Photography and its Role in Conflict and Peace (Notes)

Research Trail Notes

Tutsi corpses in an abandoned school, Nyarubuye, Rwanda, 1995 (Sebastião Salgado)

Tutsi corpses in an abandoned school, Nyarubuye, Rwanda, 1995 (Sebastião Salgado)

Migrations – Humanity in transition 1st Aprill 2000 ; Sebastiao Salgado; Aperture

Sebastiao Salgado:Exodus by Lelia Salgado; Taschen Books 2016

I watched Salt of the Earth – A bio documentary about the photographer Sebastiao Salgado recently, and felt awestruck – by the images, the stories of the individuals, groups and cultures, and also of the lengths that Sebastiao went to to document the plight and suffering of people, around the world.

Although The Salt of The Earth covered a vast proportion of Salgado’s creative work, I cried when watching the plight of those who were fleeing from the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 (Genocide against the Tutsi)

The image above highlights pain, suffering and abandonment to me. Just looking at the photo, without reading the book or reflecting back to the film, questions come to my mind.

The man in the background appears to be nonchalantly walking past the scene as if this is an everyday occurrence, so I wonder how quickly does it take for a person or a culture to become desensitised to death and murder… or is he walking past afraid, afraid to reach out, fearful of his own safety…or was he involved in the murder of these people?

Where are the police? Why are there no crowds of people horrified by the tragedy? Who will bury the dead? How long have the victims been left after their death? How were they killed? Who killed them? Why were they killed? Who cares?

Who Cares? The question is not a flippant disregard for the plight of these Tutsi, it’s a question for me to consider when making photography. Do I care? What do I care about? Do I want to use photography to create drama for the amusement of those who are in no way collected to the suffering of those I wish to document? Or do I want to use photography as a means of eliciting change in the world?

Can photography be used a means of creating change? Personally – I hope so I will explore this during this project.

Sebastiao Salgado

Sebastio Salgado

Starting Point :- The Salt of the Earth; Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado; Curzon Artificial Eye; 2015

Photography and its Role in Conflict and Peace – Part 3

Salgado: Glauber Rocha and his comrades, they meant a lot to me, because it was front-line contested cinema. But, hear me, much of these guys’ work, like my photography, was not made because these people were activists, it was made because it was their way of life—you live like this, your ideology is this, and your language is photography or cinema, and your life comes from that.

During TED talk, “And I knew the Politics. I became a little bit radical. I was member of leftist parties, and I became and activist”

“Brazil radicalized very strongly, we fought very hard against the dictatorship. In a moment it was necessary for us either to go into clandestinity with weapons in hand, or leave Brazil….and I started to do the photography that was important for me”

“many people tell me that you are a photojournalist, that you are an anthropologist photographer, that you are an activist photographer. But I did much more than that. I put photography as my life. I lived totally inside photography”

“…Migrations…during the time I was photographing this, I lived through a very hard moment in my life, mostly in Rwanda I saw in Rwanda total brutality. I saw deaths by thousands per day. I lost faith in our species. I didn’t believe it was possible for us to live any longer,”

“The first time I looked through it I knew I had found a new way to relate to things,”

“Photography is not objective,” he tells me. “It is deeply subjective – my photography is consistent ideologically and ethically with the person I am.”

Salgado interview by Nancy Madlin PDN

“I want people to come out of this show and see immigrants in a new way, with a new respect. I want the person who is sitting at a restaurant in the United States while a young man from El Salvador or from Mexico serves him, to see through the pictures, that it is a long, long trip to get there and is sometimes very dangerous.”

Rwanda Genocide

“At every turn, it seems, we return to this troubling equation, implicating news media – both within Rwanda and internationally – in the genocide. In looking back on this period, it is important to examine the role of domestic hate media and the international media in tandem in one collection of papers. As uncomfortable as this connection may seem, we cannot separate the two. We are looking at the role of the media, the power of its message and the impact of an information vacuum.

In the autumn of 1994, French journalist Edgar Roskis, wrote in Le Monde Diplomatique of ‘un genocide sans images’, a genocide without images. His article, translated and reprinted in this collection, underlines the point that because most foreign journalists fled the country, the indisputable crime of genocide very nearly went unrecorded. Roskis cites French photographer, Patrick Robert, who was working in Rwanda at the time for the Paris-based Sygma photo agency. ‘There were six American correspondents,’ Robert recounted. ‘They had scarcely arrived when their editors gave them all orders to come home

A year later, at the height of the Rwanda genocide, the lack of media images probably helped the cause of those in Washington, London, Paris and other major capitals who wanted to avoid mounting an international intervention in another African country.

When news reaches the general population, it shapes public opinion. When there is a lack of statesmanship, public opinion can force a government to make decisions. Getting information out to the general population and holding decision-makers accountable – by continuously berating them about what is going on and what they are doing or not doing – is more crucial than a few talk shows and a couple of newscasts.

