Photographer Alex Brandon got a lot of recognition for the photographs he took in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when was effectively embedded with the New Orleans police. Now there are questions about what else he may have witnessed. In recent months there have been two high-profile trials of New Orleans police officers accused of “denying the civil rights” of citizens, which is the way the Federal government charges folks with murder. Henry Glover was shot in the dark by a police officer with a rifle, and when he was taken by a passerby to the compound that the police were operating out of, the car was confiscated and taken, with the body in it, to the levee and torched by police officers. The coverup that followed was elaborate and so far, four former police officers have been sentenced to long terms in jail, including the shooter, David Warren who is serving a 30 year sentence in the prison.
On the Danziger Bridge, a group of officers responded to a radio call of an officer “down” under the bridge, speeding to the site in a commandeered moving van, and according to testimony and video evidence, emerged from the van with guns blazing, running up the bridge and chasing down the families on it, shooting Jose Lopez in the back as he curled up on the concrete, seeking shelter from the onslaught. Two were killed and five injured. And as was the case with the Henry Glover incident, an elaborate cover-up on a high-level was initiated, guns were planted and stories concocted. The testimony coming out in Federal court becomes more disturbing as each day passes.
The Henry Glover case was so effectively covered up by the New Orleans police that it took the determined work of an independent filmmaker and The Nation to bring enough attention to the case for the Feds to get involved. The Danziger Bridge case was effectively bungled by local prosector Dustin Davis and could not be pursued through the courts in New Orleans, and had it not been for the Federal Government there would have been no charges at all.
At least some parts of both these events, and one other questionable shooting were witnessed by Alex Brandon, at that time a photographer for the Times Picayune, who now works for the AP as their White House photographer. Brandon was effectively embedded in the New Orleans police as a result of his extensive connections in the department and made many dramatic images of the police “restoring order” in the city, but had nothing to report to his editors at the Times-Picayune as far as their possible use of excessive force against African-Americans. According to his own testimony, when he had asked his friends in the police about the Henry Glover incident, officers signaled to him in sign language that it was a “closed-case.” And it remained that way. It took years for an independent film-maker to create enough interest in the case for the FBI to take an interest it it.
According to the Times Picayune nothing in either of those incidents seemed enough like news for Brandon to tip off some of the experienced beat reporters for the Times Picayune or his editors that there might have been something more to these events that the police restoring order in New Orleans. I agree with Brandon’s editors at the TP–it concerns me that arguably the most important news-gathering organization in America has entrusted so much to some one who apparently got the pictures, but didn’t get the story right in the biggest news story in America since 9/11.
As many others, I am devastated by the events in Misrata yesterday and the deaths of two great photographers in Chris Hondros, and Tim Hetherington.
They were dedicated and extremely talented men, courageous and compassionate.
My condolences go out to their families and close friends.
A few weeks ago on Facebook, I had an animated conversation with Teru Kuwayama, in which Teru talked about his own experiences in Pakistan, of hurtling down a mountain road with no seat belts, with the tragic death of his driver, and the unwillingness of news organizations to compensate the man’s family. Safety, said Teru, was the last thought in their minds.
Are photographers taking too many chances?
Looking at the last images of Chris Hondros , in which he accompanied Libyan fighters entering an isolated, burned out building to search room to room for loyalists, its hard understand why anyone would face those dangers of this sort. No shithole on earth is worth getting killed for, much less the burned out hulk of a building that Chris went into in Misrata. Knowing as many war photographers as I do, and something about the business, I am aware of all the conflicting emotions and thoughts that go into work with this level of danger. One of my first memories about photography was hearing about the death of family friend Paul Shutzer in a half-track in the Sinai Desert in 1967.
Competition in real, and either friendly, or not. Ego is real too. Wanting to do the right thing, and to be contributing to some betterment of the world, exposing injustice, all of these ideas are swirling about. And so is fun…..because as Eros Hoagland has told us, the reality is that despite everything, war can be fun. Even funny. There is no one motivation, or reality. Yet, facing down death is so much at the heart of the craft–its at the heart of the great war image. You photograph the man dying, or die yourself…….or both, as did Capa, and sadly, Eros own father, John.
Are photographers taking too many chances?
Its up the individual how far to go. I recall a story that James Nachtwey told me about a patrol that he was offered a ride-along in Sri Lanka, and how his instinct told him not to go. The patrol never returned. I have to ask whether it would be harder to make that decision of there were ten photographers there, and many were willing to take the chance, or didn’t share the same instinct. Yes, the benefits of working in a group are easy to understand, but there is a downside as well. And if safety is not a consideration, as my friend Teru Kuwayama has told me, then what is? Is war photography so much thrill seeking, with a moralistic rationale?
