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Photojournalism Affects the World

Aired May 23, 2009 - 13:00:00   ET


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, HOST: Unsettling set of pictures taken in some of the world's most troubled countries with a quite natural desire for their work to tell their stories, reportage photographers are an often unheard of section of the international media scene. Yet their work has often changed the nature of world events, how wars, famine, people are perceived.

In this program, we'll look at the work of some of the world's greatest living photographers.


FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Guests flock to a fashionable gallery in New York's meat packing district. On show are a series of pictures from eight of the world's trouble spots. They form part of an exhibition put on by the International Committee of the Red Cross as part of a campaign to mark it's 150th anniversary.

ANNA NELSON, CRC: We chose a geographic mix to be able to really be representative around the world, but also different situations. Liberia, for example, is a post conflict situation. And we really wanted to show the reality of armed conflict on civilians. What does it do to their day to day lives and to the rest of their lives? What is the legacy of war?

SWEENEY: The decision to use photography to mark the anniversary was taken for various reasons.

NELSON: It's no accident that we chose to do this through photography. In fact, photography came about at around the same time as the idea of the Red Cross was born. And I think we really wanted something that would be enduring, that would be able to go around the world. It's going to be in at least 40 countries and be something that people can reflect upon. It's not just a fleeting image. And a lot of the images are hard. They're difficult to look at to the extent at least that I find - you find someone staring back at you. You find yourself looking. I think it's a reflective experience. And I think that's something that we very much wanted. We wanted this to be something that would be able to last, and that people would be able to reflect on.

SWEENEY: For the campaign, the ICRC enlisted the help of the Seven photo agency. It was to some extent a meeting of minds.

STEPHEN MAYES, CEO: The philosophy behind Seven is really very simple. It's one of self determination. And it's - as a photographer, one is really at the beck and call of one's clients. And there as a feeling that if they were able to band together just enough of them to gather some sort of weight as a group, but not too many that they would trip over themselves and be unable to make decisions. They would have some control over their livelihoods. And this indeed has happened. So it is ideologically driven. The idea is that they find stories that they're really committed to, which will try and, you know, they will try and make a difference in their activities.

And that's what's Seven is all about. And that's what it was established to do and what it has been doing for the last eight or so years.

SWEENEY: One of the highlights of the exhibition was a series of pictures taken in Afghanistan and the Philippines by the multi award winning James Mactue (ph), a mixture of journalists, artists, and philosopher.

JAMES NACHTWEY: It seems like quite often the worst things happened in the most beautiful places. Afghanistan is one of the most beautiful countries I've ever seen and some of the most terrible things happen there.

It was in an environment where color really little meaning. It was kind of dark lighting. And there wasn't much that color could say about it. So I thought that I could distill the essence of what was going on better by abstracting it into black and white.

SWEENEY: A veteran of conflicts around the world, we wanted to know what had drawn him towards a career as a war photographer.

NACHTWEY: I wanted to be a war photographer from the beginning because I was very influenced by the work of the photographers in the Vietnam War because it had such an impact on people's consciousness about the war. And you know, that's what I wanted to do. I saw that it had real social value. And most photographers I thought were not only recording history, they were actually helping change the course of history.

I think once you've experienced war, you understand what it is. It's death and destruction and cruelty. And anything that shows the true face of war is almost by definition an anti-war photograph.

SWEENEY: Self effacing and modest, he sets himself and his work, challenging goals.

NACHTWEY: I'm trying to show people situations that they need to understand. I'm trying to show decision makers, things they need to understand. I'm trying to hold decision makers accountable for their policies, create a kind of constituency in which change becomes inevitable. It's hard to say that in anything I've done all by itself has made something happen. I think I'm only one member of the press and that I only make one contribution. And other people make their contributions. And all of us together create awareness and create the conditions in which change becomes possible.


SWEENEY: We're heading for a break now, but when we return, we hear from a Pulitzer prize winner as we look at some truly astonishing images captured in Haiti.


TIME STAMP: 2308:49

SWEENEY: The aftermath of hurricane season in Haiti. A series of storms in the country last year claimed 800 lives and left a million people homeless. "Miami Herald" photographer Patrick Farrell flew into this chaos, and create a harrowing photographic essay for which he's just been given journalism's highest award, the Pulitzer Prize.

I turned to technology to catch up with Patrick at his home in the U.S. and started by asking him about his reaction to winning.


PATRICK FARRELL: Haiti is our neighbor here in our community. We've got quite a few Haitians living here in Miami. So it's an important story for us. This is a country that already deals with such great pain and poverty and to compound it by these four storms that came through last fall is just hard to comprehend. So to win an award for that, it's bitter sweet.

SWEENEY: May I just turn my attention to the photos now? And the first one is the man holding hid dead child?