The media can be both a weapon and a conscience to humanity. Journalists can be powerful, individually and collectively. But they can also be manipulated very easily if the depth of the subject is not there. For future journalists, my advice is get yourselves a lot more cultured, learn some geography, some anthropology, some sociology and maybe even some philosophy. Bring more depth to your questions and to your analysis. And stay dynamic in the search for the truth, for you are an instrument of the absolute called ‘justice’.

When the genocide ended little more than 100 days later, perhaps as many as a million women, children and men, the vast majority of them Tutsi, lay dead. Thousands more were raped, tortured and maimed for life. Victims were treated with sadistic cruelty and suffered unimaginable agony.

Newspapers generally gave the same amount of space to the evacuation as to the massacres, then reduced their coverage of Rwanda to focus on Bosnia and the elections in South Africa. Photographers arrived quickly, but what they got were pictures of corpses, never photos of massacres at the moment they took place. To my knowledge, there is only one video image of a massacre taking place (the film shot by British camerman, Nick Hughes, in April 1994).

Patrick Robert, from Sygma Corbis Agency, explained that a month after he returned to Paris from Rwanda, he had still sold almost none of his pictures from Rwanda. He was there, but no one wanted to see. Journalists were there: but who would listen to them, or read their stories?

of whether media content of any kind has the capacity to affect foreign affairs decision-making.

Critics and policymakers alike assume that it does. Critics who favour robust international responses to humanitarian crises tend to fault the news media for not paying more attention to Rwanda in the early weeks and months of the crisis, implicitly suggesting that, had more attention been given by the news media, Western policymakers might have responded differently

THE MEDIA AND THE RWANDA GENOCIDE; Allan Thompson; Pluto Press; 2007; London

“What the viewers in London weren’t seeing in scale was what I saw in pictures arriving back in Nairobi – corpses piled high, decaying skulls and skeletons, terribly injured children.”

Media Failure Over Rwanda’s Genocide Tom Giles

Engaging with the literature on visual representations of human suffering, being a witness, and trauma, this article discusses visual representations of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and especially the art photography of Alfredo Jaar, Robert Lyons, and Jonathan Torgovnik of the aftermath of the genocide. It explores the conditions in which photography can succeed in disrupting stereotypical political interpretations of the killings. Art photography, it is argued, may help transform the viewers from being consuming spectators into being participant witnesses who self-critically reflect upon their own subject positions in relation to the conditions depicted in the image. By discussing photography of the aftermath of the genocide, the article acknowledges the unrepresentability of genocide; by focusing on visual representations, it reflects the extent to which political space is nowadays constituted by means of images; by concentrating on Rwanda, it contributes to the necessary process of examination and self-examination in connection with the killings.

Rwanda Revisualized: Genocide, Photography, and the Era of the Witness; Frank Möller; Alternatives: Global, Local, Political Vol. 35, No. 2 (Apr.-June 2010), pp. 113-136

All above taken from – The Media and the Rwanda Genocide; Allen Thompson; Pluto Press; 2007

Research Trail 4

Projecting Trauma

Research Trail 5

Conversation with Benjamin Lowy – Joerg Colberg

Motivations for going into photojournalism “I pulled out Nachtwey’s Inferno. And I sat for hours in the store consumed with what I saw. Beauty and horror merged together, the randomness of life multiplied by the chaos of war. After that… I knew what I wanted to do.”

“I’m a first generation American, my father was born in a concentration camp, and that history, what happened to our family, was a constant reminder of the burden of the past and its need to documented and remembered.”

Discuss the risk – Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros– Tim a British photojournalist – Chris an American war photographer -who were killed by Libyan forces in Misrata whilst covering the 2011 civil war. “Journalistic independence, as an abstract idea, is worthless if the journalist is dead or kidnapped. There are way too many examples of people trying to tell the story in ridiculously extreme situations and paying the price with their freedom.”

Iraq Perspectives

Iraq | Perspectives, Benjamin Lowy; 2011 Duke University Press;

Benjamin Lowy


Shooting images from inside a Humvee from the American armed forces. Tried to show what life was like for the soldiers and the Iraqi people, but had to also retain personal safety and it would not have been safe to photograph differently. Is aware that to a large extent his images are taken from a perspective because of this, so cannot be totally independent reporting, but also felt that using the frame of the window he was shooting through became part of the picture that emphasied that disconnection.


“the same time, the framing mechanism of the window itself became part of the picture, it became a metaphor for the barrier between our worlds.”

“I think the most important thing we need to remember is the concept of relative realities. That what happens in NY and Iraq are separated by vast cultural, economic, and geographic differences, and getting people so disconnected to care about others is very hard. By providing information I hope, at the very least, that I was able to record the war for history’s sake. Did I educate? Did I inform and affect? I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure that people want to be affected.”

