What ethical issues arise in the visual coverage of war? In the visual reporting of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, what are we seeing and what should we be seeing?
In this event, building on the topics discussed in an earlier event (Towards an agenda for ethics in documentary photography), and looking at recent visual examples, Savannah Dodd, the founder of the Photography Ethics Centre, is in conversation with David Campbell.
David Campbell: So, Savannah Dodd runs the Photography Ethics Center. And Savannah, we spoke about an agenda of ethics last December, December, the 7th actually. And then we thought it was important this time to also, given the events in Ukraine and the significance of those issues, to kind of— not just revisit some of the things that we were talking about, but also seeing how the perspective that we discussed back in December plays out in a circumstance like this for photographers, for photo editors, for consumers of information, and so on. And so, to begin, one of the things is, I think that we’ve, when we’re dealing with a with an issue like conflict in Ukraine, we have to take into account kind of the broad spectrum of what I would call, following an anthropologist like yourself, Deborah Poole, the visual economy. And I like that notion of the visual economy because it talks about kind of a structured organization of things. We, by and large, do not get to see things by accident. It’s through a set of processes, relations, institutions, and so on that comes about. What do you— how would you summarize what you’re seeing from Ukraine at the moment. Is it possible to summarize? is there a constant theme or other huge array of different things that you’ll see?
Savannah Dodd: I’d say that there’s a huge array, I find it really hard to summarize anything. And I mean, I think that this is something that we’ve discussed earlier and I think might touch on that. There’s also so many different media and forms of media and platforms and I think that also really influences the type of visual data that we receive through those through those platforms. I think we are saying, you know, I think a lot of times in the past, there’s been a lot of criticism that you know, if conflicts are portraying people of color that there’s a lot more graphic content. And I’d say with this, in this case, there’s been quite a lot of graphic photographs coming out. And that’s been really interesting to see. And as well—we’ll talk about this later, but how that’s been contextualized. I think it’s something that maybe is a learning point for, you know, going forward in photojournalism in the industry, that could be applied to other other conflicts as well in the future.
David Campbell: Yeah, I think one of the— it is, I agree with you, I think it’s very hard to summarize. So, I’ll be interested to kind of hear the views of people in the audience as to whether or not they’ve identified any particular themes and so on. One of the things that I feel is that unlike conflicts where the United States or Western nations or Britain or whatever are involved, I mean, those countries have very elaborate systems of working with the media. They embed journalists with units, which gives a very particular kind of fighting eye perspective on conflict, and so on. And I think that’s absent in the coverage that we’re seeing here. It seems much more sporadic, at a distance, people struggling to get access and so on. What’s your sense of that about kind of the perspective we have on conflict itself?
Savannah Dodd: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I think that we’re getting a lot of photographs as well of people, just everyday people taking actions and I think that that’s really been quite interesting. And maybe even more of the sort of mundane moments of conflict, you know, of people sheltering, of maybe less frontlines, so more focused on the everyday lived experience of people in a conflict situation, which I don’t think is something that you would maybe get as much as normally and quite rightly, like you said, probably because of the embedding that happens a lot of times in conflicts.
David Campbell: Yeah. We were talking a little earlier and now I’m gonna age myself I’m terribly. I don’t have a TikTok account. I’ve never actually watched a TikTok video. But there’s a lot of commentary, of course, that a lot of visual information about this conflict is going on platforms like Tiktok. And also through private networks, on Telegram, you know, which is like WhatsApp, and so on. So, not public networks, they might be collective, but they’re not entirely public. Have a sense that that is hugely significant. I saw a statistic earlier today that there had been something like 30 billion views of videos on TikTok with Ukraine as a hashtag. Influencers who are starting to do first person reports and so on. And at the same time, because it’s a platform that’s easy to upload video to, there’s a lot of concern about misinformation and disinformation on the platform because it can repurpose video from from other sources very readily. And that leads me to think that we’re going to talk about some very significant and important photojournalistic images. But they’re not where most people get their information from in a conflict like this. At the same time, they have kind of an outsized importance because legacy media platforms, New York Times, Associated Press, Guardian, commission them, produce them and run with them. So, people do consume— people who read those websites and newspapers do consume a lot of photojournalism. Do you have any sense of kind of the broad spectrum of the visual economy and where photojournalism fits in it and and whether that provides particular challenges, thinking about the ethics of these images?
Savannah Dodd: I mean, I’m also not on TikTok so, I can’t really speak to that angle of it. But, you know, I think it really connects to just a wider conversation that’s happening across photojournalism and across the industry, and it’s been happening for some time, about the democratization of media and this first, you know, crowdsourced, you know, reporting and stuff. I think that that definitely plays a massive role. I think, also, the way, you know, as individuals who are not trained in photojournalism or in photography or in visual methods, there’s going to be a different set of skills, right, than the skills that professional visual storytellers will will bring to a situation. So, I think also—so I guess what I’m trying to say with that is, I think that in the past, there’s been a little bit of a concern that like, well, you know, what’s going to happen to the profession of photojournalism. But I don’t think that that’s really under threat because I do think that, you know, photographers, visual storytellers are coming in with a set of skills to tell visual stories, and that is something that’s really valuable. At the same time, I think that when people themselves are producing content, though, they’re going to be replicating a lot of the tropes and a lot of the things they’ve seen, produced and put out in reputable news sources, like the New York Times, for example. So I think that there is a conversation that’s happening between the different levels, and I think that photojournalism plays a major role in leading what that conversation or what that visual discourse is going to look like. So, while we’re not going to be talking maybe more about the crowd sourced imagery and things like that, I think it’s all part of that same visual dialogue and discourse that’s happening. Yeah, does that answer your question?
