Veteran photojournalist talks about going into hotspots

Photojournalist Ron Haviv

Photojournalist Ron Haviv

“The entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL,” President Barack Obama said on Wednesday. “He reported from difficult and dangerous places, bearing witness to the lives of people a world away.”

Around the time of the speech, I was discussing the impact of honest photographic reporting on an Associated Press Photo Managers’ online panel. One the many takeaways from the panel: The role of the photojournalist is often misunderstood. These women and men see themselves as the eyes and ears of the community. One just needs to ponder the disconcerting experience of seeing this focused group of individuals who rush to the epicenter of drama and trauma while others flee for safety.

Take Ron Haviv, co-owner of VII Photo, whom I spoke with this week. He has been taken hostage three times.

He said contrary to popular opinions, all photographers covering conflict zones are not adrenaline junkies solely out to make a name for themselves.

“I say this out of experience,” Haviv said. “To some degree, going back to the war in Yugoslavia, more magazines and agencies are hesitant to put you on full assignment because the responsibility for your safety is become so great.”

“In the case of Syria it is all across the board. Some places are refusing to take work from freelancers in order to discourage them from taking such risks, some places will not look at your work until you are safely out of that region and then there are places like the GlobalPost, they will take your work and do what they can to support you, like they did for James,” referring to Foley.

No doubt the risk appears to be greater than the reward for the photojournalist, which is why Haviv and others now strongly encourage journalists be required to complete some sort of hostile environment training course or preparation.

“Seeing amazing things, and witnessing historical times and seeing the impact on different human situations is why I did what I did” for the first five years of covering conflict areas, said Haviv, who said he has documented three genocides.

Now, he said, it is about “raising awareness, moving people to action” and creating a “body of evidence” to hold people accountable.

“Through the work of credible journalists, the world is witnessing this live,” he said, “not allowing the excuse, ‘we did not know.’”

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  • Thomas Morley

    We all go in to this job wishing to create awareness, tell the real story, risk our lives etc but the reality is very different. Mass media does not want the truth or is interested in photojournalism. The quality of pictures and video these day is, quite frankly dreadful and the media has no interest in in looking at the reality of a situation and investigating.
    It is terrible the death of James, but it is the choice you make when you go to these places. Sadly many Iraqi people have been beheaded Christian, Muslim etc over the last 12 years but it would seem to many people in the mass media and the political world, this does not matter until we create a situation that is needed to give us an excuse to go back to war. I only hope the US and the UK do not use his death to justify more war. When my friend Roddy Scott was killed in north Georgia by the Russians, no one cared nothing was said but now James is being used because of oil power and control by the west. The US and her allies created this situation and this discontent, they are directly responsible for his death weather he risked to be there or not. Remember the story should never be about the journalist it is about the people and the situation. Its why you are there your name is irrelevant.