“the public today is more visually sophisticated than ever before. The overwhelming dearth of information available on the internet tends to weaken the impact of content. Important stories get lost in the fray. So as photographers – as creatives and not just journalists – we have the added task of developing a connection to our audience. We need an image that will engage the viewer, that makes our audience question what they are seeing, that allows them to take a step closer to the image and thus the content.”


Research Trail 6

A visual framing analysis of British press photography during the 2006 Israel–

Lebanon conflict; Katy Parry; 2010; Media, War and Conflict, Sage Pub (

“The highly selective use of press photographs, along with their brief captions, may present a strong, forceful idea about a distant conflict. By omitting other possibilities, there is a danger of one-sided representation.” P69

“The framing of a photograph, the time-bound capture of a particular composition, is one instant captured in a ‘decisive moment’, a window through which the implied spectator sees the world as shaped by the photographer’s point-of-view.” P69

Raises the question “Are there visual elements that evoke cultural ideas or values related to the frame?”

When discuss the images used in the American media during the Iraq wars she highlights how the media select images to either reinforce or not negatively show a nations ideology. “it is suggested that the lack of direct involvement, or rather culpability, for civilian deaths increases the likelihood of their depiction reaching the national press” p79


Research Trail 8

Regarding the torture of others; Susan Sontag; New York Times; 23rd May 2004 (

Writing about photography taken by American Military personnel of them abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib

Abu Graibh

Image reported by (Obtained by ABC News)

“For a long time — at least six decades — photographs have laid down the tracks of how important conflicts are judged and remembered…The Bush administration and its defenders have chiefly sought to limit a public-relations disaster — the dissemination of the photographs”

“Apparently it took the photographs to get their attention, when it became clear they could not be suppressed; it was the photographs that made all this ”real” to Bush and his associates. Up to then, there had been only words, which are easier to cover up in our age of infinite digital self-reproduction and self-dissemination, and so much easier to forget.”



In fact, racist propaganda wearing the mask of democracy – the common thread of extremist media – was also voiced by official channels and managed to find assent, whether through distraction or genuine conversion, among Western partners.

The solution it put forward was radical and unyielding. In November 1991, Hassan Ngeze asks one question: ‘What tools will we use to defeat the Inyenzi once and for all?’ The answer is in the adjacent illustration where Kayibanda and a ‘beautiful’ machete appear alongside each other (Anon. 1991f). This allegory intends to demonstrate the rationale for the elimination of Tutsi by means of murder, implying that this is inscribed in the republic’s history and that it is based on the need to protect the Hutu from the permanent threat of feudal bondage. Kangura refers to past violence as examples to follow.

“Which is not to say that the acts of taking pictures and listening to others are not problematic: they are and they are easily romanticized (which they should not be); but there is also need and reason for a witnessing of the lives of others”   –   “Photographs, visual stills and documentaries cannot guarantee their status as evidence, nor their place apart from systems that produce and reproduce violence. For it remains the case that what we perceive and what we experience in looking are structured in accordance with gendered and racial logics.”    –   “it is time to start denying the image of the suffering body a place in our understanding and politics of violence.    –

The visual fix The seductive beauty of images of violence Jane Kilby; European journal of social theory; March 14 2013

“Anthropologists who make their living observing and recording the misery of the world have a special obligation to reflect critically on the impact of the brutal images of human suffering they foist on the public. As medical anthropologists our terrain is the suffering body. The texts and images we present to the world are often profoundly disturbing. When we report and write in an intimate way about scenes of violence,  genocide, and extreme social suffering, our readers have the right to react with anger and to ask just what we are after (after) all?  Indeed, what do we want from our audience? To shock? To evoke pity? To create new forms of totalising narrative through an ‘aesthetic of misery’?  What of the people whose suffering is being made into a public spectacle for the sake of the theoretical argument?  – Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology by Nancy Scheper-Hughes (Editor), Philippe Bourgois (Editor) Wiley 2004


Reference Materials


Migrations – Humanity in transition; Sebastiao Salgado; Aperture; April 2000

Sebastiao Salgado:Exodus by Lelia Salgado; Taschen Books; 2016

The visual fix The seductive beauty of images of violence Jane Kilby; European journal of social theory; March 14 2013

Violence in War and Peace: An Anthology by Nancy Scheper-Hughes (Editor), Philippe Bourgois (Editor) Wiley 2004

Rwanda Revisualized: Genocide, Photography, and the Era of the Witness; Frank Möller; Alternatives: Global, Local, Political Vol. 35, No. 2 (Apr.-June 2010), pp. 113-136

The Media and the Rwanda Genocide; Allen Thompson; Pluto Press; 2007

Projecting Trauma, War Photography and the public Sphere; Haim Bresheeth; Third Text; Vol 20, Issue 1, Jan 2006, P57

Iraq | Perspectives; Benjamin Lowy; Duke University Press; 2011

A visual framing analysis of British press photography during the 2006 Israel–Lebanon conflict; Katy Parry; Media, War and Conflict, Sage Pub; 2010




The Salt of the Earth; Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado; Curzon Artificial