David Campbell: Yeah, I think that’s that’s a really important point, because particularly when there’s, there’s no embeddings and there’s no easy access. I mean, I’ve done audio interviews with Ron Haviv, talking about the fact that it’s very difficult to get access to the Ukrainian military. You can’t get to the front line around Kiev very easily, if at all. So, without that perspective, then when a battle takes place or conflict takes place, what we’re seeing are videos clearly recorded on smartphones by citizens of the city or potentially even soldiers, I guess, in some circumstances, sometimes we don’t know. And they’re the things that you will see on BBC television news, or the American equivalents, or the European equivalence of that, missiles hitting buildings and so on. In large part, I think those things are coming from crowdsourcing actually from the public, you know, we’d have to do a proper content analysis and work that out, but I just have that sense. You can tell by the vertical framing and so on, that that’s taking place. And that gets to the point, of course, that unless something happens right in front of you for most photographers, you are structurally late to the event, which is, I think, in most cases actually a virtue because you have some time to find out about context. But it’s not what provides the instant images of an event actually taking place. Perhaps sometimes there’s a tension within photojournalism, how much it is spot news versus stories and so on.
Savannah Dodd: I think an interesting element to what you’re saying as well, you know, because it’s a very different thing, isn’t it, when crowdsourced video footage is being uploaded to TikTok than when it’s being broadcast through the BBC, right? And that’s different on many different levels. First of all, you’ve got different levels of editorial decision making, right? When media is being selected, right, it goes through conversations with colleagues about what’s appropriate, what’s accurate, what’s been verified, things like that. Also, reach and responsibility differs a lot, right? Because individuals might have a huge reach on their social media, or they might not have any reach at all, really. So you know, there’s the amplification of things in different audiences as well. But then also, I think it’s really interesting to think about how images are contextualized, especially when they’re happening, or even when photojournalistic images are being repurposed on Instagram, or on Twitter, right, because most people well, you know, you’re saying a lot of people use social media as their as their news. But for most people, it wouldn’t be exclusively news source, right? You’ll have cat videos and memes and interspersed with traumatic imagery of conflict, you know, and so it’s a very different way that I think people interact with those photographs and read those photographs in those different contexts as well.
David Campbell: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And again, even in a circumstance like this, most people don’t pay close attention to the news, and therefore it’s certain image—and that’s where I think certain images kind of, if they break through, are the ones that become, in the wrong use of the term, iconic because they’re repeated and so on. Now we had one of those. Now obviously, when it comes to conflict, one of the biggest things, of course, is the question of how graphic are the images? What’s the decision making process behind showing them, what’s the justification for showing them or not showing them. And probably one of the most prominent ones is of a family who was killed by shelling, an event that took place right in front of the photojournalist Lynsey Addario. So, let’s talk through that as an example. and I’d also be very interested in hearing from people in the audience that their reaction to this image. If people haven’t thought about it or seen it, there’s a whole podcast actually on this photograph on the New York Times podcast series, The Daily. It’s called The Story Behind a Defining War Photo. So warning, graphic image coming up showing the photograph that Lynsey took. And it’s of this family that was killed by mortar fire near a bridge, civilians were were trying to escape and flee. And as she explains in the podcast, this was something that took place right in front of her, which is quite unusual I think rather than seeing it later. When you saw this for the first time with your ethics hat on what did you think?
Savannah Dodd: Um. I thought I wanted to learn more about the background to it. That’s a little bit of a cop out answer. But um, yeah, I was really curious to learn more about the the context in which the photograph was made, and because it is a very unusual decision to decide to publish a photograph of people who are dead or dying with their faces identifiable. So I think that I was surprised that ran and I was interested in learning more about the decision making behind that and the context in which it was photographed. In the podcast, Lynsey Addario says that really her intention behind taking those photographs was to make a record of a war crime. And I think that really struck me and made a lot of sense, you know, because, again, you know, we were talking a little bit about the context of publication, there are two levels of decision making that are happening, you know, with a photograph such as this one. First of all, you’ve got the decision to well, many levels of decision making, but the two main ones, I guess, the decision to take it and the decision to publish it. And I know a lot of photographers who I’ve spoken with as well, you know, have said that you take it in the moment and you can decide later, you know. Different people have different a position on that, I think in the context of war crimes, I think that that makes a lot of sense, personally. Because that can be very valuable evidence, visual evidence for legally in the future.
David Campbell: I think that you’ve hit on one of the really crucial points there. And so what is interesting about the podcast The New York Times did on this is it gives you a little insight into that decision making process. So once Lynsey has taken the photograph, she checks that she’s actually captured the moment that has taken place. And she immediately contacts her editor to say that she’s filing extraordinarily sensitive images, not expecting them to be used, actually, according to the podcast, and then somewhat surprised to find that it led the homepage of the website and the front page of the newspaper. And that was something that was a very conscious decision by the photo editors, and then director of photography says, actually it went all the way up the editorial chain in the New York Times to make the decision to use that, that photograph. And I think this is extremely important, because it does show that this is quite a rare and unusual thing to happen, you know. We’d have to do a content analysis by seeing lots of graphic images, or not many graphic images and so on. My personal sense is when not seeing a huge number certainly relative to the to the conflict itself and that is, probably that’s explainable by the way in which graphic images are handled by organizations generally. And I think we also have to bring in the question of race and ethnicity and and how Ukraine is perceived and so on. And we’d have to look at a similar conflict or similar situation in a non-European non-white location to make a judgment about whether there were more graphic images or less, I don’t think it’s very easy to say one way or the other. Though, I do think that there are still those decisions at the tops of organizations, even when it’s outside of Europe. They may make different decisions, but it goes through quite a complex process, which again, underscores the point I started with about a digital economy and the point you made, that there are the decisions to take the photographs, to circulate them, and then to publish them. And then of course, we’ll come to this later, there’s the decision on the part on individuals like us to consume them.
Savannah Dodd: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think I think it is quite hard to sort of objectively say, right, you know, there are more or there are fewer photographs of, you know, people dead and dying coming out in Ukraine than in other conflicts in the world. However, I do think that there is a difference in the level of context that we get about people. And I think that’s a really important key, and maybe this is something you wanted to get into later so sorry if I’m jumping the gun. Do you want me to hold that thought or?
David Campbell: No, no, carry on.
Savannah Dodd: Yeah. Because I think that, you know, when we’re making editorial decisions, well, editorial decisions about people who are in very traumatic situations, right, there are lots of critiques against them. And I guess a couple of the main critiques are really, you know, first, it’s voyeuristic. That’s not appropriate to look at photographs. And then also there’s the charge of compassion fatigue, that if we look, we’ll stop caring.
