Paul Lowe

Like the testimony of an eyewitness in court proceedings, photographs are potentially valuable forms of evidence, but also notoriously unreliable. Their partial viewpoint and their selective framing result in a fragmentary vision, and they represent only a brief fraction of time. Yet in their indexicality, their umbilical link to the referent, their economy of description and their emotional charge, they provide, as Howard Chapnick claims, “testimony in the court of public opinion2. Many photographers, their representatives and their critics see ‘witnessing’ as a central component of their role. The renowned photojournalist James Nachtwey’s website opens with the statement “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.3 Likewise, Tom Stoddart entitled his monograph of images from the world’s trouble spots I-Witness; and Reuters published a multimedia online presentation called Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War 4, claiming that “This is their testimony – bearing witness to ensure the story of Iraq is not lost”. Indeed, many commentators see this as the pre-eminent function of the practice. For Peter Howe, a former picture editor at LIFE Magazine, the “job of the photojournalist is to witness those things that people don’t want to think about. When they’re doing their job right, they are taking photographs that people don’t want to publish by their very nature”, 5 whilst Ken Kobre argues that photographers “do more than just record the news. They have become visual interpreters of the scene by using their cameras and lenses, sensitivity to light, and keen observational skills, to bring readers a feeling of what the event was really like.6 There is likewise a belief in the capacity of photojournalism to effect change, which has been at the heart of photographers’ careers since the end of the 19th century. It has also been held instinctively by readers and viewers for just as long, and, at various points throughout the medium’s history, it has been proven correct in clearly discernible ways. The countless significant and important bodies of work that bear witness to social issues that have been produced by independent photographers, often in spite of substantial obstacles, demonstrate that the role of the photojournalist and documentary photographer has been, and remains, a vital one in public democratic discourse. 7 This important contribution to social witnessing depends on the ability of photographers to pay attention to situations and subjects that otherwise may pass unreported or unnoticed, and on photography’s unique ability to pay attention to moments that would equally pass by without the gaze of the image-maker. Without these testimonies, most of which are unique and would not have existed without the presence of the individual photographer, society’s sense of itself and its histories would be significantly lessened. By bearing witness to social injustices, photojournalists and documentary photographers individually and collectively form vital links in the chain of information about the world. However, the photograph’s meaning and interpretation is of course open to question. Whilst appearing to be a faithful record of what was before the lens, the fixed surface of the image is far from an objectively neutral one; it is highly selective, fragmentary, momentary and subjective. For an image created explicitly by human agency, the variables of the technology combined with the multitude of possibilities of what is included and what is excluded from the frame by the photographer means that any image is only one potential variation on an infinite number of images that could be generated from any given encounter with the ‘real’. The meaning of a photograph to any particular viewer is therefore difficult to predict. This is of course a function of the essential paradox at the heart of the medium itself, the tension between believability and uncertainty. Clearly some of the elements of the image are influenced by the photographer’s choices and some are not, but many fall into a territory in between control and circumstance, a territory where the collision between technology, intellect, politics, aesthetics and the fabric of the world coalesce into the performance of the photograph into existence. The act of photography is ultimately a performance, an interplay of unrehearsed, improvisational interactions between actors and the world and the constraints of optics. This performative aspect where photographers bring their attention to bear on the serendipity of the real world is vital to the craft of photojournalism. The images’ elements can be interpreted as those directly under the control of the photographer, those not under their control, and those that fall into that interactive space where the performance of making the image comes into play. For the former, elements might include: the choice of lens (for example, a medium wide angle, which relates the foreground and background to each other, giving the image depth and an almost threedimensional quality) or film type (for example black and white versus colour, or Tri X with its characteristic granular gritty grain as opposed to a slower film such as Plus X with a more fluid transition of tones), or different sensitivity settings in a digital camera that lead to increased levels of ‘noise’ as the image quality is degraded. In the latter, one could place the physical characteristics of the subject, their clothing, faces, and the landscape that surrounds them, and the quality of light at that time of day in that part of the hemisphere. In between these predetermined elements comes the performance, the dance, the improvisational theatre wherein the photographer moves into the sphere of the subject’s experience and interacts with it/them in real time. This comprises the formal composition of the image as the photographer moves in space in concert with the subject, with minute changes in distance and spatial relations deeply impacting on the final structure of the image within the frame. Added to this is the cultural and emotional baggage that the photographer brings to the situation, how they feel about what they are photo- graphing. In this space the everyday is heightened by the emphasis on dramatic moments to create an encounter that amplifies the situation and draws attention to it, and a space where the coexistence of the everyday and the extreme can collide in the encounter of traumatic realism. By oscillating between the evidential weight of the fixity of the specific moment and the generality of a broader reading, a performative space is generated in which the subject, photographer and audience collaborate to provide new interpretations of the image. Gilles Peress explains this complex relationship from the perspective of the photographer, arguing that a photograph has a

