Audrey Folliot | Network Coordinator
On Thursday, September 13, New York Times photographer and founding editor of the NY Times Lens blog James Estrin came to Montreal to present The Arab spring seen through the eyes of several photographers. The talk, at Dawson College, hosted by former CBC journalist Dennis Trudeau, aimed to describe what it is like to be a war photographer and what it entails.
All the pictures that were showed were extremely powerful images, and most of them were taken from a few feet away, such as photos of war zones in Lybia and Syria, wounded soldiers, citizens, babies, etc. The pain and suffering in the people’s eyes was palpable by the small crowd of curious citizens gathered in Dawson college’s auditorium, watching and listening in complete silence. Surely enough, the atrocious conflicts that took place during the Arab Spring deeply trouble the lives of the people who live there, but what about the photographers who go out there to report on it? As Estrin puts it, “Photographs don’t happen by themselves, they happen because of photographers.”
The photographers who covered the Arab Spring put their lives and sanity – and that of their families – at risk to report and share what they witnessed with the rest of the world. Some saw their colleagues being captured, tortured, blown up by a landmine, loose their legs, and many other atrocities. It’s surprising to see how strong those who come back from conflict areas are, physically and psychologically speaking.
João Silva, photojournalist and friend of Estrin, lost both his legs after he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan in 2010. Estrin quoted him as saying: “Everyone who covers conflict is on a lottery.” After stepping on the mine, Silva said his first thought was that his number had come up.
Many war photographers come back home from a conflict zone, telling themselves that they will never go back. Some deal with post traumatic stress, and this is when being affiliated to a prominent news organization comes in handy. The New York Times, for example, invests considerable amounts of money to cover war and to support the reporters upon returning to their home country.
But what we need not forget about this exhibit and interesting conference is that important human rights are being baffled in the conflicts being covered. Many innocent people – citizens, mothers, children, journalists, etc. – are captured, tortured, killed or scared for life in the midst of these political and economic conflicts.
The people who live in these countries live in fear every single day, often because of the power struggles among the elite class of the powerful countries.
As Estrin said, most photographers decide to cover war and conflicts because they hope that their photographs will inform people about what is going on in countries such as Syria and Libya and change the world.
Note: The World Press Photo Exhibit will be in Montreal, at Marche Bonsecours , until Sept. 30.