And I think, as you’ve pointed out in a previous article, unless I misunderstood your article, these points can be quite contradictory in a lot of situations. I think an interesting example of this is John Taylor, who wrote Body Horror. He writes that photographs of trauma can exonerate the viewer from shame. They can look at indecent images with impunity and without any obligation to intervene. Contrastingly, Frank Möller has written that graphic photographs are even a kind of violence against the viewer because it’s impossible to have the right response to photographs. And then others have even have said, you know, that we’re no longer shocked by images. That’s that compassion fatigue argument again. And I think a lot of this comes down to like, how, how are we portraying people, right, what, what’s the context in which these images are being portrayed and consumed? And I think there are a couple kind of key elements that can work to ensure dignity of people in photographs even when they’re being portrayed in incredibly vulnerable, incredibly traumatic situations. One of these things is to avoid sensationalism. So, you know, I think photographs like those made by Anastasia Taylor-Lind are great examples. I think she’s created a lot of really sensitive portraits that are a really delicate way of looking at sort of the the human experience of traumatic situations without sort of portraying maybe graphic imagery, or sensational imagery. But when we do, you know, have photographs like Lynsey Addario’s that the decision is taken that actually this is a really important photograph, this is this needs to be seen, I think one thing that can be done to ensure the dignity of people is to provide context. And I think that really happened in this case. You know, I think after the publication, Lynsey Addario went back to to find family and friends. We end up learning so much, you know, about the father, Serhiy, and, you know, the children, and his wife, Tatiana, and their lives, and the church worker who is helping them. We get that richness of understanding who they were as individuals. And I think that that’s really key when we’re using sensation, you know, traumatic imagery. I think that has been done quite well in this example. And I think that in contexts where photographs are of people of color, and suffering, I think that is generally done much less well.
David Campbell: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Savannah Dodd: Well, that was a very long response to your comment. I apologize.
Davie Campbell: We’ll come back to think about those. I’ll just bring in a couple of comments. So Adrian makes the response into Lynsey’s photos. I know of very few better examples of why we exist, we, being photographers, period, Extraordinary and courageous by both Lynsey and editorial. Superb job. And I think for the reasons that you just outlined there in terms of both documenting war crime, which is something that Lynsey talks about in in the podcast, and I know that when I’ve interviewed Ron in Kyiv, it’s the same thing. The purpose is not to photograph horror for the sake of horror. It’s actually to document these things so that hopefully, in some post-conflict situation, first of all, there’s a historical record that can’t be denied. And then second, action might be able to be taken. And we’ve seen that previously in Bosnia, where photographs have played a very significant role in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in bringing cases against people, so I agree with that. Audrey says in response to the photo, when I first saw it, I was shocked because it is unprecedented for The New York Times to publish such an image. I listened to Addario’s caption, the description. She was interviewed a few days later on CNN and talked more about it, and how other images she’s made, cannot be shown. And I think that is also an interesting point is that I am sure that every photographer there has images much more graphic that they will have taken for the historical record, which are not going to see the light of day in a media organization and probably not filed. I mean, I, before this event, I looked at Ron Haviv’s images on the VII agency website. And there’s nearly 900 images now from Ukraine. And I think in that I counted five scenes in which there were dead bodies out of the 900 images or a couple of images for each scene, shall we say. Often at a distance, not showing a face. Very discreet in that sense, but a very small number of the images even filed with the agency. And then there’ll be an even smaller number used by media organizations afterwards, but on memory cards, there are going to be many more records of completely horrific things. But we’re not going to see those. And so the counterpoint would be of course that we should see more. That as graphic and as disturbing as Lynsey’s photo is, given the nature of war, we should see more to have an accurate and realistic portrayal. What do you think about that?
Savannah Dodd: I think that all of these decisions about, you know, what is or isn’t appropriate, what should or shouldn’t be seen, are so case-by-case and I think it’s really impossible to have a blanket statement about, you know, we should see more, should see less, but I also think that the idea that we can ever really get the whole reality of what’s happening and that we can ever really understand it, or really see all elements of it, is flawed to begin with, you know. I think there’s always going to be elements that we won’t have access to. You know, in this case, in Ukraine, like you said, there’s no embedding and there’s actually a lot of restriction on photographers being able to see the front lines. So, you know, we’re not seeing very much frontline photography. Do we need to see more of that to actually know what’s happening? I don’t know that we do. I think we have a pretty, pretty good sense, I would think, of you know, what’s happening, and that the photographs that are being chosen and are being published, are filling that need.
David Campbell: And a lot of it is a conscious decision on the part of photographers to picture the impact on civilians, for example. So, Mickey makes the point from the audience, I wonder if instead of action and dramatic (both in inverted commas) classic war images because of the lack of access, we get a lot of refugee coverage, which is more compelling and perhaps kind and maybe even more so compared to coverage of other populations. Is that connected? So is the— are we seeing more of civilian consequences, refugees, because there’s less access at the front? Or is that coming about for a different reason? Can you speculate on that?
Savannah Dodd: I don’t know that I can speculate on that. I mean, potentially. I mean, I think it’s definitely connected. And I think, you know, the way that people are being represented and portrayed, compared, as you said, Mickey, to coverage of other populations, you know, absolutely. I think that there will be a differential in terms of maybe favorable representation because Ukrainians are white. And I think that there will inevitably be— that will play out in the visual representation inevitably. Yeah, but I mean, in terms of, you know, a wider, as you said, content analysis point on that. I couldn’t speculate.