multiplicity of authors, the photographer, the camera, each has a different voice, a Leica with a 28mm, a Nikon with a 24mm, ev­erything speaks, cameras speak. Then there is reality and reality always speaks with a vengeance, with a very forceful voice, then there is the reader, the viewer. So the more the images are open, the more the participation of the audience, the photograph is about an open text and a multitude of authors.8

This concept of the photograph, or more significantly, a series of photographs such as a photo essay or sequenced in a book or web presentation, as consisting of an ‘open text’ that can be interpreted and read in a variety of ways is key to understanding how contemporary photojournalism can play a significant role in social discourse. Each agent brings his or her own voice and interpretation to the experience. This is influenced by the technology, the audience and the photographer’s vision. As he argues, photography can “answer questions you never thought about asking9. Beneath the apparent simplicity of the photograph’s visual truth lies an infinite world of possible readings, as Alan Trachtenberg posits, like “opaque facts, images cannot be readily trapped within a simple explanation or interpretation. They have a life of their own …” 10 This process is difficult to predict or to contain, as the photograph “acts, thus making others act. The ways in which its action yields others’ action, however, is unpredictable.11 This vibration between what is known and what is unknown, making present the absence, lies at the heart of what can be identified as the objectivity of subjectivity. By acknowledging the inherently fragmentary, uncertain nature of photographic testimony, a new space opens up where the image becomes the focus of a conversation between the subject and the viewer mediated by the photographic process. The photograph therefore becomes the driver of uncertainty and questioning, rather than the categorical answer to the situation. As noted by Hariman and Lucaites, this “fragmentation carries with it a shift in the basic definition of an event: an event is no longer an action that comes at a dramatic moment in a sequence of purposive actions, instead it is an experiential moment having heightened intensity independent of any larger plot.12 Photojournalists and documentary photographers participate in a network of relations, creating ecology and an economy of images, stories, narratives, evidence and viewpoints. Individually, each photographer produces their own unique interpretation and response to specific issues or events, often building up an expanded body of work on related themes over the course of a career or specific period of time. Collectively, these bodies of work construct a network of connected and related perspectives that amplify and complement each other, providing multiple viewpoints and interpretations of the human condition that can expand a society’s ability to know itself. By triangulating these multiple visions, the viewer is able to engage in a more complex and nuanced understanding and interpretation of a situation. By examining the work of a range of photographers who covered the Kosovo emergency in 1999 a model of this process can be seen to operate. Gilles Peress, Gary Knight and Paolo Pellegrin each documented the crisis and the severe human rights abuses carried out against the Kosovo Albanians by Serb paramilitary forces, but each had their own unique and distinctive visual and methodological strategy. By engaging with each of these bodies of work individually the viewer can gain an entry point into the situation, but by viewing all of them together, and comparing and contrasting their points of contact, visually, emotionally, psychologically and ultimately ethically, a deeper and more nuanced and complex picture of the events can be obtained. Peress aligned himself overly with Human Rights Watch, working with their field investigators and deploying the techniques of triangulation of evidence to determine where to look for the evidence. He formed a team with Eric Stover and Fred Abrahams to gather evidence from the refugees who were streaming over the border into Albania and Macedonia. He notes how “by then we had been trained by the Serbs, when you enter a land that has been occupied by Serb paramilitaries the first thing that you look for is human rights abuse13. They undertook a systematic process of triangulation, by interviewing survivors and cross referencing testimonies to establish potential sites of abuse, through which process Peress maintains that “we were able to define at a distance where and when crimes had taken place, within a 100 yard radius more or less14. This view is confirmed by Bogert, who notes that the reporters and researchers who entered Kosovo with NATO found a “chillingly accurate nature morte: almost invariably, the dead bodies were just where the refugees said they’d be15. After the liberation of Kosovo in the summer of 1999, Peress and other journalists and photographers, including Gary Knight, were able to follow the evidence of these testimonies to the locations, where they often found the scene of an atrocity to be exactly as described by the victims. This process of triangulation of testimonies with other supporting evidence – satellite images, military reports, orders of battle, etc. – enabled the journalists and researchers to confirm the accounts of refugees on the border. However, he does identify subtle differences in this approach, as working in this forensic way requires a change in emphasis from the general to the specific, requiring a new set of skills and influences on methodologies:

