Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2004/09/28

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Subject: [Leica] "Cold" war photographers and detatchment
From: locke at (Greg Locke)
Date: Tue Sep 28 06:53:07 2004

It only appears to be "cold" to those on the outside. It is not. It is doing
the job without being side tracked by stuff you have no control over. It's
staying focused on you job ...not someone else's. It's being a professional
and believing in what you are doing.

There is something that most "civilians" don't get about journalists who
cover war and misery.
I have heard all the "bad" names by now. Even from my "friends".
After a particularly hard 3 months in Central America in 1988 I returned to
my home in Ottawa totally burned out.
I locked myself in the darkroom and started printing. Three weeks later I
came out with a great story and 50 prints which got big play in the German
The initial response from my friends (who were all engineers, computer
scientists and otherwise yuppy professionals) where, "that's disgusting"
"How could you do that?"  ...literally. they are not my friends anymore
...except one who is now an army engineer)

Indeed, I often wonder how paramedics, doctors, nurses, ect can do their
jobs sometimes (especially when it involves children) because I KNOW I
wouldn't have the emotional strength to do it.  ...but thank God THEY do.

I have come to understand after these many years that it is all in the
training and devotion to craft and service.
It's not that you are without compassion for your subjects but in order to
do your job in a professional manner and to the utmost of your ability you
have to cultivate a level of "detachment". ..."The Third Eye", the "fly on
the wall". ...because you BELIEVE that telling their story is important and
to do it effectively you have to keep a level head.

In journalism, at least, this is what separates the pros from the
"cheerleaders" and those who think journalism is about "boosterism" or

My academic background is in social anthropology. The field work techniques
I learned there I brought over to my journalism. You are taught to observe,
document and analyse without altering the situation due to your presence
...which we all know is impossible, but you try to have as little impact as
you can.
Kind of like the "Prime Directive" for you Star Trek fans.

But you are a part of the scene simply because of your presence. So, modern
anthropologists (sometime after Margaret Mead who rejected Strauss methods)
realised that "The Fly on The Wall" method was not getting a true
representation. Subjects were too conscience of "being watched" and would
act in unnatural ways.
What works best is if you become a part of the community in that you become
an ACCEPTED part of the community or group. They will conduct themselves in
a normal manner with the added novelty of having someone with a
camera-recorder-notebook hanging around.  
There is a story about a guy who spent a number of years with the Hopi in
the American southwest who now gets introduced as "our anthropologist".  The
point being, the subjects came to know him personally, maintained his
professional role and he became an accepted part of the community. Needless
to say, he got access and observed far more than "the fly on the wall"

It's a convoluted thing with no hard guidelines. It all has to do with the
personality of the journalist or observer. Does he fit in?, Will he be
accepted? ...and can he maintain a professional distance while becoming a
part of the community?  You are always trying to balance two opposite
objective. Be accepted while being detached. But this is the same for many
professions that forces you to interact with people you don't know.
I always said that photojournalism is about social skills not technical

You have to accept that you are not a soldier, doctor, aid worker,
politician. You are a journalist who is there to document. That's your job
and role in the show. It's doesn't mean you do don't care or do NOTHING. As
a human being sharing in a persons misery you cannot help directly but still
have compassion and interact with the person or people in some manner,
depending on your abilities.

Maybe Steve can talk to this. He is a doctor who not only treats children
but also photographs them as well.
Is there a different mindset for both jobs? it all the same? 

Greg Locke
St. John's, Newfoundland
Independent journalism from
Newfoundland & Labrador
> I wrote 'cold' but I agree 100% that 'cool' was more 
> appropriated , as well as terms as serenity, quietness, 
> peacefulness or compassion. I also feel from Nachtwey a lot 
> of respect for his subjects.
> OTOH I'm professionally daily confronted with human distress 
> and pain but I'm also an (amateur ;-)) photographer who 
> admires war reporters  and doesn't yet understand how it's 
> possible to turn around distressed people with a camera.
> Bernard

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