David Campbell: Yeah. Someone’s asked, I’m curious about the argument that choosing not to run graphic or exceptionally violent images diminishes the reality of war. Shouldn’t the world be seeing these images so we can understand how awful war is? Touched a little bit on that, but that’s the question. You made the point that it is extremely difficult to provide a comprehensive view. I think that’s the case in most situations and most conflicts, but we we have pretended in the past we probably had a comprehensive view. This one I feel is demonstrating to us we don’t have a comprehensive view. I mean, particularly as Ukraine as a country besides France, we’re focused on certain cities that are being targeted, quite rightly, of course. But there are lots of situations where normal life is— well, it’s not normal life, but it’s life outside of the firing line, I suppose we would describing that as— taking place. I mean, I saw a diagram recently that most Ukrainian railways are still running in heavily occupied areas. So that’s the balance. I mean, can we say more about, well, is it a balance? Are we trying to balance things? How do we think about providing a comprehensive view? And how graphic do we have to be to give that comprehensive view?
Savannah Dodd: I think that’s a really good question and I think that, you know, I mean, I’m not a photojournalist myself, disclaimer, you know. I’ve not photographed conflict, but from what I’ve read, a lot of conflict is not the—you know, the photographs that we see are the small sliver of action in a lot of wider conflicts, whether or not that holds true in the case of Ukraine, I couldn’t speak to that. But, and I think that’s an important thing to remember because I think that when we see photographs, a lot of times from armed conflict, it looks like it’s constantly the heat of the action, but that’s not the lived experience. And I think, you know, media outlets are wanting to show things that are newsworthy, so is the mundane, newsworthy? I don’t know. I mean, I think it might be, but it’s not often what’s been shown and what’s been portrayed so. And yes, in terms of how much graphic content we need to see in order to really understand it, there are lots of arguments on sort of both sides of the aisle about that. One argument would say that actually portraying graphic imagery turns people off and doesn’t provoke people to think. It just provokes pity. And that pity isn’t a useful emotion, you know, that actually if we show things that are a little bit more askance, you know, looking askance is one trend discussed in this book Picturing Atrocity, which is quite a good book. I think you have a chapter on it, actually. It’s a really useful book for thinking about these things. And there’s a chapter on looking askance that talks about how actually, when you when we approach things obliquely, when we’re not showing the full frontal violence, it draws people into an image and ask, and they start to ask questions. But when you have something that is affronting to people, it doesn’t elicit the same response, or it doesn’t elicit as engaged of a viewer. Yeah, basically.
David Campbell: Yeah. I mean, I think there’s lots of there’s a lot of work to be done here, generally, let alone in relationship to Ukraine, because I don’t think intellectually we know all that much about how people respond to images. I think in most cases, arguments are made, critics make claims that people respond in this way or that way. And that’s the compassion fatigue argument, right, is that people get desensitized as though it’s a psychological process, that after a certain number of images, psychologically, you just become somehow emotionally numb. I think this is nonsense and should be debunked. But I do think that people— counter to that, I think people either decide to look or decide not to look, or just to look a little bit. It’s a conscious, I think it’s a conscious decision. And I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we all make that decision. Because you cannot look at disturbing imagery all day long. And we know in fact that people who work in content moderation and so on end up with PTSD looking at disturbing imagery all day long. And as citizens we have other dimensions to our lives and even when we’re consuming the news—and we have to admit that on some occasions, maybe many occasions, we turn away. But we don’t do it because we’ve been psychologically numbed. We do it because we need a coping strategy. Because to look at this stuff constantly, even the way it’s shown in the media generally, becomes too disturbing. Anyway, I think we need more much more work on how people consume images and how the audience reacts to these things.
Savannah Dodd: Well, that was something that you discussed in an article that you wrote about in 2012 I think it was, about mobilizing a collective political response. Right? Is that sort of along those same lines, is it not?
David Campbell: Yes, yes, exactly.
Savannah Dodd: Because we don’t have a good, we don’t know how to respond to images. And we don’t know how to view images ethically. And I think that that’s, I completely agree with you that more—that’s a scenario for more work.
David Campbell: I mean, we get, you know, rightly an image like Lynsey’s gets a lot of attention. And the good thing is that she’s gotten a lot of attention, and then she’s gone on to explain the context and the circumstances, as we’ve discussed. So, we’ve learned a lot more about that. And just as an aside on that in the podcast, you know, she asked the father whether or not he would have given consent for that image to have been published. And he said, Yes, absolutely. He wanted that documented, which I think does happen in a lot in those circumstances, even in the worst situations. And that comes back to a discussion we had last time about retrospective consent. You can say, okay, it was too late by then. But it’s still to me very interesting that the father said that.
Savannah Dodd: Absolutely. I think it’s really interesting. I mean, this is a different case and a different context. But I think it is interesting to think as well about, you know, this father’s experience of seeing that photograph because he actually found out about the photograph through Twitter and he found out about their his family death through social media. And I think that that, I think there are a couple things in that that are really important. One is that he recognized them by their belongings.
David Campbell: Yes.
Savannah Dodd: And I think that’s something that we don’t always think about as people being identifiable by their shoes. But we are, you know, our loved ones know what our shoes look like, like that’s— and so, to say, well, people’s faces aren’t shown therefore their family won’t know or won’t be impacted by these photographs, I think is a little bit of a false assumption. Um, the other thing I guess is, you know, I think it is very useful to hear that he would have given consent. I think it’s very interesting to sort of contrast it with the case of Alan Kurdi and his father, and how his father was sort of affronted with lots of photographs of his body. And how that photograph became a bit of an icon and lost meaning, you know, I think people— it’s talked about in the mini documentary [inaudible] Pictures, I think it’s called. And they talk about that in that documentary as well.
David Campbell: Yeah. Got a couple of questions here about, one from James, about what do you think of journalists, photojournalists, allegedly being targeted for kidnapping by Russian forces and to be then coerced into recanting what they’ve been reporting as fake. That’s a really important issue. And it does bring to mind— I’ll just share the screen for this. This, of course, has come up in part because— and tell me if you can see this Associated Press article. Can you see that okay?
Savannah Dodd: Yes, sorry. Yeah. Looking in the chat at a couple things.
