As my friends know, I really always wanted to be a photojournalist. I pictured myself as Larry Burrows or Robert Capa or Tony Vaccaro, taking pictures for “the folks back home” showing them “what it’s really like to BE there”. (My Razorback friends will remember, that was always my goal with my football photography; not so much the game itself but to give the folks back home a “flavor” of “what it was like to really BE there.”)
I was always fascinated by the (often gruesome) work of Matthew Brady and his employees, who captured (for the first time) photographs of war as it occurred. I was fascinated by the reports from the news correspondents, “Live from Beirut” or “Live from Singapore” or “Live from Teheran”. It’s an important job, a job that is fascinating to me, and one that is often underrated.
Until the very recent advent of the iPhone, YouTube, and high speed internet, the only way the world ever got to see what was going on as a government was overthrown, as an army marched, as a city was evacuated, as refugees fled, as an entire population starved; or the happy times as a monarch was crowned or a spacecraft was saved or loved ones reunited—the only way the world ever got to SEE any of that was through the lens of the photojournalist. The photojournalist still plays a very important role in our society, poking, prodding, showing things some people want hidden, revealing to the world just how bad war is, how awful a despot can be, why we should never be complacent about starvation or the environment or the condition of our fellow man.
It’s a dangerous job. The photojournalist is exposed to all kinds of diseases, weather, and other conditions. Bullets don’t care whether you’re carrying a high-powered rifle or a high-powered lens, they rip through flesh just the same.
Photojournalists know the dangers. They choose them, partly because of the thrill of it (it’s true), partly because it’s their job, but mainly to shine the light of truth on whatever story needs telling. And—there’s always the chance that they might get that one great shot (like Capa’s of the soldier being shot) that will send them into “immortal” status.
We lost a photojournalist this week, in a foul, bloody, nasty and dishonorable way. He was covering a war zone. He was abducted two years ago and who knows what tortures he endured before being beheaded on worldwide television by an apparently British Muslim.
I take this moment to mark the passing of James Wright Foley, Photojournalist.
Here’s a link to a few of Mr. Foley’s last photos from the Syrian war: