Exercise 3.4 -Post – Photojournalism

Look at the work of one of the practitioners discussed in Project 4. Write a short analysis of one of their projects or the practitioner’s overall approach. Comment on how appropriate you think their responses are. What is your impression of the evolving nature of photojournalism?

Introduction

While researching for this essay, I considered the following photographers as suitable for this detailed study:

  • Benjamin Lowy
  • Tim Hetherington
  • Michael Wolf
  • Cristina De Middel
  • Richard Mosse
  • Suzie Linfield
  • Lewis Whyld
  • Patrick Chauval
  • Luc Delahaye
  • Jeff Wall
  • Emanuel Leutze
  • Sebastian Junger

My choice was to look at the work of Sebastian Junger and in particular his film entitled “Korengal”.

The Project

Junger was in Afghanistan with the late Tim Hetherington in 2008 living with the American troops in the Korengal Valley. He produced a film entitled Restrepo in 2010 “The chronicles and deployment of a platoon of US soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley”.

After this Junger produced a further film entitled Korengal in 2014. It is a documentary which picked up where Restrepo left off, taking the viewer deeper into soldiers’ experiences of the war in the Korengal Valley.

Korengal uses mainly film shot by Tim Hetherington in 2007 / 8 and attempts to delve deeper into the individual soldier’s experiences and emotions of combat.

The film comprises a series of “close in” interviews with the individual soldiers, mainly conducted after the soldier had returned home, coupled with scenes during combat and while the soldiers were at rest.

According to Junger:

“One of the things I wanted to communicate with this film is that combat is a lot of things. It is not just one thing. It is very exciting for everybody. It is very scary for everybody. It is incredibly meaningful. It is very very sad if you stop and think about what you are doing”.

42 US soldiers died in the Korengal valley before they  pulled out in April 2010.

Korengal examines the military life and experiences of these men. They are filmed in extreme close-up as they are interviewed. They express the most intense fear and exhilaration they have ever experienced. They express bonds between each other that go beyond the intensity of their own family ties. One soldier states that he would gladly die for one of his fellows.

The Korengal, known as the valley of death, is a beautiful place. It is a major highway for Taliban activity. The Americans intercepted their activity, therefore the Taliban fought back. The Taliban soldiers are ruthless fighters. “We were not hunting them, we were waiting for them to attack us. We were constantly looking into the abyss, hearts beating. Every day somebody was trying to kill us”.

One interview with a black soldier explains the hatred which he has received in certain parts of the regiment. In interview this is easy to express (and powerful) but on a still picture it is difficult to describe the feelings.

In expressing fear, one soldier explained “It’s frightening but you put the fear away”.

Another question was “Why did you join?”

Answer: To be a sniper, to fly in aeroplanes and to travel. The result was very different but I did make good friends, often with common interests.

This immediately asks us to question the purpose of this war. A newspaper headline would have been more about sensationalising the  events.

Some of the soldiers spoke of bravery, usually in a very humble manner. “We are not brave, A brave person is one who asks about his fellow men while in hospital with his arm missing”.

One or two soldiers were concerned about whether God would hate them after what they had done. They were not reassured by the statement “You did what you had to do”. Nobody has to do this, to kill innocent men. “The guilt sets in and drives you insane.”

“You get to a point where you don’t care whether you live or die. You shoot but you don’t bother to duck. But: Then you recover and want to carry on.”

Conclusion

These were the soldiers of the Battle Company Second of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

So this is a very small part of a large army but all the participants had a sense of pride that they were doing something big.

Once they returned home they were able to sleep well at night, reassured by the belief that they had helped the local people (in some cases released them from terror) and brought them into the 21st century. They missed their families and were glad to get back to America but a number of the participants would go back tomorrow (driven) if they were given the chance. It was the most exciting thing ever.

The technique of asking a number of soldiers the same question worked well. What is bravery? What is your favourite weapon? What feeling do you get when you kill?

The interviews (close) are extremely revealing and much more powerful than a front page headline. They speak of lost friends (and occasionally family) from “The Team”. The intimate (homely) settings for  the interviews describe what these people are like.  It is particularly strong that one of the soldiers keeps coming back with more comments. He was emotional and his emotion provided the very important link between the filmed story pieces.

The power of the film is enhanced by the knowledge that Tim Hetherington died from shrapnel wounds whilst on the field of combat. This concentrates the viewer’s mind on the risks each and every person present is taking.

Junger’s  creativity was apparent throughout the film and was responsible for the viewer seeing the interviews as a series of retrospectives linking with real time activities. Very cleverly the film allows you, the viewer, to do the thinking. Somehow he was able to use the interviews to draw extreme emotion from the viewer and therefore force the viewer to think very carefully about what was going on and to ask penetrating questions.

The film has an 86% rating (high) on Rotten Tomatoes. This confirms my belief that this format of reporting has had a strong influence on the viewer and is therefore extremely successful when compared to other forms of reporting.

The Evolving Nature of Photojournalism

The  effect of compassion fatigue caused by early traditional methods of reporting has led many artists to rethink the format of their work. Apart from the use of film as shown by Sebastian Junger, artists have been using the gallery as a way of exhibiting their work both with stills and moving pictures. Every exhibition I have seen recently at the photographer’s gallery has used video as an important ingredient. Other ways of displaying such as Richard Mosse’s use of infra red also use creativity of the artist to impress their purpose on the viewer.

I have also been to exhibitions recently where performance art has been used to stress a political view (Performing for the camera, Tate Modern, 18 Feb – 12 June 2016) and (Tiago Cadet: All Prima – Home Manchester – August 20 2016).

It is not possible to predict all that will happen in the field of Photojournalism in the future. With the recent onslaught of citizen journalism; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. are having a massive influence and as seen recently, Donald Trump (President of the United States) has used Twitter to consistently frustrate the media by bypassing traditional methods and telling “The Truth?” direct to the people (the viewer) for them to make up their own minds. We live in interesting times.

 

 

 

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