David Campbell: Yeah. So, and there’s another question also about thoughts on foreign versus local photographers and so on. Now, in this case Evgeniy Maloletka is a Ukrainian freelance photographer, who’s a stringer for AP, and he, along with Mstyslav Chernov have been the only recognized international media inside Mariupol until very, very recently, last few days. And they did these extraordinarily powerful, detailed and moving reports about, you know, as they say, the descent of Mariupol into despair and destruction. First thing to observe, of course, is that the lead photograph is of a mass grave. And these workers in Mariupol are coming out so quickly, buried civilians, in between shelling, and so on. And this is, I think, the most common way we see this, this sort of imagery, and that is, you’ll see someone’s legs, no face, no possibility of being identified, and so on, but you’re left in no doubt as to what’s going on. And similarly, as you go through the article, you’ll see a body covered with a tarp and so on. There’s more of that. I mean, I if people have not seen this article, in a moment, I’ll drop the link into the chat, cuz I recommend that. But I was thinking about that in relationship to those questions, because Maleletka and Chernov have had to flee Mariupol because they found out that the Russians were coming for them and the Ukrainian military turned up. So there’s a— that story is in this article, the team that documented this, the city’s agony. Ukrainian military turned up and wanted to know where the journalists were and they were worried for themselves, but actually, the Ukrainian military was like, you have to get out of the city now. And the reason we want you out is because if you get captured the Russians are going to make you confess on video that you faked all those images and all your work documenting those images. So they say here, they were told by the military, if they catch you, they’ll get you on camera and they’ll make you say that everything you filmed is a lie. All your efforts and everything you’ve done in Mariupol will be in vain. Really, and they managed to get out. It’s a dramatic story. But it really illustrates, even for an invading force like Russia, and with lots of disinformation produced in Russia about this conflict, they fear the prospect of these images and these— some of these images have been used in political for the UN and so on. And they would like to discredit that and so there’s kind of a reverse backhanded compliment, not quite the right phrase, but that this work is really significant, so significant, that they wanted to capture the people who made it.
Savannah Dodd: Yeah, I mean, I think, as well, I think that that sort of, you know, thinking about a lot of these things like, you know, portraying people with dignity and— excuse me— the you know, whether photographs should be published or not published. And I think a lot of these conversations and you know, whether something constitutes voyeurism or, you know, is part of the public, you know, there’s a public need to see photographs. I mean, I think all of these these questions really come down to the ultimate question, which is, do photographs do the work that they need to do? Like, are they actually that powerful? Are they actually as impactful as we’re assuming them to be? Or, you know, is that a valid justification for sharing these photographs or for taking these photographs or? And I think that this, you know, the fact that Russia is so concerned, or Putin, in particular, is so concerned about these photographs is really is really a testament to their power. Right? That actually, you know, it must be powerful, because there’s such a restriction on photographs in Russia right now. So I definitely do think, I mean, I agree with you.
David Campbell: Yeah. So we’ve got various links. Thank you very much to Katherine who put some of those in before I realized, but those links to those AP articles there. And I think this is also significant just in terms of the local versus international photographer, because because both Chernov and Maleletka are Ukrainian. Chernov is a videographer and journalist was living in Germany who came back. Maleletka lives in, or lived in or near Mariupol, that’s his home. At the same time it’s not a complete contrast, because they’re part of, they’re stringers for Associated Press. And so they’re part of the international visual economy through that. And thankfully, that’s allowing their work to come out in a much wider audience. So, I guess on the one hand, what that demonstrates is the importance of local photographers who are committed to documenting in that city until the last possible moment. And I’m very glad that they went with the military and escaped because I think their lives were seriously in danger. But it’s not the local versus International is not a black-and-white distinction, either because they’re working for Associated Press and so there’s overlap between those things.
Savannah Dodd: Absolutely. Um, I think is what I just like to add, you know, there are a lot of foreign journalists in Ukraine right now, as well. I think it was 2000 admissions, I forget the term, but for foreign journalists that have happened. And that’s that, I mean, that’s, that’s a huge number for foreign journalists. And I do think that there’s a question, you know, as I think the person asked the question, you know, in terms of experience, and there’s a big question of liability, as well, like, when a bunch of, you know, international photographers are coming into a conflict situation, there is the question of, you know, well, what danger? Are they adding to the situation as well? Are they adequately prepared? Also, you know, if they do become in a situation of danger, or will they be putting other people in danger to, you know, get them out of a situation? And then what about as well, I mean, it does make you wonder as well about resources, you know, if food does become scarce, or if they’re, you know, are other resource issues, will the, you know, 2000 is not a huge number, but it could definitely contribute, you know, so I think, really, I think it’s really important, I guess what I’m trying to say is for photojournalist to really check in with themselves and make sure that it’s necessary for them to travel, first of all for their own safety because that’s incredibly important. And it shouldn’t just be assumed that photojournalists put themselves in situations of danger. I don’t think that that’s constructive for for anybody for that to be sort of an underlying assumption, although it sort of is and unfortunately, because that’s sort of a myth of the industry, I think that persists. But as well, you know, are you adequately prepared so why are you going? Do you need to be there? Are you adequately prepared? Have you done HEFAT training? Do you have the right equipment? Do you know first aid? All of these questions need to be interrogated really seriously I think before putting yourself in a situation like Ukraine right now.
David Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to post on Insider later today or tomorrow, hopefully, a video dispatch from Ilvy, who’s been working in Lviv. And she made two interesting observations about that. One is she was surprised at the number of people who are turning up as freelancers who are not equipped in any way without helmets, flak jackets and the like, and was searching for that stuff once they had arrived, which seems a poor level of preparation. And that she was delayed going precisely because even though she had insurance, once the war was started, the insurance was cancelled and did not apply to Ukraine. So then she had to source other forms, other insurance to get that. And I think these are just—happily A, she was prepared. B, she got insurance, done training, etc, all those things are absolutely crucial. You cannot put yourself into a circumstance without those basics because, as you say, you will then put other people’s lives in danger trying to rescue out of circumstances that you should have been prepared for.