Then is financial need, photography is a business….some of the photographers in the Misrata group were working solo, with no assignment, or minimal backing as freelancers. My fear is that photographers will continue to push the envelope, feeding what I can only call the voyeuristic appetite of the public. I am willing to bet that there are images made of the deaths of Hondros and Hetherington. And what of that? If these pictures exist, to what standard are they held. Is it only the anonymous images of the dead that we had been so accustomed to seeing from Libya, like those taken by Michael Christopher Brown with his iphone, that are to be published? Or is there a bit of a double standard, or perhaps its the parallel worlds that Tim Hetherington depicts in his personal videos, that the battlefield has one set or rules, and that our lives in Brooklyn have another? What does this say about us?
The most important rule of war photography, or any photography is to come back alive……and the second is to be respectful of those that we photograph. Certainly Hondros and Hetherington were all of that. What they didn’t do is come back alive and that idea can not be lost on others who follow in their path.
Sex, of some false vision of it, is almost inseparable from much of Western culture, and the image of women that it presents is commercialized through the mass media, which is itself a marketplace. Sex is shown as an act, like a football game, that men perform–under any circumstances. This is not illogical because men are asked to perform when their companions are ready–and if this isn’t the case, there is always whatever product will enhance their abilities—notably Viagra or Cialis. Males are seen as having none of the buffers and conditions that for women are the gatekeepers of their sexual experience. Although I suppose and argument could be made that gates are gates, and true liberation requires their removal, I suspect that many women would prefer to express themselves as they do, using the filters already in place: desires for commitment, intimacy, trust, honesty and of course passion, as well as more practical issues. involving sustenance and even survival. To combat these filters, or at least create the illusion that the filters can be changed, advertisers and capitalists promote the effect of expensive cars, diamond rings, champagne, essentially pimping out women to make the cash register ring. Nothing new here, but ideas that are worth writing down.
Linda Troeller has quite courageously set out to document women’s pleasure, not for the benefit of men, but for the elucidation of all of us, and to cut through some of the false messages that mass media delivers. My role was to help give Linda’s images their first home on the web, and to try and stay out of the way. I look at this work as an opportunity to see women through their own eyes, and although this may be disturbing, something I want to reject in favor of a myth that will help me prop up my own dick, to be direct, I am willing to take that small step.
The work has been widely seen, we have had more that 8,000 vistors in only a few days, but there seems to be a reluctance to comment publicly on the story. A lot of the discussion that I anticipated, hasn’t happened. I think its in part due to the same syndrome. Men prefer not to know. Women already understand much of what is shown and written, but maybe prefer to cultivate the myth themselves, or just don’t want to go there? These aren’t just issues that are expressed in art, they are part of the landscape that we have to navigate in our daily lives. In the internet age, we are increasingly exposed to more and graphic depictions of sex, at an early age, than ever before. Sexual movies and images are no longer peddled from under rain-coats. They are easily searched on Google and the iconization of sexual objects apparently has no limit. For those who are shy about searching out pornography, there are a wide range of artists who provide a close proximity to them, including photographers who profit by degrading themselves or the people around them and photographing the results. And perhaps for obvious reasons we feel more comfortable talking about sex shown in this less intimate way, because its reduced to a act that has no relation to our feelings. The reason we are reluctant to really look at Linda Troeller’s work on orgasm is that it shows that women are more likely to really enjoy sex when it is connected to actual love and the feeling of being loved and nurtured, in short something that males may find a distraction, in are perhaps wired to ignore. Not all, of course, but many, including me.
Taking digital photographs, after the purchase of the initial equipment, is essentially cost free, and so is uploading– no more counting the cost of each slide (25 cents in fact.) For most the idea that more is better rules. Family snapshots, the kind that would make you flinch when a friend pulled out a stack of 5×7′s in the 90′s, are all over the web. Photographs who are just learning who to use their cameras post hundreds of images. We are supposed to sort out the good ones from the bad ones. The public is overwhelmed with these images.
The professional photographic community has not been much better. The desire to see imagery, any imagery, is answered almost daily on dozens of sites across the web, including many on mainstream news portals that in most cases don’t pay for the imagery. The same freedom from economic constraints that has digital photographers filled compact flash cards at a rate that would exhaust the daily film supply of a traditional photographer in a half an hour allows for an unlimited access to imagery for the growing ranks of photographers all over the world. In 1990 there were few documentary photographers in Bombay, now there are dozens, and the recent scene of hordes of young Western photographers chasing off in taxis during the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai led one photographer to comment that the real story was the photographers themselves, hanging off the taxis, driving off to find a rumored “second” attack.
