What makes you a photojournalist?

Think of a car crash. Smoke billowing, sirens flashing, pebbled-sized pieces of glass surrounding the twisted metal of the vehicle.

 

Now, imagine what is happening 300 metres away from that crash scene. Likely nothing, right? Should that be photographed as well?

 

This is a simplified example of an argument photojournalists have come up against throughout history.

 

Ask any photojournalist working in conflict or hot zones around the world and they can likely recall a time they have been questioned as to why there?

 

Why did you take a photo of a man in Tiananmen Square when a few blocks away it was peaceful? Are you trying to destroy the image of this country?

 

Was photojournalist Jeff Widener being subjective by capturing the image? Would capturing the calm a block away make him objective?

 

Great images transcend time, place and context. The Tank Man captured a moment in Tiananmen Square. However, it also represents a timeless battle: man against oppression.

 

This play [Chimerica] ponders the current need for photojournalists. The average person is a thumb-tap away from capturing history on their smartphone.

 

"Chimerica" preformed at RMTC in Winnipeg
“Chimerica” preformed at RMTC in Winnipeg

 

Think of the car crash. Investigators would speak to witnesses about what they saw. Does this make the witness a journalist? No.

 

Would a witness who took a photo of that crash scene be considered a photojournalist? The answer is also, no.

 

The witness has no obligation to ensure the image and its context are accurate. The photojournalist has that duty, both ethically and legally.

 

Photojournalism is just as impactful as it was 20 years ago.

 

The war in Syria has been raging since 2011. Refugees have been fleeing for that amount of time, many drowning in their attempt to escape.

 

What — in 2015 — sparked the sudden desire for Canada to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees? Nilüfer Demir, a Turkish photojournalist snapped an image you’ve likely seen. The body of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach. He had drown. The family was attempting to seek refuge in Canada.

 

The image was a catalyst, igniting public fury from coast to coast which demanded action.

 

That may not have occurred if the photojournalist was trying to be “objective” by taking a photo 300 metres down the beach.

-Grant McDonald, In-Country Program Manager, South Sudan


 

Journalists for Human Rights is proudly partnering with Canadian Stage for their upcoming performance of Chimerica, running March 29 – April 17 in Toronto.

 

Chimerica tells the fictional story of a photojournalist’s search for the identity of the iconic Tank Man, whose act of defiance shaped both his life and the trajectory of modern China. The play explores themes including East vs. West, censorship, pollution, and economic revolution in China in the wake of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.

 

Set against the 2012 American elections, Lucy Kirkwood’s play examines the changing fortunes of two countries, their tied fates, and the fates of all caught in between.

 

Are you in Toronto? Join JHR for a pre-show chat on April 15th! Tickets can be purchased here

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