The first thing is to operate a shift in relationship to journalism, the tendency to generalise things, to put everybody in big categories and to overlook details as a hindrance to a few pages, shift to attention to details; details of method, fieldwork, anthropology, sociology, tradition of investigation, familiar with ethnographies and narratives.16

In 2001 Peress, Stover and Abrahams collaborated on the book A Village Destroyed, May 14, 1999. 17 The book attempts to give both a macrolevel account of the Kosovo crisis in terms of human rights abuse and war crimes, and a microlevel investigation to the events around a single instance of abuse, the alleged massacre of Kosovar civilians in the village of Ćuška on May 14, 1999. The book opens with an extended essay of Peress’ photographs from the period, which were originally published as a long essay in the New Yorker. 18 Peress’ images provide the general case of abuse that surrounds the specific charges that the book lays. By providing visual descriptions of displacement, destruction and death, they serve to establish the circumstances around which specific acts of atrocity occurred, creating a backdrop against which the individual cases can be explored. As the Kosovo emergency unfolded, Gary Knight also made a deliberate choice to cover the events in a different way to how he usually worked as a contact photographer for Newsweek, shooting to weekly and sometimes daily deadlines. For Knight, this was a “very deliberate and thought-out process” in which he asked his editor at Newsweek for the space to be able to “take on this issue of war crimes and deliver the images when they are ready, and not be under pressure to deliver them to dead- lines19. Knight notes how he

approached the story as a curator of a crime, rather than as a journalist, photographing mass graves and scenes of crime and interpreting the charges of murder, persecution and deporta­tion. I believe the universal language of photography renders the concept of war crimes less alien to those for whom the idea is normally abstract.20

The inspiration for the work came in late May 1999, when the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) issued its indictment of Milošević and four other senior Serbian officials. 21 Knight saw this on a fellow journalist’s computer and then downloaded and printed it out. Knight and the other journalists were getting first-hand reports from the refugees that hinted at the possibility of war crimes taking place:

At that period for weeks a lot of women were coming over the border from the villages and towns in southern Kosovo speaking of crimes, men being taken away, hearing gunshots, girls being abducted. So I decided that I am going to take this testimony and go back to that place when I get to Kosovo and find what happened to those men, and that I would use the ICTY indict­ment as the roadmap for the story. I photographed it with that in mind, so I had the concept very early on.22

The outline of the body of Kola Dusmani, who according to investigators at the ICTY was killed by Russian paramilitaries in a small village outside the ancient market town of Gjakovë. After he was murdered, the house where the crime was committed was burned. When the homeowners returned from exile, they removed Dusmani’s remains and rebuilt the house. The outline of the body could not be removed. Kosovo, 1999. Gary Knight: from the work Evidence: War Crimes in Kosovo. © Gary Knight / VII.

Gary Knight later produced the monograph Evidence in 2002. The book uses a variety of visual strategies, including conventional photojournalistic approaches such as a concentration on emotion, description and metaphor, but also a series of more forensic-like still lifes, and several interactions with found images and snapshots. This was a deliberate choice by Knight, who wanted it to “look like a police report but with some narrative journalism23. It also includes the text of the indictment itself, lists of names of the alleged victims of paramilitaries. The overall effect is a somber one, with the photographs presented in an understated way that avoids the drama of magazine reporting. Knight notes that the book was a process of trying to match up the ‘anecdotal evidence’ that he had gathered in the field with the official case that the ICTY was preparing. The book therefore seeks to use a language of evidence and apparent objectivity, whilst clearly using a variety of strategies to present a more subjective, emotional and one-sided viewpoint. As the objectivity and truth value of journalism becomes increasingly suspect, the apparent objectivity of a more investigative, forensic approach becomes more useful. The book presents the text from the indictment, and proceeds to deal with each count in turn. It closes with the full text of the indictment against Milošević and his co-defendants, followed by an appendix listing the names of Kosovars killed in a series of atrocities in 1999. Both Evidence and A Village Destroyed deploy a similar strategy of using photography to present circumstantial evidence of an atrocity, with a quasi-forensic presentation of the evidence, providing images in sequences and groups that build up a body of evidence around each charge that the events alleged took place – by amassing a large volume of images from a variety of situations and in a variety of visual approaches, they offer a form of ‘triangulation’ of the visual evidence and allow the viewer to draw inferences. Combined with the textual evidence supplied in the form of captions, court documents, indictments, lists of the missing, personal testimonies, maps and graphs, this forms a quasi-judicial form of inquiry that together offer corroborative evidence. In this, the use of photographs is akin to their use as demonstrative evidence in a courtroom, which can be a very effective way to help a jury to grasp complex issues, Peress noted how this had changed his methodology:

“I work much more like a forensic photographer in a certain way, collecting evidence. I’ve started to take more still lifes, like a police photographer, collecting evidence as a witness. I’ve started to borrow a different strategy than that of the classic photojournalist. The work is much more factual and much less about good photography. I don’t care that much anymore about ‘good photography’. I’m gathering evidence for history, so that we remember.” 24

By employing elements of the methodology of criminal evidence gathering in their approach to the story, and by using visual strategies that echo those of forensic photography, Knight and Peress thus used the language of human rights and legal discourse to add a moral imperative to their work. The Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin also covered the crisis, but with a subtly different intention. He also published his work as a book entitled Kosovo: The Flight of Reason in 2002. Typically, Pellegrin’s journalistic, visual and emotional strategy focuses the viewer’s attention on one individual, caught up in a greater enterprise, emphasising the subjective departure from conventional views of eyewitnessing and photographic truth by rendering the scene fragmentary, opaque and confused. These visual strategies work towards Pellegrin’s aim of making the images less complete in their narrative function, but potentially more vocal in their expressive nature. Like many of his contemporaries, especially Peress, he is not trying to show a definitive, comprehensive ‘truth’ of a situation, or even trying to explain it in depth, but rather to seek a bridge between the viewer and the subject. This approach seeks to open a space in which interaction can take place, a ‘hole in reality’ through which the audience can try to enter the world of the characters in his dramas. He openly acknowledges that he is an outsider, but an outsider who can act as an entry point for Western audiences into the world of the ‘other’, arguing that “I go with the eyes of a foreigner. It’s a journey where I go through these countries trying to find relationships, to understand, to create a dialogue – first of all between me and what I see, but then, hopefully, to involve the viewers in this conversation.” 25 This idea of a ‘conversation’, or a dialogue, is a recurrent theme in his work; he seeks not to answer questions nor even to necessarily pose them, but rather to allow an arena in which the audience can begin the process of imagining themselves in the lives of others. Through a variety of visual strategies that often exploit the technical limitations of the medium, using them to advantage to enhance the drama of a situation, Pellegrin produces compelling and powerful images that connect the audience to the subject in a visceral way. His images have depth and complexity and are far from simplistic, yet they avoid empty formalism. His approach does, however, signal a shift in emphasis from the concentration on visual complexity for its own sake. His work stands as a more emotive and psycho- logical response to the new political landscape of the 21st century, a response that seeks to engage the audience’s imagination and empathy as well as their understanding. Taken together with the other images and stories from other photographers pre- sent in Kosovo at the time, these photographers’ works thus collectively demonstrate that there was an ongoing and extensive operation to ethnically cleanse Kosovar Albanians by Serb paramilitary forces during the spring of 1999. Each approach opens up the possibility of active viewer engagement and the co-creation of meaning in the photographic exchange in different ways. By making this a less literal, more nuanced and more complex process, the conversational approach invites the viewer to fill in the gaps that the photograph must, by its very nature, leave. By drawing attention to the uncertainty of the image, by making more visible that which is invisible, outside of the frame, the subjective approach can take on an objective function by ceaselessly questioning the apparent truth of the world represented within and without the frame, inviting the viewer to use a variety of forms of information to create their own interpretation of an event. As Susie Linfield asks:

Why choose between the unique emotional immediacy of the photograph and the larger, more complex history that it represents? Why choose between a naïve trust in the world of appearances and a paralysing suspicion of it? Better to recognise what each form of testimony and each form of document can offer us as we try to make sense of our poorly designed world.26