FARRELL: That is a man named Franz Amiti who's holding his daughter Tamasha Jean. Excuse me. And that's the morning after Hurricane Ike. We hiked our way up to this town because we heard rumors that there was devastation. When we got there, there were bodies of people, just on the corners of the streets where people had rescued them. And this man Franz Amiti pushed his way through the crowd that was gathered around and picked up his baby and started to sponge her off with water that he brought. And he was trying to dignify her. You know, he wanted to put an nice dress on her before the coroner came and carried her away. I just happened to be there, photographed it. And you know, I'm not too sure how I photographed it because it was kind of an out of body experience.

SWEENEY: And do people mind you taking photos?

FARRELL: No, not at all. This gentleman actually was saying to me in broken English to take his photo. The phrase he was using was give me a picture. I think he said give me a picture and that was just his broken English way of saying make a picture of me, please. You know, he wanted to, for whatever reason, preserve this moment, you know, this final good- bye with his daughter.

SWEENEY: It's a very, very striking picture. The next photo is very grim of little children that.

FARRELL: Yeah, yeah, that's the same scene. You know, there were several scenes in Caberet (ph) where there was bodies in corners. But this was the scene that just was so overwhelming, so unbelievable.

SWEENEY: I mean, you're still clearly very upset by it understandably.

FARRELL: I find it hard to look at them. I don't know what it is. I think it's the pain of a parent losing a child that just really I can't get over it, you know.

SWEENEY: I mean, what goes through your mind when you find stories about these and you photograph them?

FARRELL: You just, you don't understand how it can happen. This kind of misery can be put upon people day in and day out and then compounded with these storms. It's hard to understand.


SWEENEY: Haiti was also the focus of one of photographer Ron Haviv's trips this year. He went there to gather images for the International Committee of the Red Cross' exhibition that we saw earlier in the program.


RON HAVIV: Well, Haiti hits me in a number of different ways. One it's incredibly close to the United States. Two, it's the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. But most importantly, it's the Haitian people themselves and what it's like in Haiti. The sort of the -- this assault on the senses when you arrive in Haiti with color and energy and life, and then when you start to understand what they're going through, how difficult their life has been, the dictatorships, the coups, the back to a democracy, and then losing that, and then invasions. And all the time really never really being able to sort of get even a handout to start to like improve their life.

This woman, she was in city Soleil. Very, very poor. It was where the gang violence was super, super strong, and was also one of the rock beds of support for Aristede in the 1990s. So there was always a lot of political repercussions, a lot of killing there. And this woman who is 83 years old has been shot three times on three separate occasions, losing her breast, being shot in the stomach, living in a tin shack, very incredibly, incredibly difficult life that this woman has led. And unfortunately, it's incredibly typical of many people in Haiti.

SWEENEY: Haviv also traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo for the exhibition.

HAVIV: The world today, everybody from Rwanda, to Haiti, to Congo, to the United States, everybody understands a camera and what that represents. So when we show up somewhere, and you raise a camera to photograph someone, my experience is they understand what that means. Their situations are being caused through politics. They understand the role of the media and feel and are sometimes probably feel too much that the media can tell their story more to affect things for the better.

I found really throughout my career, people are very sophisticated in that. And even in moments, an incredible personal grief of say like a funeral or something where'd you expect to be told as photographer please leave us alone, we want our privacy, in moments where people have died in conflict, I have been physically dragged by the family into the room and told please photograph my son, please photograph my daughter. They - I want them not to have died in vain. I want their death to be recorded. I want people to see it. So we as photographers, we are viewed as being representative of the world. It's not relevant if we're working for "TIME" or "The New York Times" or the BBC, whatever, it's just someone with a camera means that the world is going to see what happened to us. And hopefully, things can come about it, come about it for a better way.

Well, I think for the photographs to be successful, you need to have an emotional connection as a photographer with the people that you're photographing in order for that to come across the viewer.

But you have to find that balance that you don't become too emotional to a point where you can't take photographs. So it took me a while in my career to find that. And once I did, I was able to sort of, I hope, be able to photograph these people with an emotion and with concern for their lives and for the content and using the aesthetics of photography to then bring that to the viewer, so they could feel the same sort of feeling that I did. And if they do, the viewer does feel that, then I think the photograph is successful.

We're all products of our experiences. So when people often ask me are you changed because of what you saw here and there? This is, well, you know, it's something I went through. I'm taking a part of it with me. And it's making me who I am and making my ability to take photographs in this way or that way.

They're really amazingly difficult decisions to make in such a short period of time of when to step in, when to photograph, when to do this or that. And they're really - there was no real - there's no real answer. It's a completely personal choice that each photographer has to make. And sometimes maybe you made the wrong decision.

