On bearing witness, and being human

I read a variety of blogs. Well, read may be a strong word, but I follow the feeds and read the articles that look interesting. Some of the blogs are like this one, other people writing about their thoughts on a topic and what others are doing. Other blogs come from the people doing the work. They give us a chance to “see” what’s going through their minds as they encounter some situation.

Agence France Press’s Correspondent blog is of the second category. In “A long walk to freedom,” television reporter Helen Percival recounts her experience covering  the wave of migrants in Hungary on their way from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to the hope of something better.

The relationship of photographer to subject is a topic often talked about in photojournalism, and definitely in photojournalism education. That topic alone makes this post worth reading. In her words, Percival talks about the line between being a journalist and being a human, “engaging with what you see on a human level” as she puts it. She writes of being hesitant, aware of their condition and considering how she might feel if the roles were reversed. But she also writes of being there for a purpose and how the subjects of her coverage seem to understand that as they “withstood the cameras and photographs with a dignified grace I became familiar with over the coming week.”

Photographers are criticized sometimes for being unfeeling and exploiting the tragedies of others for their own gain. The criticism often comes from people with limited knowledge of the circumstances of the photograph. Percival reminds us that good photographers are aware of the people in front of the lens, but they’re also aware of the people farther back… those of us who couldn’t see what has been unfolding if it weren’t for the photographs and video. The subjects sometimes are aware of that too. Percival’s were, and others have been. Flip Schulke, covering the first attempted march to Selma, tried to intervene to help people who were being clubbed by police. A human response, but King later reminded him that his job was to photograph because without the pictures no one else would see what unfolded.

Percival’s post is accompanied by the photographs of other AFP photographers. The images and the words add perspective to the stories in the news.