The ‘open text’ format allows the viewer to navigate their own path through the story, whilst simultaneously challenging them to go beyond the images to construct their own sense of what might be happening. Such an approach acknowledges the viewer as an active participant in sense-making and opens up the process of photography. It points towards a route by which the image acts as a starting point for reflection, discussion and further engagement rather than an ending. By relating the image to a broader context, the viewer is invited to more actively participate in how the evidence of photography might be interpreted. Acknowledging that the image cannot provide all of the information, that it is only a fragment, allows it to become more of a catalyst to further involvement rather than an impediment, an entry point rather than an exit. This can act to shift the viewer from a passive to a more active form of witnessing, as they participate in making sense of the world. This activation of viewing can also assist in strengthening the link between the viewer and the subject, Judith Butler’s concept of grievable and ungrievable lives is extremely useful at this juncture. The non-recording or recording of a life, the witnessing or non-witnessing of a life, or the testimony or non-testimony to a life, can thus be one way to determine if a life is grieved or not, or has the capacity to be grieved. The photographic image’s relation to time, both in terms of time past but also time preserved into the present, allows it to act as the perfect marker to acknowledge a grievable life:

Is this quality of ‘absolute pastness’ that is conferred on a living being, one whose life is not past, precisely the quality of grievability? To confirm that a life was, even within the life itself, is to underscore that a life is a grievable life. In this sense the photograph, through its relation to the future anterior, instates grievability.27

The interconnected web of visual testimonies connects the viewer in the present to past and present moral events, constantly challenging the audience to determine its moral position relative to them. When taken together with other information sources, such as other media forms, a richer and more developed perspective can be obtained. Photojournalism plays a significant but not independent role in this process, and it should therefore not be seen in isolation. To expect photography alone to create significant social change is unrealistic, but taken as part of an ongoing process of informational exchange it can have a significant role in humanising the other, and through imaginative engagement with the subject increase empathy and the desire to take affirmative action.

A child gold miner in Watsa, northeastern Congo, 2004. Marcus Bleasdale: from the work The Rape of a Nation. © Marcus Bleasdale.

Marcus Bleasdale’s association with Human Rights Watch and other related NGOs is a valuable example of how an alliance between a photographer and a humanitarian organisation can be far more powerful than the work of one agent alone, and can thus enhance the potential impact of bearing witness. Bleasdale has a long-term commitment to documenting the situation in the Congo, from the days of Mobutu to the collapse of civil society and the rise of the warlords who dominate the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today. He has a clear personal agenda focused on a particular issue, and uses a variety of outlets and funding streams to maximise his ability to get his message across. By forming alliances with editorial clients who will give short assignments, NGOs who work in the field for logistical support and grant-giving entities to fund the work on a long-term basis, he has been able to produce sustained bodies of images that address key issues in the conflict in the DRC. Bleasdale has worked on projects in Congo on rape as a weapon of war for example, with the resulting images having been used both by HRW and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in campaigns, and his work there has been part-funded by the Open Society Foundation 28 to sustain the long-term commitment necessary. 29 The photographer can thus put together a package that blends together the needs of the NGO, the demands of the marketplace, funds from grant-giving organisations and their own personal agenda in a project that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. In conjunction with HRW he produced a photographic exhibition, DVD and multimedia piece entitled The Curse of Gold about the illegal gold mining trade in Congo which fuels much of the violence and instability in the region. The HRW report and exhibition 30 have been used to directly target the Western banks and companies that buy the illegal gold and allow it to be recycled into international markets. The work has been shown in the headquarters of UBS Bank in Switzerland and at the Chicago Public Library to an audience of financiers, bankers and gold traders in a ‘name and shame’ operation that combines the authority of the documentation produced by HRW with the emotive impact of Bleasdale’s stark black-and-white images to bring home to the audience the reality of the policies they have been following. This combination of facts and illustration has been effective in securing the withdrawal of several significant international players from trading in illegal gold, and has been used to widen the debate about trade in mineral rights in the majority world in general. Bleasdale’s commitment to the issues around conflict minerals 31 in the DRC also culminated in one of the largest microchip manufacturers in the world, Intel, announcing that it would no longer source or use any rare minerals in its supply chain. 32 Bleasdale’s work demonstrates that there is a need for strong correlation between the work of the NGO and the existing or planned projects of the photographer, a clear agenda and division of commercial syndication rights, a well-researched and thought-through photographic brief that allows for the individual voice of the photographic author to stand out. It also requires a planned and sustained programme of dissemination that uses all available distribution channels, from mainstream media to direct marketing to specific interest groups through the web or through exhibitions. This approach was echoed by David Campbell, who argues that to

go beyond commendable acts of charity and contribute to larger and more substantive social change means appreciating how photojournalism gets its power through collaboration. Photojournalism is one actor amongst many on long-term campaigns, and we should not have the unrealistic expectation it can be the sole cause of change.33

