June 17, 2013

You Too Can Become an Insta-War Photographer in Syria – GRAPHIC

Shitting ourselves, we sprinted across this stretch of desert for five minutes. We made it back to Kilis, Turkey. It wasn’t the same as being back in London, but I was just happy to still have my cock and be wearing socks. And to not be in Syria anymore. I no longer wanted to be a journalist. I was thinking maybe I’d go into politics instead.

— Sunil Patel (VICE)

Under the pretext of a cautionary tale of what not to do, VICE has a post up about Syria, war journalism and photojournalism with the following title:

I Went to Syria to Learn How to Be a Journalist, And Failed Miserably at It While Almost Dying a Bunch of Times

It’s about a guy with no sense who think he wants to be a reporter/photographer who makes his way to Aleppo with a barely more experienced but equally senseless pretend-photographer. And while we learn from the account that other media organizations Patel solicited wouldn’t touch the story, VICE — in that overly familiar voice — goes all in with the simple disclaimer: “And no, VICE did not send him there.”

But visually, it gets worse. The post is illustrated with five photos. Given the context (or, more accurately might say, the “pretense”), at least four of them are shamefully gratuitous. It’s not that the author, the faux-journalist and, effectively, a disaster tourist, doesn’t describe various interactions with Turks and Syrians that might have been rational to actually show and tell. His crassly-written account, however, simply provides VICE and its photo editors the textual sandwich bread in which to wrap photos of bloody corpses. (Given the sham circumstances, even the more innocuous lead photo — a group portrait of Free Syrian Army fighters — reeks of stereotype, the authors getting the fighters to pose like typical bad asses with guns on display, the boss splayed out in that chair as if he was doing a sketch of Pancho Villa.)

I post the image above not just for of the way it shamefully exploits killing and glorifies the actions of these two knuckleheads. I find it curious, too,  the way it reflects codes of dress that VICE, attuned as it is to hip-hop culture, would find “catchy” too.

All in all, at a point in time in which conflict photographers have become walking bulls eyes and an endangered species, the publication of this post and these photos shows extraordinarily bad timing and judgement. This piece glorifies the “Beavis and Butt-head” idea that any couple of fools can have a harrowing experience like this and live to (sell it to VICE and) tell the world about it. With its cute sophomoric title, the post diminishes the skill, professionalism and bravery of real life photographers — many of them operating independently — and further erodes the distinction between reporters and all the other actors caught up in the purgatory the Syrian Civil War has devolved into.

UPDATE:  And this is the same VICE, by the way, that has recently partnered up with Magnum.

(photo: Sunil Patel, or a person with the pseudonym of “Carlos.” caption: Doctors scramble to treat the wounded after Assad’s troops bombed a bakery in Aleppo.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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