Exhibit Prompts Questions on Role of Photojournalism in Conflict Zones

Depicting Conflict - The Role of the Photojournalist
Robert J. Tamai

Managing Director of VII photo agency Stephen Mayes moderated a discussion yesterday on the role of photojournalism in depicting conflict yesterday. (CORRECTION: An earlier version of this caption incorrectly identified Stephen Mayes as Thorne Anderson. The caption has been changed to reflect the error.)

The role of photojournalism in depicting conflict was examined from different perspectives during a panel discussion yesterday that commemorated the conclusion of a photo exhibit in the Center for Government and International Studies on civilian life during wartime.

The panelists—which included photojournalist Thorne Anderson, assistant professor at the University of Western Ontario Sharon Sliwinski, and International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno—discussed the ways in which photojournalism can lead to public awareness and action against conflict.

Sliwinski, who researches visual culture, traced photojournalism back to the work of 18th-century Spanish artist Francisco Goya, who created rape-themed etchings drawn in an angle that makes viewers feel as if they are witnessing the scene.

Sliwinski added that photojournalism can bring about justice by generating sympathy and the desire for change for the injustices that it publicizes.

Schorno, who spoke from a humanitarian worker’s point of view, said that although photojournalists are sometimes viewed as “intrusions” in conflict zones, they ultimately share the same mission as aid workers.

“We both want to make a difference,” he said.

Anderson—who has worked as a photojournalist in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Macedonia—said the career is about “advocating to see what we don’t see because we don’t look in there.”

However, he cautioned that photojournalists’ depiction of conflict can sometimes run into moral ambiguities—with which the public is not always comfortable.

Attendees of the packed event said they learned much from the panel event.

“The talk was very informative and an effective triangulation of the problems [in photojournalism].” said local freelance photojournalist Dominick Reuter.

The panel marked the conclusion of the traveling photo exhibit “Our World at War: Photojournalism Beyond the Front Lines,” which was displayed in the CGIS South Concourse from Sept 9. until yesterday.

“The purpose of the event [was] to give the students and the public a chance to see the multifaceted, complex dynamics that the civilians face in conflicts and disasters,” said Vincenzo Bollettino, Director of Programs and Administration at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. “We want people to explore how the changing nature of warfare is affecting the way civilians are impacted.”