A project conceived in this level of detail has the context, photographic vision and impact on the audience necessary to diffuse the criticism that it is merely an exploitative vehicle to raise funds, or that it simply adds to the mass of distressing images about the world’s suffering without actually making a difference. A common critique of photojournalism is that it relies on stereotypes, generating tropes of representation that are blindly repeated across a range of scenarios and situations. Arguably however, when aligned with the concept of a network of visual information this capacity to repeat recognisable visual themes can be understood in a different way when approached with knowledge of the historical pitfalls of representation, and with a sense of critical awareness. Rather than necessarily creating negative stereotyping and clichés, it can instead be viewed as a form of patterning, similar to the techniques of triangulation deployed in human rights investigations. Mass atrocity in modern conflict follows a similar pattern across continents, nations and epochs, with the same techniques of attacks on civilians recurring time and time again. Each image is a moment, a single temporal and spatial fragment, but taken together, multiple fragments of vision can be used to triangulate reference points by which the photographer, the curator, or the viewer can develop an argument or understanding of what took place and why, and create a space in which the implications of the event can be imagined and thought through. By treating each instance as its own unique occurrence, but then relating that to the wider context of other similar occurrences, patterns and similarities can be established, as well as differences and anomalies. Constellations of images emerge, and by working with and thinking with photographs, the viewer can begin to build up their own interpretation of the event, and the con- sequences for action that might be drawn from it. In the case of human rights abuse and conflict, photographers can then be seen as providing multiple data points of the evidence of acts of atrocity occurring in similar ways in broadly similar situations – the abuse of civilians, mass graves, the suffering of children and so on. This patterning can work both at the level of a particular event, situation, story or at a higher level of categorisation. Similar images of similar situations can provide evidence that repeated types of abuse are occurring systematically across a range of situations, establishing command responsibility for such actions at various levels too. For example, Fred Ramos’ series of images The Last Outfit of the Missing (2013) of the clothing of victims of gang violence in El Salvador is strongly reminiscent of Ziyah Gafić’s project Quest for Identity (2011) 34 on the personal objects exhumed from the mass graves of the victims from the Srebrenica Massacre in Bosnia in 1995, which in turn echoes other bodies of work from previous generations.

Date found: 1 February 2013; Time: 3:00 p.m.; Location: a section on the periphery of Apopa, San Salvador; Gender: male; Age: between 15 and 17 years old; Time of disappearance: approximately one year. Fred Ramos: from the work The Last Outfit of the Missing, 2013. © Fred Ramos.

