Trauma and conflict photography: ‘We own this collectively’ | Press Releases | DW | 21.06.2017
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Trauma and conflict photography: ‘We own this collectively’

A traveling exhibition featuring the work of seven conflict photographers opened as part of the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Bonn on Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

On hand for the opening were photographers Patrick Tombola and Capucine Granier-Deferre, who spoke with Gavin Rees, director of the Dart Centre Europe, about how photojournalists cope with the trauma they experience while reporting from conflict zones. 

“I am thankful that Deutsche Welle can be the first to show this exhibition,” said Director General Peter Limbourg at the opening. “As a media agency that sends journalists out to the field, we have the responsibility not only for their security but also for their well-being after they return. We know that even if you send the toughest reporters out, when they return they will be broken for a while.” Still, Limbourg said, the images they come back with are important – those in the exhibition especially, as “they tell a story and show the humanity impacted by these conflicts.”

Patrick Tombola said that capturing the humanity in these conflicts is his motivation. “The people I photograph drive me. The psychology of them sharing a unique moment of intimacy with me motivates me to take the best picture possible as a way of thanking them.” 

“Local journalists play a super important role in reporting investigative stories. It’s very different from what we do as international journalists, yet for safety reasons, our work as outsiders is necessary to getting some stories told,” said Tombola. “Who you have in front of you is a in a life-or-death situation,” said Tombola, who warned against the savior complex. “If you go into a situation thinking, ‘I’ll save the world,’ you’ll burn out.”

Gavin Rees of Dart Centre Europe said, even those journalists who do not go into a conflict situation themselves, are confronted with traumatic situations, as images of these war zones are flooding onto television and computer screens in their newsrooms. Referring to resources available from the Dart Centre Europe, Rees said that “we need to think through collectively what the solutions are to the issues journalists face when returning from a conflict zone and encourage people to look out for each other.”

Capucine Granier-Deferre, a freelance photojournalist, was on location as one of the first people at the site of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 crash and described the physical response her body went through in that situation. It was an event with lasting impact. “I try to balance the conflict work with other projects. I’m not going to push myself too much. I don’t force myself to take assignments I don’t want to.” 

Granier-Deferre also called for greater support for freelancers, who are often left to bear the weight not only of the trauma but also of the costs they incur when in a conflict zone. “Most freelancers pay for their own gear, including insurance while in a country as well as body armor.” 

Rees added that increased support from media organizations for both staff and freelancers is necessary for assisting journalists who have put their lives at risk to document human tragedy and suffering. “We own this collectively.”

The photo exhibition CONFLICT will be put on display at several locations around the world by curator Marc Omar. The next stop will be the legendary Frontline Club in London. By entering into a media partnership with the exhibition, Deutsche Welle wants to underline the importance of the work of frontline journalists and raise awareness for the responsibility of media companies to assist them in dealing with the partly traumatic experiences they make during their assignments.

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