Thursday, 10 December 2015


The camera can be a weapon as deadly as the gun. A press of the shutter release, click, and it can wound. The photographer has got the shot, but once captured it may live with him forever, instantly transport him back to that time and place. The scene, the smells, the sights...the devastation, the camaraderie...the dead, the living, the frenzied or slow-motioned activity, the death-like stillness. The adrenaline will pump as it did then. The camera removing him one step from the incident as the situation escalates or dissipates around him, his clicking like the rattle of a machine gun. Diving into a doorway, taking cover on the ground or on the floor, adjusting the focus and still firing. The need to record such a strong compulsion that it overrides sensible risk.
The boundaries shift as does fear, both pushed beyond reasonable limits. Acting the part of a solider with artillery, a camera instead of a gun slung over their shoulder, which won't inflict bodily damage but can nonetheless maim, scar or haunt. The camera, a witness to rebellions, oppression, destruction. Images can communicate what voices can't. Reach tens, hundreds, thousands, millions of people. Assault the eyes, discharge ungovernable responses.
Photography is like hunting; hunting is like photography. The differences only in the choice of weapons and victims, and yet even in these there are similarities: lining the target up within range and perspective, the click when taking the shot, the suspended posture of the unfortunate, and the reaction of the hunter to the prey's affectations. Another pull on the gun or shutter release as the intended escapes, runs from a barrage of shooting and from having a part of their soul or whole life captured. Both in the moment and under fire as around them the day darkens or lightens, the weather changes. And neither survive unaltered from the experience, for these, each in their own way, are bloodthirsty sports. There's a stubbornness bordering on hostility in the photographer-hunter because they find themselves subjected to an unstoppable force; whereas in the hunted-down victim there's a docility, a lack of caution, a general unawareness, an unvocalised contract to be shot. And yet for both the tables can be turned...One can swiftly become the other.
Sheeplike, following in the trail of armed khaki-clad men, rolling trucks, and marching boots, or left behind on the blood-watered soil as an unidentifiable body. A non-being. No name, no history, no home. No longer belonging anywhere or to anyone in that warring state. Just an exposed shrunken, greying, decomposing corpse watched over by birds, observed by passing troops, and said a quick prayer for by fleeing civilians, as it slowly returns to its origins. And it's these images of bloodied, wounded, dead matter that could be human or animal that are unforgettable. As witnessed by present or distant eyes or through a viewfinder of a camera or rifle.
The same hunger prevails in stalking an animal as it does in stalking a country or a dictator; only in the peoples it decimates is the hunger real - for escape, for survival, for an end to the tyrant or conflict – except it fails to account for the loss, for the loss of life and limbs. The other type of hunger felt by those documenting or directly involved in obeying orders has to be fed regularly. The camera carried as a soldier carries a pistol, armed and ready.
But photographers with the semblance of foot soldiers don't always dodge the bullet. Each time one comes out the other side uninjured, it's blind luck: luck of the draw, a lucky star, a token they touch or kiss, a prayer they say. For some unknown reason, those that keep being saved begin to believe infallibly in their good, and often rare, fortune. And ones like these become a talisman of war to those they know and work with in the field. Nothing bad will happen if that unassailable person is in the vicinity, so that when/if it does it's inconceivable. Luck runs out as does the number of chances you take. Cats have nine lives, and possibly humans do too.

Picture Credit: Endre Friedmann, AKA Robert (Bob) Capa
Further Reading: Waiting for Robert Capa by Susana Fortes