Whether this is the result of photographers consciously developing a visual language, refining and enhancing it, or operating independently and coming to the same conclusion, it is evidence that similar patterns of events can be found in similar global situations of abuse. Photojournalists can thus establish global patterns of abuse, highlighting the similarities across scenarios in both geographical and temporal space, and establishing that ultimately the command responsibility lies in a sense with society in general for allowing these repeated patterns to continue to occur. Similar socio-economic forces can be seen in operation across a wide range of scenarios, and they generate broadly similar effects on civilian populations, which in turn generates broadly similar visual spectacles of suffering where the nuances of difference are often overwhelmed by the similarities of patterns of abuse. Seen in this way, individual photojournalists each provide a piece of the puzzle. When their output is viewed collectively, from a critical distance, the picture established can give a comprehensive engagement with a given situation, or indeed with more general social trends and patterns. Drawing links between the use of rape as a weapon of war in Congo, Rwanda and Bosnia for example, establishes that there is a pressing need for sanctions against such abuse to be developed at the level of global governance. Photojournalists can thus be seen as a network of trusted witnesses, collectively providing testimony and evidence from a wide and varied set of situations. The practice of photojournalists and documentary photographers therefore arguably serves to enhance the moral memory of society by providing it with imaginative, emotional and evidentiary triggers to spur debate, discussion, retrospection, understanding and empathy. In a similar way, the actual images produced by photojournalists operate in a networked fashion, individually and collectively generating connections and relations both within individual stories but also between stories, building patterns of relationships across time and space. The images operate as social agents as well as the photographers, amplifying the trust inherent in the photograph with the trust earned by the photographer by virtue of their demonstrating a commitment to ethical and journalistic integrity over a sustained period of time. The audience can therefore trust the photographer or the photograph, based on a calculation of the integrity of the context in which the work is encountered. The integrity of the photographer and their proxy (the photographic image) is vital in establishing them as reliable witness- es, whose testimony will be seen as credible and believable, shifting the onus of trust from the publication to the producer. The audience thus can come to identify with the author of the testimony rather than the media outlet that publishes it. This makes the moment of testimony more personal, more immediate, and potentially therefore more affecting. Although institutions can collectively bear witness, the sense of personal testimony delivered without allegiance to a publication is significant. By foregrounding the individual’s act of witnessing, the emphasis shifts from journalism to testimony. A ‘gatekeeper organisation’ such as Reuters news agency affords the image the necessary veracity to be trusted, or the more individual authorship of a photographer from an agency such as Magnum, Panos, Noor or VII could be established by follow- ing their work across a range of situations in which they demonstrate their integrity. The audience can thus use its judgment to determine to what extent to trust the photograph or series of photographs, and therefore to determine to what standard of evidence they pertain. Photographers are also now enabled to disseminate their work through a wider range of platforms and spaces than just traditional print media, and are able to present their testimony in less mediated ways, unfettered by the editorial control of media institutions. Again, this positions the photographer as the focus of the witnessing act, emphasising the personal nature of the testimony. Web-based platforms thus offer possibilities for photographers to deliver their testimony in the way they see most appropriate and effective, without the overt and covert agendas of mainstream media. They also offer more rapid and effective feedback loops, as the data on traffic and usage is available directly to the photographer in a much more detailed and nuanced form than the simple circulation figures for a print publication. Again, this can offer valuable information and feedback on how to present work to gain the maximum impact and attention of the viewer. This in turn enhances the participatory process of witnessing by offering a greatly enhanced potential for the viewer to engage with the work in an active process of sense-making, as non-linear interactive narratives can help the audience follow their own investigative journey through the work. The affordances of the web allow for a more direct and interactive engagement between audience and witness that can potentially serve to amplify the impact of the testimony, by delivering it in a more targeted and focused way to people who are perhaps already moving along the trajectory from a passive to active bystander. Photography should therefore not be seen in isolation, as if its effects, positive or negative, occur in a contextual vacuum, divorced from the impacts and effects of other related media and communication forms. It has to be seen as part of an ecology of evidence, where a variety of sources can be triangulated to provide a more nuanced interpretation of a situation. As Gilles Peress argues, this is when photography is at its most effective:

If you ghettoize photography as ‘photography’, you limit its conception as a means. I’ve always seen photography in a continuum – content on one side, art on another, and politics on the other. What’s interesting about photography is when it locates itself at the convergence of various forms of expression and reality. I was never interested in what was happening within the defined ter­ritory of the medium, but instead, in the no­man’s land between photography and other genres – literature, cinema, painting.35

Journalism, documentary film, television, fiction and non-fiction writing, art, academic writing and reports from NGOs all have their own internal network of similar trusted witnesses, and also interlock and interweave with each other, reinforcing each other in a complex web of evidence, associations, interpretations and analysis. As Knight explains, “photojournalism, like other forms of mass communication, is a small and useful tool and when it is used wisely in conjunction and collaboration with other media and with the support of public opinion it can make a contribution36. The audience thus has multiple reference points across a range of media to utilise to make sense of a given situation. Photography plays a significant and vital role in this, but it does not operate alone. Each individual act of testimony is important and significant in its own right in terms of how it expresses a specific situation, but taken together they form an interconnected network of testimony about the world. Patterns of activity can be discerned, with similar strategies and forms being repeated in a variety of contexts. Photographers thus actively bear witness to the events of the world. The question remains what action will be taken in response. It is therefore imperative that the individual photographer identifies and develops strategies, ways of seeing, and forms of investigation and representation that, combined with their own individual subjectivity, point to a way forward and demand a response. The work of the photojournalist should therefore be underpinned by a foundation of considered and deep thought, that combines the immediacy of the journalistic imperative with the rigour of deep and extensive research, and then adds the personal vision of the photographer, all mediated by a worked-through and developed ethical stance. The distinct features of the still photograph empower it with a unique quality in that it acts as a technologically enhanced, proxy form of vision, positioning the viewer as a witness of the scene with their own eyes, even if separated spatially and temporally from the event. The act of bearing witness therefore links together the event, the participants in it (including both the photographer and any subjects of the photograph), the photograph itself, and then the audience responses to it, in an active, ongoing participatory process of testimony. By connecting networks of trusted photographic witnesses to larger networks of witnesses linking not only other image-makers but also other sources of information including the rest of the media, the audience can triangulate information about a given situation, and from this more active stance of engagement make sense of it to better inform themselves and to potentially take action.