Savannah Dodd: Absolutely, I mean, yeah, to think about trying to source a helmet or flak jacket when you’re in Ukraine, like, you know, that’s also taking away gear from someone else who might need it as well. You know, I feel like you’re coming into that situation, you really, you really need to be not draining the resources in a context like that. Absolutely. And you know, as well, I think, thinking about preparation and thinking about things like that, it’s also really relevant for thinking about moral injury. You know, I think moral injury as defined by the moral injury project for those who might not be familiar with the term as the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates witnesses or fails to prevent acts that transgress their own moral and ethical values or codes of conduct. And I think moral injury is real danger for photojournalists at all times, but particularly in times of such traumatic conflict. And I think, you know, it’s really, I think that there are a lot of things that can help alleviate moral injury. And I think a lot of those things have to do with ethics, actually. I think that if you have a really strong understanding of why you’re there, why you’re in that situation, why you’re doing what you’re doing, you know, really, a really strong foundations on on maybe the ethics of witnessing or an ethical imperative to document war crimes for example. If you know why you’re there and why you’re doing it, or what you’re doing there, then you have a purpose in that situation and you’re not being a passive bystander. And I think that that can be very helpful for just framing as well in your own head about about your role. But as well, I think, you know, having an ethical practice is also really useful to that because you can leave the situation knowing that you acted within your own ethics. You have no, yeah—I was gonna say no regrets, but we all have regrets. That’s a silly thing. But um, but you know that your work is underpinned by your own principles and you can rest easy in that way. And I do you think that that ethics could go a long way towards assisting and alleviating with moral injury.
David Campbell: Well, and especially as we discussed back in December, and it’s kind of informing this discussion as well. This is understanding ethics as an orientation and an approach and a set of questions and a constant reflection, not simply a code that you tick off, sign and so on, but a completely ongoing process of reflection about these things.
Savannah Dodd: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s really, really important. You know, I think ethics is something that is subjective and contextual. It’s something that we’re constantly having to negotiate and to learn, and to learn from experiences and to learn from others. And I think it is something that’s constantly evolving.
David Campbell: Yeah, there were a couple of observations about whether or not the targeting of those two journalists by the Russians was unique or first time thing, and I think, I don’t have, I have very broad examples, but I don’t think it is certainly new. I think that the journalists are targeted by military forces in conflict, surprisingly regularly. I think that accounts that we got from Mariupol of the fact that they were being hunted, and there are reports of not only for journalists, but also intellectuals and other community leaders that there are lists of individuals who are either being rounded up, taken away, abducted or sometimes shot, shows what’s going on. But I don’t think it is certainly unique that journalists are targeted like that.
Savannah Dodd: I do think as well, sometimes. I don’t know about the— it doesn’t seem like this case in particular was necessarily impacted by the fact that they were Ukrainian. It could have been, but I would say or would add to this that a lot of times local photographers, journalists, fixers, can be in a lot more danger than international journalists. And I think that’s an important an important point to make. Because I think, you know, especially when we think about fixers, fixers are a lot of times not given their their due credit and I think they take on an undue burden of risk compared to really the recognition that they receive.
David Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, they do more than fix things. They’re actually essential parts of the entire journalistic process. I mean, I’ve seen some people refer to them as producers. And I mean, they’re journalists themselves. And there was a circumstance where there was a Fox correspondent, Fox News correspondent who was killed, and at the same time, the Ukrainian fixer producer was also killed. And that person was not named by Fox at all in the reports, which was really poor and ignores the fact that we wouldn’t be seeing these things without those local individuals supporting people. So again, Ilvy will talk about that in her dispatch and it’s very interesting how she came to work with someone. It’s a really, really good insight into that. There have been some images about— who was asking that question, I think it was—
Sorry, I can’t see who asked that question, but these are images of quote, lynching. It’s not lynching in the American sense, but there are people who have been caught looting by Ukrainian authorities. They are stuck to poles, but then have potatoes stuck in their mouths, and they’re going to be taken away by the police to be prosecuted. And we can see their faces very clearly. I don’t know if you’ve seen those images.
Savannah Dodd: I haven’t yet. No.
David Campbell: I’ll share screen and show you one of those.
Savannah Dodd: Okay.
David Campbell: So they’ve been taped, glad wrapped, unbelievably to poles, potatoes in their mouths, obviously, some some form of insult and so on. And they’re going to be taken away by the police. They’ve looted stores and so on, which is, you know, perfectly—it’s not a matter of defending it or not defending it. But this is just, this is what happens in conflict zones. What’s your reaction to that image, and I’ve not seen any published in the media as such, I’ve seen them taken and so on.
Savannah Dodd: That’s— I was gonna ask is where has it been published? I mean, again, this is a little bit different, but it’s similar, you know, so there are those different levels of decision making, right? There’s the taking of the image and the sharing or publishing or just sharing of an image. And yes, I am not sure what the purpose would be of taking those photographs. It seems that sharing those photographs doesn’t serve the public good necessarily. I don’t know what we learn from those photographs. And I think, as well, you know, I mean, this is a time of trauma and conflict for everybody. And I think, you know, even perpetrators need to be regarded with some sense of dignity. You know, even thinking about, you know, Russian soldiers, you know. They’re victims as well, in many ways of Putin’s war, you know, they are a lot of times very young and and don’t have access to information that would prevent them, from here, that that would that would encourage them to maybe lay down their weapons. And I do think that this line between victim and perpetrator is very, very fuzzy a lot of times so I even you know, even when they’re, yeah, I tend to shy away from photographs that portray anybody with undue lack of dignity.
David Campbell: Yeah. So, for a little bit more context, it was Carol who asked that question. And it says that importantly, these people were not caught by the police or military. But they were caught by the crowd, by a civilian crowd. And that’s why they’re taped to a pole and so on. I think, as I understand it, they are going to be picked up by the police later or at least that was the hope of the crowd. Carol, I’d be interested in your thoughts, if you think the images is justified or not. Daniel points out that the only place he’s seen that photograph I showed was taken by Ron Haviv in Kyiv. And he shared it on his Instagram. So it was portrayed there, but I don’t think it’s been published in a media outlet as such. And Lauren points out rightly, yes, Eric Bouvet is another photographer in Kiev who had taken similar photos as well.
Savannah Dodd: I mean, like any, like anything, you know, it’s all very contextual and very subjective. I think personally. I think those are sensitive photographs in a lot of ways and I think care is advised with photographs in terms of what lasting damage it could do for the people in the photographs, in terms of, yeah, yeah, impact.