There have been numerous times where we put the camera down and we stepped in stopped somebody from being executed or beaten up. We've taken people to the hospital. We've bandaged people up. We've done all sorts of things. It just also depends on the situation. If a shell lands in the middle of a crowd, and you're the only one there, I would say for myself, I would, you know, wouldn't be shooting and I'd be trying to help people. But if there are other people there to help, well, then my job is there to document it. But that's, you know, making that decision on the fly. And it's really everybody's choice. So I mean, hopefully, you try to make decisions that you can live with and decisions that benefit the people that you're photographing.


SWEENEY: Time for another break now. When we return, we stay with photography and switch our focus onto the Middle East.


SWEENEY: Images of conflict in the Middle East have filled newspapers for years. Often controversial, the work of photographers has been invaluable in helping to record one of history's most (INAUDIBLE) disputes.

For the last 30 years, the photographer Judah Passow has been chronicling the hardship felt by people on both sides. He's now gathered these pictures together to create a book filled with stunning and at times shocking images.

We invited him in to talk about Shattered Dreams," his book which was published earlier this year. I wanted to know why he'd chosen to photograph so extensively the land where he's from.


JUDAH PASSOW: I've always regarded the photographs that I take in Israel as a very personal journey across the emotional landscape of the country in which I was born. It's a way for me to explore certain very vexing questions about my own history, the history of my people, and the history of the region.

SWEENEY: A lot of his photographs concentrate on the themes of the lack of childhood and the loss of innocence.

PASSOW: These are children who have little childhood. These are the kinds of scenarios that they see unfolding on street corners. When they get home to play, this was what they play. These are not games that will do anything to leave fond memories of growing up. All this kind of play does is harden you.

This photograph is about juxtaposing the innocence of childhood with the raw brutality of the reality of the little girl's life. The fairy tale dress that she's wearing is that innocence of childhood, but the backdrop to this fairy tale existence is the raw brutality, the raw reality of the brutal kind of life that she lives.

It's not that she doesn't know it's there, but she has her back to it. And that's the key to her survival. This is another one of these photographs about a lost childhood because this toddler is crawling by this Israeli soldier. And the look on the toddler's face is anything but a childlike look. I found that absolutely staggering when I was looking through my camera. And I saw this moment unfolding. I was just absolutely knocked out by the fact that this toddler is not really a toddler. He may have a toddler's body, but this is a toddler who has leapfrogged over his entire childhood and is now - now has an adult consciousness.

This photograph was taken in Beirut at the height of the Israeli air force's bombing of West Beirut, at the height of the shelling that was going on in the city. One of the things that intrigues me about this photograph is that you don't see any apparent combat in the photograph. Unless you read the captions in the photograph, unless you delve into the journalism underpinning the photograph, it's really difficult to tell what's going on here. But this is a photograph of a man being driven mad by the fighting around him.

The story here is part of the unfolding tragedy of what war really is, which is how it affects the little people. This photograph was taken in Juni (ph), which is the port city north of Beirut. And during the war in '81 was the only way in and out of the country because the airport in Beirut was closed, as was the port of Beirut.

And those Lebanese who could afford it went up to Juni, and left in a convoy of ferries that would take them to Cyprus, and from then onto Europe. But there were an awful of Lebanese who simply couldn't afford to leave the country. And this photograph is about someone who has dressed up in his finest clothes, and has come as far as he come in Juni to leaving the country. That great border against which he's standing, staring out to sea at the boats that can take them - can take the Lebanese to Cyprus, this is as far as he's going to go.

I don't know what he was thinking really. But this is a - this is a kind of photograph that tries to delve into exploring the conflict between hope and adversity.

SWEENEY: And it was Lebanon that grabbed the attention of the world last year when internal rivalries exploded into fighting that nearly resulted in a civil war. Photographer Franco Pagetti, another contributor to the ICRC campaign, captured the chaos.

FRANCO PAGETTI: I was sit there for not only after an hour waiting. I don't know if - I don't really remember - I don't know if I was waiting the picture or I was really impressed by his mosque with all the bullets on the wall. And then, a student girl pass away and I take the picture. And it's like one of my favorite pictures of (INAUDIBLE) definitely.

SWEENEY: Pagetti, who also visited Colombia as part of the project, sums up his motivation for taking pictures. It could easily apply to all the photographers who have appeared in this program.

PAGETTI: If you able to change the mind of one single person, taking picture, you've done your job. Your job is really done. One person is enough.


SWEENEY: That's it for this special look at the role of photographers in the media. I hope you enjoyed it.

Don't forget if you want to see any part of the show again, stop by our website. You'll find us at While you're there, check out the archive and take part in the quick vote. Our address again

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you all again.