Staged Photographs, Visual Peace, & Conflict Photography

by Joshua Smith

Ruben Salvadori is an Italian photographer who was covering the Palestinian Riots in East Jerusalem. He soon realized he was not very interested in documenting the Palestinian rioters or the Israeli soldiers. It was the photographers that began to interest him, so he began to observe the photographers' role in these situations.

I am thankful to Ruben for this piece. It gives us incredible insight into the production of conflict images and how they could be presented in a way that encourages stereotypes. We all know as photographers that our presence effects and changes the seen. We have no control over that but we do have control of how we present those images to the public. We must be very conscientious of the effect of our images.

We shouldn't take this as an opportunity to demean these photographers or the role of conflict photography. Without these men and women that risk their lives we would not have the awareness that we have today. But I hope this project will cause us to become very conscientious of how we are portraying a scene and how we could cause the situation to escalate by our presence. We choose what to include and what to exclude from the frame.

“It is a sacred trust to represent someone.”  Ingrid DeSanctis

View the Visual Peacemaker Ethical Code here that addresses these issues.

This project exposes how conflict photography can aid in strengthening existing stereotypes but it doesn't actually show us an alternative perspective of Palestinians and Israelis.

I believe our role as visual peacemakers is to find ways to tell the other side of the story even when the large media sources are not going to commission them. Where are the reports of Palestinians and Israelis that are striving for peace? Where are the stories of Israelis that are trying to stop the expansion of settlements into Palestine? Where are the stories of Palestinians that are condemning violent protests and organizing non violent protests?

This requires us to sacrifice, to invest our own time and money or find alternative funding for the stories that need to be told.

If you have a story that needs to be told don't wait around for someone to pay you for it. Go create, sacrifice, and invest yourself for the betterment of our world. Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1962 wrote a memo attempting to remind photographers of their place in this world. Take these words to heart.

"When events of significance are taking place, when it doesn't involve a great deal of money and when one is nearby, one must stay photographically in contact with the realities taking place in front of our lenses and not hesitate to sacrifice material comfort and security. This return to our sources would keep our heads and our lenses above the artificial life, which so often surrounds us. I am shocked to see to what extent so many of us are conditioned - almost exclusively by the desires of the clients…"