David Campbell: Yeah. I think we can debate about whether it’s right to show the face or not show the face and so on. At the same time. I mean, there are plenty, even in our domestic media, in Europe and so on, people who are arrested for crimes, even before being tried are often pictured on the way into court, or so on. So it’s not entirely different from some of the sort of criminal coverage.
Savannah Dodd: That’s true. However, in cases like that, you might find out the resolution of you know, well, the case is, you know, they’ve been found guilty, or they’ve been found innocent, or there’s been insufficient proof. So I think, you know, there is sort of on the public record there would still be a resolution to that case, whereas in a situation like this people are sort of frozen in time as a perpetrator being humiliated publicly. And I think that that is a difference.
David Campbell: Yeah. Yeah, I think there are questions to ask about that. At the same time, I think it’s one thing we don’t see is because of the way in which the coverage has gone. And quite rightly, we’ve focused upon the extraordinary resistance of Ukrainian forces to Russian forces and so on. We’ve not seen any internal division within Ukraine. I’m not sure that should actually be played up or searched for or whatever. But this, which shows in one way, that some looting has taken place, that civilian populace, some parts of the civilian population have taken some vigilante action in response to this. To me, that’s quite interesting.
Savannah Dodd: Yeah.
David Campbell: In terms of the wider situation of what conflict does in our community.
Savannah Dodd: Absolutely. I mean, I think that there might be value in— I mean, I definitely don’t want to say there’s no value in in taking the photograph. It does mean like, you know, visual evidence is important in conflict, full stop, you know, it’s, it’s important to have those photographs somewhere. Whether or not they— whether or not social media is the best outlet for them, I think could be to be interrogated. But I think that Carol’s point in the comments there is super important as well, that, you know, well, was this done for the cameras? That’s another incredibly, thank you very much to Carol for bringing that up, because we’re not talking about that at all, is authenticity. You know, I mean, I think it goes to what somebody was saying earlier as well about, you know, disinformation campaigns and authenticity, when we’re looking at conflict, you know, people perform for cameras, that’s a fact. And I think it’s a photojournalist’s responsibility to navigate what’s the performance for the camera and what’s organically happening. What are the barriers to authenticity in a situation? And it’s not the most straightforward thing in the world, of course, but I think it’s an extremely important point to flag that could be a whole other conversation.
David Campbell: Yeah, absolutely. I would be fascinating to have seen video from this moment to have seen how this, how this moment, how did civilians get these people, end up taping them to posts and so on to understand the context of that, just kind of see what’s outside the frame or next to the frame on that. I think that’s extremely important. It reinforces exactly one of the key points that you’re making in your approach to ethics, Savannah, which is how contextual these things are. And it’s not possible just to say, right, wrong, good, bad. In some circumstances, this might be good, in some circumstances this might not be good, and so on, depending on what we see, what the purpose is, where it’s going, etc. You’ve got a campaign going at Photography Ethics Center. Tell us a little bit about that because it seems to me to embody your different approach to ethics as opposed to focusing on codes and guides and so on.
Savannah Dodd: Absolutely. Well, thanks. Thanks very much, David, I am— we’ve launched a campaign encouraging people across the photography industry to take the time to write about your own ethical approach in the form of a statement of ethics. And to publish it on your websites or your social media or whatever your your sort of main online platform is. We’ve created a pledge where people can go and pledge that will, that you know, that you will be committing to doing this, that you will make it a priority. And this pledge is intended for really anyone who works with images, that be photographers, photo editors, curators, photo organizations, anyone who maintains the practice of working with lens based media really. And what we mean when we say a statement of ethics is a statement of ethics is really intended as a, it’s a declaration of your ethical principles and a description of how you enact those principles. The purpose of it is to explore really for yourself, what ethics means to you, in your practice, so to take that time for reflection, to put it down on paper, but then also to share that commitment with others. And I think it’s, I think the sharing is really important. Because it first of all, signals to others that you know, ethics is important. It promotes ethical awareness across the industry. It encourages transparency of how we’re working as photographers, which is incredibly important in terms of public trust for photo journalists. And it also fosters accountability. It sort of makes it public that you know, these are the things I stand for. And for example, in my own practice, I’ve written one, obviously, for my own practice, and I’ve put it out there and I’m working towards it. If I mess up, I hope to be held accountable to it, because it’s something that I’m constantly working on honing and looking out for in my own practice. So for me personally, as a practitioner, I feel quite comfortable doing that. And I hope that others will as well.
David Campbell: Yeah. So Adrian, thank you. He’s very helpfully put the link to the Petapixel article on your campaign in the chat so people can follow that up and Clinton’s put the Photo Ethics website address there. So, that’s really good. And just going back to the photo of people caught looting, Adrian has said, you either trust the source or your don’t. If still images are so subjective, we need video for context, then dot dot dot question mark? I guess I do and I would just say I’m not saying that every still image needs a video to be trusted, or whatever. But there’s no question that when you do see videos of circumstances and you see a still image, you understand the process or the flow behind the particular moment that’s been captured in a still image. Of course, I trust Ron completely in this case. Doesn’t stop me asking questions about the context and it would be nice to see some other things. So, I don’t think it’s a black and white trust, don’t trust. And it’s certainly not a demand that every photo has a video with it. Although I would say about that, that one of the interesting things—and this is playing out in Ukraine, too, is that people who work with open source intelligence organizations like Bellingcat, and others, in a way, that’s what they do is that they locate other sources of information around images, not to question the images and so on, but simply to provide a much richer account. And I think that open source intelligence and the kinds of visual stories you get out of those investigations units, putting those things together, is extraordinarily powerful for understanding these.
Savannah Dodd: Could I just Oh, sorry, go ahead.
David Campbell: Yeah, go ahead.
