Although war has been a sad but very real reality of life since nearly the beginning of time – albeit in different forms – the photography thereof is a relatively recent phenomenon. Although the camera was invented in 1816, it was only about a century later that they were used to capture the realities of war.
The First World War, starting in 1914, was the first time that photographers dared to peer into the violence that engulfed the world as they knew it. While this was a while before the psychological repercussions of war were discussed and understood, the photographs that were taken during this time depict unfathomable scenes.
Photographers were able to do what had never before been done by providing a glimpse into life on the frontlines. While soldiers had long been coming home from war to tell tales of violence and destruction, this was the first time that images were associated with the stories.
Merely Spectating or Getting Involved
Photographers who capture the realities of war on the frontlines and behind the scenes are frequently criticised for their role as spectators. It’s difficult to comprehend the idea that human beings are capturing such horrifying scenes and sad realities without becoming involved.
The argument, of course, is that the job is to spectate and observe – not because it is pleasurable, but because it allows one to capture snapshots of reality to share with the world. Often, these photographs become a tool to be used to open the eyes of people around the world to understanding the realities of violence and war. It gives outsiders the opportunity to see past what they are told by the powers that be.
The Fine Line Between Being a Voyeur and Working for a Worthy Cause
Photographers face a conundrum that plays on basic human instincts – to get involved and helps subjects who become victims, or to not insert themselves into the situation and remain outsiders capturing the scenes from behind the lens. It’s an impossible situation, and one that is incredibly emotionally taxing.
Even if you’re doing it for the greater good – taking photos of devastating situations to share with the world and spread awareness – witnessing violence of any type is taxing and difficult for the human psyche. The other option is to become involved and help where possible, but one does this at the risk of forgoing a photo opportunity (one that may have been powerful and influential), putting oneself in danger and potentially not being able to very much.
Capturing Reality Without Causing Harm
For many, the psychological toll of this balancing act is one they choose to live with – a burden one bears in exchange for an opportunity to share photographs with the world. The need to capture the truth can be balanced by activities that aid in relaxation such as Australian online bingo, but the psychological impact of the exposure to violence may require a bit more intensive counselling too. Indeed, the notion to live by tends to be that one can observe and capture reality as long as one adds no further harm and doesn’t exploit the subjects.
Thus, to be a photojournalist in violent contexts is to deal with this balancing act every day, monitoring one’s emotional response and ensuring that one’s work is ethical.