The unseemly pictures of a large group of photographers surrounded the corpse of a young girl in Haiti, killed by police after ironically taking a small framed picture from a store in the rubble of the earthquake, left many shaking their heads. The pictures of the murdered girl were important, and needed to be taken. The problem is, when there are now ten people doing the job that had previously been done by perhaps two, the photographers themselves overwhelm the event and become part of the story . If anything Haiti has shown us, that it doesn’t matter how many cameras are there, that there is no accountability, not from governments and certainly not from the press. Does this mean that photographers should stop going to Haiti? Certainly not, better too many than none. But many photographers that I know are having reservations about the ethics of documenting the events there. The imagery is consistently used by the commercial press to sell magazines and newspapers. When the time comes for the hard and often expensive work of showing the reasons for the lack of change, they simply turn on the faucet to a new stream of images from somewhere. Although well-intentioned I am afraid that many of the independent photographers that go when there is an election, and amplify that killings that occur beyond representation of the overall reality, are really helping no one at all, not even themselves. Or maybe it really is about the “trophy” shots, like some sort of big game hunting? Not one of us, myself included, has been able to document in Haiti any differentiation in Haitian society between the poor, and those who live up “on the hill.” And if someone has accomplished this, the work has been left unseen.
At this point the problem is not in Haiti, it is in ourselves, a thought that occurred to a young Haitian boy who I photographed in one of the camps. As much as I looked at his situation as perilous and endangered, he looked at my bald head and sadly fungal fingernail and shook his head. “Look at yourself, amigo,” was how I interpreted his gestures, and a valid point it was. I am not headed to Haiti this week, certainly because I have no assignment, but partly because I really feel that we need to back off and let Haitians take care of their country without the attention of the international media circus and the environment it creates. An environment in which anyone with an agenda has only to spill blood and the images are be disseminated. And you can bet that the person killed will be some poor Haitian who is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, a pawn for a rich man whose face we never manage to capture on film, or whatever passes for it these days.
We need less photographs and we need to see the better ones prominently displayed. We need more thoughtful pictures and we need media outlets that are responsible enough not to saturate their readership with sensational voyeurism and then retreat from the more significant underlying issues….
Blogger Pete Brook of prison photography has taken on the task of interviewing photographers who documented the death of Fabienne Cherisma, a 12 year old Haitian girl who was shot in the head by police in the midst of the chaos the enveloped down town Port au Prince in the days immediately following the earthquake. Fabienne’s death was documented by more than ten photographers and images of her corpse appeared in papers all over the world, and Brook asks important questions about the murder of Fabienne, those who documented it, and what happened thereafter. The latest report culled from the search engine Google indicates that there has been nothing published about her death since January 25th. And as Brook points out in his conclusion, despite the apparent simplicity of identifying the police office who shot Fabienne at close range–there had been no effort to seek justice for Fabienne.
Among his insightful comments Brook questions why photographers, who were apparently grouped together around Fabienne’s fallen body, made a conscious effort to not show other each other in the frame. It was a spontaneous “spot news” event, unplanned, and including the other photographers in the frame would have only been a distraction. The idea is to make the audience feel that they are experiencing the events themselves, and I think the photographers did a brilliant job in a tragic and difficult situation. We are all angry at the death of Fabienne, but blaming the photographers, even if there were so many, is missing the point a bit.
Of course, if the end result is that the death is simply ignored, and the image is just one of a series of brutal depictions that are simply one version of what happened in Haiti, how can we not ask questions about the uses of photojournalism? Yet even then, photographers are really like ants on the back of the beast which is the media, whatever that means in the digital age. We can’t control the uses of our images, and we are often struggling just to survive ourselves.
For the most part the first two weeks of coverage from Haiti was drawn from a very limited area, and drawn from images taken by photographers, like myself, who were not Haitian. Although Haitian born Daniel Morel, was in Port au Prince when the quake struck, and documented the courageous Haitians who pulled each other from buildings, once the news photographers arrived, the press rarely ventured into the residential neighborhoods of Port au Prince, but instead reported from a small area of downtown that was close to the Plaza and Park Hotels where most where staying. This is coincidentally where almost all of the “looting” was taking place, and was also of the most heavily damaged areas of the city, certainly the most visual as far as showing the magnitude of the devastation. One of the difficulties in photography is that pictures are limited…..one image can’t convey the feeling one gets from seeing miles of devastation. The picture must be symbolic of a greater reality. Certainly the downtown area could be a symbol of Port au Prince as a whole in showing the effects of the earthquake, but it was not a residential area at the time, and the events there were certainly not representative of a greater reality, in which Haitians were heroic, did not loot, and in the first hours wandered about the city in search of their families and loved ones. Coincidentally, some of this reality was conveyed in Morel’s take from the first hours after the quake….