Savannah Dodd: I was just gonna say to that point, and also to Lauren’s point, as well there about taking a wider shot. I mean, I think all of these things are really helpful, really useful. I think it’s, you know, wider, you know, if we have a close up and a wider shot. I think that that just gives the viewer more understanding of the context as well which is positive. But I think the other thing that I would say about this, you know, yes, those you know, triangulation of information, very important. It’s very important to have people and organizations who verify data. I guess the one thing that I would say is that, to me, and at the Photography Ethics Center, what’s most important to me is education. I think that, you know, we need to be able to trust photojournalists implicitly, you know, as you said, that you trust Ron implicitly. I think we need to know that the people producing photographs have the skills to distinguish between if something’s a performance for them or happening organically. I think we need people who have the skills to distinguish, you know, whether someone is leading them down a path to photograph something specific. You know, I guess, it’s not to discredit the work, you know, at all of their, you know, organizations that verify photographs, I think that is important. But I also think that there are limits. We can’t, you know, it’s hard to verify everything. And I think, if we can ensure that people have that knowledge, have those skills, are working ethically, I think that that will go a long way.
David Campbell: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, we’re coming towards the end of our time, if someone wants to throw one or two more questions in, we could probably do those. Ted had a couple of questions. One was about is something already been pursued in terms of editing images for possible future use in international criminal investigations. I’m not aware, Ted, of individual photographers doing that. I know how we’re talking to the likes of Ron and Eric and so on. They’re photographing with that in mind and they’re producing images with that in mind, whether anyone’s actually starting to put together dossiers and so on. I suspect, not for photographers, but I think that maybe some of these open source investigators will be putting together files on these various things should the time come. Hopefully, it will come.
So yeah, I think that’s all the questions that we can answer. Ted had another question about verifying information about captured Russian soldiers, but that’s beyond my—I don’t know whether we can we can verify the claim that you’re talking about there Ted. I don’t have any information on that. So, Adrian is asking—so this will make this the final question. And I think the question is, what’s the value or is it good to embed photographs with time, place, camera, etc? Well, obviously, images come with a certain amount of metadata already. That’s a very good point, Adrian, because actually, I would then call attention to what Adobe is doing with what they call the content authenticity initiative, which actually VII did partner with and if you email me, I can send you some links and some information on that. But this is, of course, Adobe, being the creators of Photoshop that people use to, shall we say, embellish images. And rightly so for graphic designers and so on, they’re now establishing a workflow and a technology which allows people to really authenticate images. And so this data travels with images and becomes much more difficult to strip out and so on. It’s a long way from being usable in the field yet, but there’s a lot of progress on that front. And they’ve got they’re developing industry standards, and so on. And I do think that this is something that is enormously important for these sorts of situations that if you could enhance the amount of embedded information in a digital file that could not be removed, then verification becomes easier and open source investigators can use that. And actually Adobe’s thing is also that media organizations will be able to have simple links on photos on websites where you could click and you could see this information just as a news consumer. So if people are interested that, email me and I’ll send you some more information on the content, authenticity initiative, but there are quite a lot of developments going on in that field. So something to watch out for.
Savannah Dodd: It’s a great initiative from Adobe. If I could just play devil’s advocate, not even Adobe—the Adobe initiative is fantastic, but I think more broadly, just thinking about these things, not to sound like a broken record, but I do think that there’s a lot of interest and a lot of excitement about technological solutions.
David Campbell: Yes.
Savannah Dodd: I think that education is the primary solution. I mean, I think that is the fundamental—and I realize I’m at risk of repeating myself, but I do just want to flag that.
David Campbell: Yeah, I would totally agree with that. There’s not a single technological solution to these questions. There shouldn’t be. These are political and cultural questions, ethical questions. They remain open for interpretation and so on. More data, more metadata would be good to have in that conversation, but it’s not going to end that conversation or solve that conversation.
Savannah Dodd: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.
David Campbell: So and that, to me is what verification is about. Verification is that you find other sources of evidences to corroborate. And that’s how we end up with with knowledge in the end. As Clinton says, You can have all that metadata and other stuff, and then someone will still claim that was an actor and that, yeah, the scene, the metadata can tell you when the scene was and so on, but it can’t tell you actually who’s in the scene and so on.
Savannah Dodd: Which is what happened with the woman who was in labor, right?
David Campbell: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, the very original claim was that it was a crisis actor. I mean, there must be a huge professional crisis actors around the world if this is the case, you know. It clearly isn’t the case. But yeah, that doesn’t stop the claims. And I think we’re gonna see more and more of that. And it’s, you know, we haven’t touched on this. And we don’t have time now, but this may be another thing to discuss later is actually how on the one side, Ukrainian authorities using images and on the other side, how Russian authorities are using images because Ukrainians are reasonably savvy. And President Zelensky is particularly savvy in how he’s using images and videos and so on to make the case. So yeah, that’s something that we could touch on, perhaps on another event, but I think we’re pretty much out of time. We really appreciate everyone joining. Some fantastic questions today. Keep an eye on the VII Insider blog because we’ll be posting more and more audio from photographers in Ukraine. I’m getting more people to write about what they’re seeing in terms of imagery and we can we hope that’s very much going to be a site for information and promote some more debate.
Savannah Dodd: Thank you very much for having me today. And thank you to everybody as well who’s tuned in.
David Campbell: Yeah, thanks very much Savannah. Take care. See you later.
Savannah Dodd: Bye.
David Campbell: Bye.
Articles and photographs discussed in the talk:
The Story Behind a Defining War Photo – The New York Times
Photographing the Reality of War – The New York Times
‘Why? Why? Why?’ Ukraine’s Mariupol descends into despair
Amid heavy shelling, Ukraine’s Mariupol city uses mass grave | AP News
20 days in Mariupol: The team that documented city’s agony | AP News
Listen also to audio dispatches from Ukraine by VII photographers in Kyiv and Lviv:
Dispatch from Ukraine – Ron Haviv – VII Insider
Dispatch from Ukraine 2- Ron Haviv – VII Insider
Dispatch from Ukraine – Eric Bouvet – VII Insider
Dispatch from Ukraine – Ilvy Njiokiktjien – VII Insider
For a review of Ron Haviv’s photographs from Kyiv, watch this episode of Chatting the Pictures:
Chatting the Pictures – Ron Haviv’s Coverage of The Evacuation of Irpin and the Ukrainian Resistance