Shoot or Intervene: Photographers Who Didn’t Step in to Help
All these other men started chasing him, and he hadn’t gone far when he was brought down. About 15 or 20 men were all around him, hitting and stabbing and clubbing. And I was right there, photographing it. On the one hand, I was horrified, and at the same time I was thinking: what should the exposure be?
It was the old days: analogue, manual focus, crappy cameras. I felt torn between the horror of what I was seeing and trying to capture it.
… as a journalist, my reaction was fine, as a human being I felt I’d really let myself down. …I was gutted that I’d been such a coward
- Mob attack, by Greg Marinovich
This is an excerpt of Marinovich’s account on his first time being in a conflict situation, as featured in the Guardian’s powerful article Photographers who didn’t step in to help. He was covering migrant workers in South Africa as a photojournalist when all of a sudden, 15-20 men with spears and clubs started to chase after one man. That man was quickly surrounded, beaten and stabbed to death, all while Marinovich documented the event with his camera. That man’s only crime was being a member of another tribe.
He feared for his own life, being a white man taking photos of a murder, but in the end, the mob was not worried. Two of the men even invited Marinovich to take a photo of them with the body. Marinovich walked away unscathed, but realized that his inaction that resulted in the killing of a man. That event left a lasting impact on him.
We all heard that photojournalists have a professional code of ethic to capture the images as is, to observe and record, and to not interfere. But what if that code means letting someone to die in front of you?
The eight photojournalists in the article faced a crisis of conscience during situations such as a mob attack, a domestic violence abuse, a protest, a stoning, and so on. Some stayed behind their cameras. Others intervened. Here are some more excerpts from what they experienced:
. That was the first time I saw him commit an act of violence, and my instinct was to get the picture first…When I saw his hand go back to hit her a second time, I grabbed his arm and said, “What the hell are you doing? You’re going to hurt her!” He threw me off and said, “She’s my wife and I know my own strength, but I have to teach her a lesson that she can’t lie to me”, but from that point on he didn’t hit her again.”
- Domestic violence, by By Donna Ferrato
The crowd chased him and threw rocks at him; children and adults beat him with sticks. Finally, he was totally exhausted and fell to the ground quite near where I was standing. And I went on photographing.
To my shame, it never occurred to me to do anything. To start with, we were white. On our own. The other two photographers didn’t get out of the car. Suddenly I realised that Tom [Editor of Picture Post] had walked into the crowd and stood over the guy. People were so amazed, they just stood back. The man was able to stagger up, around a corner and escape. It was an amazing thing to do. Tom undoubtedly saved the man’s life. And, frankly, it had not for a moment occurred to me to intervene.
- Stoning, by Ian Berry
I feel bad about it. I was frightened, so I just stuck to my professional duty. But life as a photojournalist teaches you that during this kind of violence, getting involved won’t end it; it will just lead to more people getting hurt. With the lootings, you’re dealing with group psychology. A looter won’t act like a person, they’ll just go with the wave of action. You feel powerless, but the power you hold is in your job: to tell the story.
- London riots, by Kerim Okten
To read the rest of their stories in depth, visit The Guardian.
What would you do if you found yourself in these similar situation while you are on assignment?