The result, and no fault of the photographers, was that the coverage was skewed, especially as the sensational looting scenes always play big in the newspapers. In fact there were many more people murdered by police after Katrina than in Haiti, but the proximity of the killings and the presence of so many photographers, gave a vastly different impression. In fact, although all of us who have spent time in Haiti know that the Haitians are for a most part peaceful people, we also know that argument can result in escalations to horrific and very public violence that included brutality unacceptable in most of the world– and that random violence of police against people have certainly marred the history of the country. But in this specfic case, the aftermath of the earthquake, the images of shot “looters” fueled a very negative perception of Haitians and in fact the police. The fact is that these were the exceptions rather than the rule, but they became the focal point of essays like the one produced by James Oatway for a South African paper, that although truthful does not really show the bigger story of what happened in Port au Prince after the earthquake, when most Haitians did not riot and many Haitians acted heroically. Unfortunately this perspective was often neglected in the press, who tends to stereotype Haitians as both violent and victims, of which the later may be slightly truer than the former, but neither of which really captures the Haitian personality in my opinion. I try to go out of my way to include in my edits some images that balance the violence with some humanity, and even beauty. Granted that this is easier because I do not work much in the food chain of the commercial press anymore, one that seems to take any event and simply use it up, and drop it, rather than deal with the longterm issues involved.
You can read all of the Pete Brook’s commentary and interviews with the photographers here.
Haitian Photographer sued by Agence France Presse (AFP) for “antagonistic assertion of rights” Award winning Haitian born photojournalist, Daniel Morel, has filed an answer and counterclaim to the French international wire service Agence France Presse’s lawsuit filed on March 26, 2010 in Manhattan federal district court. The French international wire service which distributes to approximately 110 countries, which provides text, photographs, videos and graphics to customers on a worldwide basis, asserts that Mr. Morel “has made demands that amount to an antagonistic assertion of rights in his photographs of the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010 at 4:54 p.m. taken in the hour immediately following the quake.
The Complaint asks the Court to declare AFP had the right to use Mr. Morel’s images without authorization or compensation and further claims damages for commercial disparagement based on Morel’s attorney Barbara Hoffman’s cease and desist letters to AFP subscribers customers, and clients, including Getty Images, Inc., the Boston Globe, the Denver Post, Time, Inc., Vanity Fair, USA Today, and the Age, Australia requesting that they cease and desist from the display on their websites, and online photo galleries, the images licensed from Agence France Presse or Getty and in the case of the Washington Post, correct the misattribution to a Lisandro Suero.
Mr. Morel’s answer and counterclaims admit that his lawyer sent such letters and further argues that AFP states no claim against him. Mr. Morel’s counterclaims assert that AFP willfully or in reckless disregard of his copyright and other intellectual property rights infringed thirteen (13) of the images of the earthquake in Haiti by distribution, license and sale of the photographs to its subscribers, clients and customers, with a credit to AFP and Getty Images and that these images were credited incorrectly to one Lisandro Suero, tweeting from the Dominican Republic at the time of the earthquake and with no prior history as a photographer.
Mr. Morel’s complaint also asserts claims against Getty Images, and CBS and ABC. Getty Images, an image distribution company is associated with AFP to distribute and license images in the United States. The latter two news companies, it is claimed, have independently infringed Mr. Morel’s copyright in seven (7) and nine (9) images respectively, in a variety of ways. When the earthquake struck, Daniel Morel was with an American journalist, Eric Parker in a school in Grand Rue, Port au Prince. Mr. Morel had been teaching the young students for the past three days on how to make their own Facebook pages and Mr. Morel was taking photographs to put on their Facebook pages, while his friend was buying art from the students. He states in his complaint that, “I was about ready to leave and the earth started shaking. I got out in the street, it looked like the street was hit by 500 cruise missiles at the same time. My journalist friend was buried. After we dug him out, we hit the street to obtain daylight shots. Everybody was panicked. Sobbing and dazed, people wandered around the street. It was rush hour. Lots of people were dead. Then I photographed until dark. I saw a lot of injured and dead—people crying for help. Buildings collapsed—the Cathedral of St. Trinity, the Cathedral, the Iron Market, the Presidential Palace, the Palace of Justice, my father’s bakery. The principal manifestations, institutions, and symbols of my Haitian childhood were destroyed in less than a minute. There were aftershocks every 15 to 20 minutes which lasted from three to five seconds.”
