Abu Dhabi: The inaugural day of the International Photography Festival ‘Xposure’ on Thursday saw some of the world’s top photojournalists share their experiences about visually documenting news in war zones and disaster-hit areas.
Giles Clarke, Jodi Cobb, Muhammed Muheisen, Tommy Trenchard and former Sunday Times picture editor Ray Wells talked about the risks they had faced on the job, and addressed questions about the relevance of the genre in an age dominated by social media, AI and other technologies.
Speaking at a panel session titled ‘Credible Witness’ moderated by Aidan Sullivan, the photographers outlined how they have ensured their safety in high-risk environments and dealt with the emotional trauma of being surrounded by death and despair while working in war zones and other conflict-ridden environments.
They also emphasised the importance of photojournalism in visually documenting key global events to provide a factually accurate representation of the world we live in.
Power of photography
“I grew up overseas and came to realise how little I knew about the world. I was driven by my own curiosity; I wanted to see things for myself and share what I was seeing”, Cobb said. He added that the job helped him understand the power of photography in accurately sharing with the world things he witnessed.
Tommy Trenchard, also passionate about seeing “more of the world”, picked up the camera more than 10 years ago to “document the things I was seeing with the audience in the UK and elsewhere”. He has since faced a number of challenges, including the lack of financial support, hostile environments, burnout, and trauma.
“I find it more convenient or effective to assume the risks myself, and then, I just cross my fingers that my coverage will be disseminated widely enough to pay my bills, while also achieving the objective of sharing a story with an audience. This is the whole point of this line of work”, Trenchard said.
Protection for visual journalists
The speakers emphasised that in recent years, protection for visual journalists has declined significantly. In fact, the past decade is a stark example of this with more than 2,000 photojournalists have lost their lives since 1992.
“Coming into countries now, I have to carry a tiny camera to remain low key. I often find myself operating in environments that do not want photographers - they just don’t want you around. Carrying a camera has always isolated photographers, making them easy targets. These risks are a reminder why we need credible witnesses on ground,” Clarke said.
The speakers also elaborated that the personal consequences of photojournalism can be significant for both photographers and their families. Photojournalists often find themselves dealing with burnout, stress, and mental health issues. Muheisen noted that photojournalists start to feel the consequences after they return home to their countries away from the red zone. They stay resilient by trying as much as possible to leave their work behind when they return home and seek professional help if they need it.
This year, Xposure offers 41 inspiring seminars for visitors to gain knowledge, insights and learn from the expertise of a plethora of the world’s top photographic masters, filmmakers, and industry experts.
The festival runs from 9-15 February at Expo Centre Sharjah.
At the event, the House of Wisdom (HoW) and Sharjah Media City (Shams) honoured the winners of the Capture Sharjah programme.
Aimed at children and youth, the program offered a comprehensive examination of Sharjah’s rich cultural, architectural, and natural heritage through four distinct themes: cultural heritage, architectural wonders, wildlife, and astrophotography.
Over 28 participants submitted entries, with eight winners selected from two categories..
Israa Fatima Brassit won the best photo award in the Cultural Heritage theme in the children’s category, while Saif Mohammed won the award for Architectural Wonders. Khaled Al Hammadi was recognised for his photo in the Wildlife theme, and Khalifa Al Suwaidi was announced the winner in Astrophotography. In the youth category, Selam Al Tammy was honoured in Cultural Heritage, Aseel Muhammad in Architectural Wonders, and Gautham Puttar Ajada in both Wildlife and Astrophotography.