There’s nothing wrong with taking a pretty picture or just of a pretty subject; heck, I’m a fan. But there’s something to be said for the taking of some sort of social responsibility or calling with our photography, to do what photography does so well – to document. I neither have the time nor inclination to bore you to death at the moment on the decisive and impactful role photography has played in history, but suffice to say the role isn’t a meager one.
Most of you are likely acquainted with Joey L, the rather accomplished photographer, even if just in passing, and only a few months ago Joey took it upon himself for his own reasons, to go to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Syria,
I set out to uncover the truth, or at least to better understand the nuances behind the headlines….Portrait photography has a strange way of humanizing even the most distant of situations, and that was my goal with this project.
With the Syrian crisis gobbling headlines and column inches the world over for the past few years (and certainly in what seems like a climax now with the massive displacement of Syrian people, now refugees seeking basic human rights and compassion), any better understanding of the region, its history and its people, you would think would be welcomed. Seeking this for himself and sharing his findings and opinions with others through recounts of his experiences and his imagery, Joey L has clearly been rubbing some the wrong way. Instagram being one.
Instagram is no stranger when it comes to issues of censorship, having pulled images and accounts of people for posting what it feels is against its guidelines (almost entirely at the discretion of whoever is doing the audit), has now pulled some of Joey L.’s photos of the PKK, and he’s not pleased. Would you be? Interesting to note here that images of another group, the YPG (People’s Protection Units), were not taken down since it’s not considered a terrorist group.
The problem, it seems, is that the images he posts depict what is considered by some to be a terrorist group. So it’s not a matter of gore or distaste, but rather a matter of politics. The deletion of the images seems to have stemmed from numerous complaints and reports from IG users, though this complaining was also accompanied by death threats and gruesome spamming of his social media accounts.
One of the photos that was taken down was put back up by Joey, in a manner of speaking. He posed with a large print of it, ironically to be displayed in the National Portrait Gallery Of London this year. Instagram, it seems, is more discerning? Maybe not.
I am very honored to share this portrait of Sarya, which will be featured in London’s National Portrait Gallery during the Taylor Wessing Exhibition later this autumn. This is the same image that was reported multiple times on my feed, and then removed by Instagram for breaching community guidelines. @instagram has the right to remove whatever they want, and quite frankly I don’t expect them to determine who is a “terrorist” and who is not. However, I do wonder about those who reported the photo. I wonder if those same people will take a moment to compare what independent journalists are saying about the situation in Cizre VS their state-owned media in Turkey? I also wonder if I photographed an Al-Nusra fighter in a similar way, would that fall under the realm of their interpretation of free speech? Photography should be a conversation starter of intense dialogue and debate, but never silence. Silence is for cowards.
Instagram feels that the posting of such images is a show of support for groups deemed terrorist groups, but that begs the big question – when you photograph something, does it that mean you support it?
This is the crux, I believe, of the argument. Since when does photographing someone, or something, suggest an affiliation in any form, much less support to that subject? What does that say then for the idea behind news reporting and photojournalism? Instagram is a major force in photography today, encouraging the documenting of real life as it happens, even filtered, yet seems to feel certain images like these do not substantiate photojournalism, but rather support and propaganda.
What does this mean for Instagram in the future? Joey L. has been vocal about his experience as you can see from these snippets of is Twitter and Instsgram, but what about those with less of a voice? Are you to be drowned by the larger footprint of Instagram?