Charlie Atkinson: So I thought I would write a post about war photography and how it ties into street photography, as one of my good mates from work and I have started planning a 1 month embedment to Afghanistan.
Quick Note: To start this post I would like to say that I have never had experience of being in combat, photographing conflicts, or anything of that nature. Some of the images might be a bit graphic so if you “don’t like, don’t look”.
Is It Right To Document It Ourselves Or Leave It To Others?
I believe that everyone has a right to know what’s going on in the world, whether they have the ability to make a difference or not. Maybe that’s just the internet generation for me, constantly being informed of the latest and greatest things going on at the any given moment. This leads me to the question whether or not if it is “right” to document these sorts of situations. Now I know this is a very sensitive ground I am about to discuss, as a lot of people feel very passionate about what’s going on in Afghanistan. Therefore as a disclaimer, everything I talk about in this article are just my personal beliefs.
I spoke with a friend from work whether it is actually worth going to a foreign country to document the war as it unfolds and evolves. My friend’s opinion was that we should let the photographers based around the conflict to actually document it. Therefore he felt that foreigners shouldn’t get involved. I agreed with his point, but not entirely.
With anything we document in photography there will always be bias (from the photographer’s viewpoint). This is where I think it is wrong to simply leave it to the few of those living in the country to document what is going on. For example, if an Afghan journalist saw a group of soldiers praying, they might not capture this as it is a part of everyday life for them. However, a foreign journalist might find this highly interesting and the culture may be a major part of the story! I think that without war photographers, people would not understand how horrible and gruesome war is (myself included).
How Does Street Photography Help?
Street photography is one of the most spontaneous types of photography as you always have to be ready for the next shot, focused, exposed and ready to go. Therefore I feel street photographers have some of the reaction skills necessary to capture “decisive moments” in war photography.
Furthermore, I think a lot of street photography is about composing a shot well in a split-second, while having the eye for capturing the moment. Street photographers are skilled for being aware of their surroundings, which would help them pay attention not to get injured while taking a photograph.
Of course what street photographers do not have is the same amount of determination, experience, and emotional toughness that war photographers possess. Therefore I am not trying to say that all street photographers would make good war photographers, but a street photographer to go into war photography would be easier than let’s say a landscape photographer trying to be a ware photographer.
Why Do I Want To Do It?
The images that I connect most with that I have seen are almost all from conflicts. I can see and feel the emotion and story behind each image and how each image is part of history. I love the idea of creating images that will help people like myself look back at history, and read stories from the photographer and their subjects. For me it’s not a matter of glamour or adventure. I personally want to create memorable images that touch the lives of others, while informing them about what is going on in the world. I feel that I would like to be part of documenting the change in our world, whether it is changing in a positive or negative way.
I think the main problem with war / documentary photography is the censorship. For example, as a news reader you never really get exposed to the real raw images, the ones that would actually make you decide to do something. Rather, you have to search for the photographers and actual personal projects that are not published in the mainstream media.
What Gear To Take?
At the moment this is the list that I have and plan on basing what to take from this for the 1 month deployment, if you have anything you feel should be on the list please add to it in the comments!
-Hiking Socks x4
-Canon AE-1 Program x2
-Canon FD 28mm f2.8
-Canon FD 35mm f2.8
-Canon FD 50mm f1.2
-Canon FD 70-200mm f3.5
-Canon FD 35-70mm f3.5
-Leica MP x1
-Summicron 35mm f2
-GoPro Hero 2
-Film (170 rolls of B&W, 30 rolls of colour) this works out at roughly 237 frames a day
-Jewellers Screw Driver Set
-Basic First Aid Kit
-Heavy Duty Camera Straps
-Big Bag For Everything
-Canon AE-1 Program Batteries x3
-Hydration System Bag
-Foam Sleeping Roll
As mentioned earlier in the article, I have never shot conflicts or experienced conflicts first-hand. Although I am still young and naive, I feel the urge to go out and record moments of history happening around the world. I want to create images that not only touch but inform the lives of those outside of the war, and focus not only on the violence and gore of war- but also the humanity and heart (that you often don’t see in the mainstream news due to censorship).
Do you think that my idea to document conflicts is a noble or naive idea? I’d love to know what everyone thinks about war photography and embedments in general, and any advice would be much appreciated!