I remember stumbling upon a video a couple years ago that ended up leaving a large impact on me as a photographer. At the time when I watched it, I was just thankful I wasn’t going into photojournalism … at least not the kind of photojournalism that would land me in a war zone. That video has been resurfacing in my mind recently and I’m not sure why. I still don’t have any intention of becoming a photojournalist, but I keep asking myself if I were put in a circumstance where I could either A) be a fly on the wall allowing whatever events that were going to happen occur as they would naturally if my presence wasn’t there in the first place and keep documenting them like my job description requires or B) do I step in and follow my moral compass, to help or save another that would result in my potentially putting myself in danger and losing the shot. I’m sure you’re now asking yourself the same question and before you jump to either A or B, I want you to deeply think and consider the consequences of both. I rediscovered the video that brought this to mind originally and I’d like to share it with you so you can fully understand the gravity of what I’m describing.
Kevin Carter was a photographer who took a picture during the Sudan famine in 1993 of a starving child crawling in the direction of a feeding center nearby. A vulture was perched waiting in the background for the child to die so it could prey off the carcass. The photograph won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 and three months later Carter committed suicide due to depression.
We need photographs like this. Why? Because it shows us what life is really like. If we don’t see it with our own eyes the reality of it isn’t going to hit home and sink in enough by just hearing someone tell us or reading a news article. A picture is worth a thousand words. Images like this are supposed to bring to our attention current events and hopefully stir in our hearts compassion and understanding. We can’t just go through life with tunnel vision – only paying attention to our day to day lives and getting lost in various sitcoms portraying a fictional reality because it makes us “feel good”.
If we need photographs like this then we also need people to take them. You wouldn’t be a very good photojournalist if you hadn’t taken that picture. In fact, if you couldn’t press the shutter button in this circumstance or a similar one then you probably should look to other career choices. If everyone had the moral obligation to put the camera down and intervene then no one would know any differently what was happening in the world let alone to the extent of how bad some things may be.
However, if an image like this is meant to create a disturbance in my life – make me live differently, reach out and help those in need in as many ways as I possibly can then I would hold the photographer to the same message he’s trying to convey. He was right there, seeing it happen in the flesh and it’s his obligation to aid in any way he could more so then the rest of us who could be continents away.
I’m not criticizing Carter nor am I criticizing any photographer because at the end of the day if it were me standing there with my camera ready and my finger on the shutter button, I don’t know what I’d do. I’m on the fence. I see both sides. I think if I had been Carter I might have taken the picture and then did whatever I could to help the child. The difference is Carter walked away after he got the shot and no one – not even him – knows what that child’s fate was.
Considering the position of the photographer from the video is a lot harder for me to know what exactly I might do though. Even if she had intervened, could she have prevented not only the girl’s death, but also her own? I’m not completely sure she could have. What would she have done to stop the man? “Shoot” him with her camera?
There are a great many factors to take into consideration and maybe each situation is unique enough to call for different measures, but when it comes down to it would you take the shot?