Reinventing photojournalism — but watch out for the guys with the guns

Photographer Ron Haviv has worked in more than 100 countries and covered more than 25 wars or violent conflicts, so when he tells you that photojournalism is being reinvented by the day, it’s a muddy-boots view from the field.

He’ll be one of several world-renowned photographers and editors in town Saturday and Sunday to discuss “Reinventing Photojournalism” in workshops sponsored by National Public Radio (the events are at their studios), the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the photo agency Haviv helped found, VII. The workshops and evening discussions will feature several prominent names — Gary Knight and John Stanmeyer of VII; Whitney Johnson, director of photography for the New Yorker; Keith Jenkins, director of photography for National Geographic Digital — about the ways technology has reshaped how news is presented.

Here’s one short story that illustrates the point:


Haviv’s shot from Bosnia  in 1992 shows paramilitaries executing civilians. (Ron Haviv)

When Haviv was covering the Balkan War, he took a series of photographs of pro-Serbian paramilitaries, Arkan’s Tigers, killing Muslim civilians in Bijeljina, a tiny town in Bosnia. It was March 31, 1992. The main photograph showed a young soldier, sunglasses propped on his head, cigarette delicately held aloft in his left hand, kicking the body of an elderly woman, one of three victims they’d just shot. Blood is on the pavement.

Haviv shipped the film back to the States — it would be several days before the pictures would be seen anywhere, much less in remote provinces of war zones — and went back to work among the paramilitaries. They had no idea Haviv had taken the photograph.

“I was able to go back for two or three days before [the pictures] ran… You could ship your film off, and the guys at the checkpoint were never going to see it.”

When published in Time Magazine, the photographs set off a worldwide clamor. The group’s leader was later indicted for war crimes (and, eventually, assassinated).

Today, Haviv says, any photographer can post any photo in less than a minute, and news of such atrocities can rocket around the world, possibly saving lives and altering events on the ground. But should photographers in the field do that, particularly in violent situations?

“If I shot that now and put the pictures up on Instagram, by the time I would have gotten back to headquarters, they would have killed me… now, if you post something, the guys at the checkpoint can just pull out their smartphones and see what you’re doing.”

It’s a peril of the expanding audience — on paper, a good thing. On the ground, maybe not so much.

Neely Tucker is a staff writer in the Sunday Magazine. He has reported from more than 50 countries around the world and from two dozen of these United States.
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