© Andrew Jackson. Black Child, Gulugetu, Cape Town, 2006

© Andrew Jackson. Black Child, Gulugetu, Cape Town, 2006

I have no answers. I have just asked for them. We will get answers but they may be outnumbered by more questions.

I have no answers. And yet, two things struck me this week. They both go to the heart of the necessary cynicism AND optimism toward the photojournalist’s craft. These two contributions are contrary in tone and yet I can agree with them both.

I have no answers.

ANDREW JACKSON

Firstly, from Andrew Jackson and his ‘WrittenByLight‘ blog.

A 4OD episode of the Art Show entitled If asked a number of contemporary poets to produce modern (re)workings of Kipling’s famous poem If. Jackson was compelled to create his own and “perhaps speak of [his] own misgivings of documentary photography”.

If you can meet strangers and develop relationships with them
If you can enter into their lives and ensnare them with trust
Then solicit from them their lives and record this with your camera
And if you can make them believe this to be a collaborative process
Only to end this when your photographs are taken – never to see them again
And if you can raise a profile upon these images
Whilst talking sympathetically of the plight of those you have discarded
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it
And – which is more – you’ll be a documentary photographer, my son!

FINBARR O’REILLY

In answering such doubts, Finbarr O’Reilly on the Reuters blog gives an honest and balanced appraisal of the global coverage (and his part in it) of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Even as Democratic Republic of Congo’s war-related death toll rose above a staggering five million, making it the most lethal conflict since World War Two, the war in Central Africa remained largely unnoticed and under-reported.

and

The media could enjoy coffee and croissants for breakfast, drive up to the front-line fighting or the squalid camps home to hundreds of thousands of displaced Congolese, then return to file stories and pictures in time for dinner and a night at the bar.

and

There were so many photographers in Congo last year that there’s a running joke at photojournalism festivals and competitions this year about viewers and judges having to sit through “yet another picture story from Congo.”

and

But at least Congo, that beautiful, terrible place, became a highly visible story. It’s easy to be cynical about the idea of a devastating conflict suddenly becoming a trendy cause, but the important thing is that people are finally paying attention to one of the world’s worst catastrophes. U.S. President Barack Obama referred to Congo’s troubles in speeches, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton visited Goma in August and said she was moved by the plight of Congo’s women, many of whom are victims of extreme sexual violence and mass rape.

The temperance of O’Reilly’s opinion – in spite of his closeness to the events – is impressive.

Maybe the foil against the consumption of images of distant plight is to insist that the photographer’s voice and experience is always carried with them. Better still, the voice of those depicted is carried with the images. That way there can be no doubt of the actual conditions in which the images were created.

Finbarr O’Reilly has spent many years on stories in DRC, including eight specific photo series relating to aspects of Congolese experience.

© Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters

© Finbarr O'Reilly / Reuters. From the series 'Congo Hair'

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