Few professional journalists and photographers were in Haiti at the time of the quake and even fewer had access to the internet. Mr. Morel’s Haiti earthquake photographs, including the thirteen, were among the first photographs by a professional photojournalist taken before sunset on January 12, 2010 to show the evolving tragedy tothe world. Mr. Morel’s complaint further describes the situation on the ground: “At sunset, it was dark, there was no electricity or communication—all phone networks were down. Mr. Morel, nevertheless from the still-standing landmark Oloffson Hotel, with the assistance of Isabel Morse, the daughter of his friend Richard A. Morse, manager of the hotel, was able to use a laptop to connect to the internet and have Ms. Morse open a Twitter account with the username “PhotoMorel” for him at 5:20 p.m.” Mr. Morel intended to retain copyright in and credit to his images, at the same time he informed the world of the disaster and advertised his images for license. Perhaps, it’s just the nature of an unfolding disaster that early pictures tend to be more sensational and less about telling a story. Daniel Morel was interested in licensing his images if the price, terms and conditions were right. He was not interested in selling or licensing cheap. It was enough that he and the world were witness to what had happened and what was happening. Later, he would tell the full and complete story of the Haiti Earthquake and the impact on the history of Haiti.
Apparently on or about 5:28 p.m., Lisandro Suero of the Dominican Republic, pirated Daniel Morel’s thirteen images and put them on his Twitter page. Daniel Morel’s claim then goes on to state that at approximately 9:45 p.m. EST, AFP uploads the earthquake images from Lisandro Suero’s account, without Mr. Morel’s knowledge, or permission. He alleges, on information and belief, that AFP conducted no investigation into the identity, profession, authorship or location of Lisandro Suero. The images were distributed to subscribers clients and customers worldwide. Mr. Morel alleges that at 2:06 a.m. on January 13, 2010, Ben Fathers (34Benjie) of AFP tweeted to Mr. Morel as follows: “Hi Daniel, great pictures from such a difficult environment. I work for AFP, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.”One image seen below, appears on January 13, 2010 the front page of major newspapers worldwide, credited to “AFP/Getty Lisandro Suero.”
Bangladeshi photographers have created a “human chain” to protest the police closing of an exhibit by acclaimed Bangladeshi photographer Shahidul Alam depicting recreated crime scenes of assassinations by government “death squads” carrying out extra-judicial killings. The images, recently show on the New York Times Lens Blog, here, are interpretations of the sites of “cross-fire” killings, in which suspected criminals were killed under similar circumstances, during arrests conducted by the RAB, a extra-judicial force under the control of the Bangladeshi military. Crime is seen in Bangladesh as a major impediment to economic development of the nation.
The earthquake in Haiti has brought many talented photographers to Haiti, with many more on the way. We would like to find a way to broaden the picture of Haiti that is currently in the news, by combining work with the disaster area with work from the rest of the nation.
If you are going to Haiti and will be there in February, I am asking photographers to spread out around the country and to spend day or two photographing something other than the earthquake ravaged area, to be included in a special issue of 100Eyes on Haiti.
I am hopeful that photographers can use the same resourcefulness in getting around Haiti as they have in getting to the disaster area…..and I know that there are many stories to be told beyond what we are currently seeing, many struggles that happen on a daily basis. There is beauty, there is laughter as well.
We believe that the effort made by photographers in doing this would more than make up for the relative small resources going into the project, by helping to create a broader picture of Haitian life, and to put the horrific, and important, images that are currently being taken in Port au Prince in context.
As part of the project we will be having Haitian children and students take pictures to show the events through their own eyes, an effort that was planned before the tragedy. In addition we ask that each photographer try and bring a compact digital camera and find a Haitian child to work with in whatever area of the country that you are working in.
Depending on the amount of work received we may have needs for volunteer editors and coordinators as well. For those more interested in a structured environment I am going be extending the 100Eyes Workshop in Haiti through the end of the month and possibly beyond.
For details on the workshops please contact me through our workshop page for Haiti: here.
For those interested in shooting and already headed to Haiti, feel free to respond with a comment below.
Jacmel was hit very hard by the massive earthquake. Miraculously our Cine Institute team and students seem to all be alive. The town lost many many buildings and presumably many more lives. In an urgent email from our school director, Andrew Bigosinski said, “There is no local rescue plan or capacity. No emergency food, water, blankets or medicine. The Hospital St. Michel collapsed. I joined 3000 others to sleep at the airstrip last night. You could hear the howling of people crying in town. Nightmarish. I never could have expected the ferocity of this quake.”
Our own infrastructure at the Institute is badly damaged.
We are gearing up to work on three fronts:
get news out about Jacmel so help arrives there too
help family abro