Crixeo: Conflict Photography


How Do Conflict Photographers & Photojournalists Cope with Trauma?

A photographer does more than capture images. With their lens, they are to capture truth, tell a story and share a message with the world. However, the message audiences have received have often been the one chosen by the editors that decide to publish them. In some cases, specific photos may be deemed too graphic or violent to merit publication, but that decision rests solely in the hands of the gatekeepers each photographer must contend with. Of course, all publications have different standards as to what those boundaries are.

For instance, in 2012, the New York Post chose to publish an image of a 58-year-old man named Ki-Suck Han on their front page. The man had been pushed onto the subway tracks moments before an oncoming train struck and killed him. The photographer who captured this haunting image was a freelancer for the Post at the time, a man by the name of Umar Abbasi. Immediately, the public began to cry out: Why hadn’t he put down the camera to help the man on the tracks? Even mainstream organizations and prominent figures such as Anderson Cooper and Al Rokerquestioned Abbasi’s instincts. Why hadn’t he done something to save this man? Abbasi replied, “I couldn’t do anything. I responded as a photographer.”

Similarly, when Robert Carter was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his now-infamous photograph of a starving child in the Sudan being stalked by a vulture, there was public outcry: Why hadn’t he helped the girl? Carter had eventually chased the bird away, but he’d spent some 20 minutes photographing the situation in order to get the best shot possible. He didn’t know what happened to the child. Regardless, it was such a stunning photograph that it was published by the New York Times in March of 1993 and sparked a newfound interest in the famine occurring in that part of the world. Yet in their disgust toward the girl’s condition, it seemed that the public had turned on Carter himself, as if he could have done anything to stop or prevent such events from taking place. It seemed that the public was very much unaware of the role of a photojournalist, or even their mind-set.