver.
“The way our mind works and the way that we remember things, I think, will ensure that still photography will be a powerful tool of communication. It’s just a matter of finding the balance.”
A few more quick examples of photographic duplication and redundancy in Haiti:
© Chris Hondros, New York Times
© Jonathan Torgovnik/ Reportage for CNN
© AFP, Olivier Laban Mattei
If the global community truly cares about Haiti, its people, and the country’s future, shouldn’t we be telling a deeper story than flooding the wires with pictures of looting, scrambling, fighting, and begging?
I’ve never photographed a dead body, and I’ve never photographed conflict. But as a consumer of imagery, and as someone with a keen interest in how photographers represent the world around them, one can’t help but notice that there’s something missing in all of this coverage.
I’d love to hear how I’m wrong. Here are some truly unique views that stopped me and seemed to show a way forward, illuminating what appeared to be small, complex truths about Haiti, its people, and this crisis.
Damon Winter inside a building where quake survivors are taking goods.
© Damon Winter/The New York Times
Chris Hondros, outside the US Embassy
© Chris Hondros/ Getty Images
And Damon Winter again, early in the week, outside the Palace gates:
© Damon Winter/The New York Times
If there’s an iconic photograph from the disaster, it might belong to Daniel Morel, a Haitian photographer who lived through the earthquake, and was on-the-ground during the most desperate moments. It seems fitting that this image, made by a Haitian who’s been documenting his country for the last 25 years, has been so widely published.
© Daniel Morel/ Corbis