Published in: Karen Fromm, Sophia Greiff, Anna Stemmler (eds.): Images in Conflict / Bilder im Konflikt, Weimar 2018, p. 208-226.

1 A version of this argument is presented in: Jennifer Good / Paul Lowe: Understanding Photojournalism, London 2017. Figure above right: The outline of the body of Kola Dusmani, who according to investigators at the ICTY was killed by Russian paramilitaries in a small village outside the ancient market town of Gjakovë. After he was murdered, the house where the crime was committed was burned. When the homeowners returned from exile, they removed Dusmani’s remains and rebuilt the house. The outline of the body could not be removed. Kosovo, 1999. Gary Knight: from the work Evidence: War Crimes in Kosovo. © Gary Knight / VII.
2 Howard Chapnick: Truth Needs No Ally, Missouri 1994, p. 13. Howard Chapnick was the founder of Black Star, a leading photojournalistic agency, and was instrumental in developing the careers of many photojournalists including James Nachtwey, the Turnley brothers and Christopher Morris.
3 See (Accessed 12 May 2018).
4 See (Accessed 12 May 2018). The Reuters Iraq website states that “Through half a decade of war, a team of 100 Reuters correspondents, photographers, cameramen and support staff have strived to bring the world news from the most dangerous country for the press. This is their testimony – bearing witness to ensure the story of Iraq is not lost.
5 Peter Howe: Shooting under Fire, New York 2002, p. 174.
6 Kenneth Kobre: Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach, Waltham 1980, p. 322.
7 In this I acknowledge the theoretical stances of Azoulay (2008), Campbell (2012), Linfield (2010), and Hariman and Lucaites (2007) here, countering the powerful and pervasive theories of compassion fatigue as put forward by Moeller (1999) amongst others. I argue that the whole process of viewing images is active on all fronts and interconnected – as opposed to viewers just being passively inundated and exhausted by atrocity imagery. See Ariella Azoulay: The Civil Contract of Photography, New York 2008; David Campbell: ‘The Iconography of Famine’, in: Geoffrey Batchen et al. (ed.): Picturing Atrocity: Reading Photographs in Crisis, London 2012, p. 79-93; Susie Linfield: The Cruel Radiance. Photography and Political Violence, Chicago 2010; Robert Hariman / John Louis Lucaites: No Caption Needed. Iconic Photographs, Public Culture and Liberal Democracy, Chicago 2007; Susan Moeller: Compassion Fatigue, London 1999.
8 Gilles Peress, interview with the author, 15 September 2008.
9 Michael Kamber: Photojournalists on War, Austin 2013, p. 207.
10 Alan Trachtenberg: Reading American Photographs. Images as History. Mathew Brady to Walker Evans, New York 1989, p. 15.
11 Ariella Azoulay: The Civil Contract of Photography, 2008, p. 137.
12 Robert Hariman / John Louis Lucaites: No Caption Needed, 2007, p. 178.
13 Gilles Peress, interview with the author, 15 September 2008. For a comprehensive account of the situation in Kosovo during this period see Human Rights Watch (ed.): Under Orders. War Crimes in Kosovo, New York 2001.
14 Gilles Peress, interview with the author, 15 September 2008.
15 Gilles Peress / Eric Stove / Fred Abrahams: A Village Destroyed. May 14, 1999, Berkeley 1999, p. 2.
16 Gilles Peress, interview with the author, 15 September 2008.
17 Published jointly by HRW and the Human Rights Centre at Berkeley, California.
18 Peress was at the time a contributing photographer for the magazine, and this story ran as the longest essay the magazine had ever run.
19 Gary Knight, interview with the author, 10 September 2010.
 Ibid. The concept that there is a ‘universal language of photography’ can of course be questioned, as Sekula does in his influential essay ‘The Traffic in Photographs’, in: Art Journal 41 (1), 1981, p. 15-25. However, the use of the concept by Knight is indicative of how photographers and journalists make assumptions about their audiences and their responses to media content, it does clearly indicate an expectation of an interpretive model from the audience that aligns with the photographer’s world view.
21 The full text of the ICTY Case No. IT-99-37-PT can be seen at (Accessed 12 May 2018).
22 Gary Knight, interview with the author, 10 September 2010.
23 Ibid.
Gilles Peress: ‘I don’t care that much about ‘Good Photography’’, in: US News and World Report, 6 October 1997, p. 6.
25 Paolo Pellegrin, interview with the author, 30 April 2006.
26 Susie Linfield: The Cruel Radiance, 2010, p. 202.
27 Judith Butler: Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?, London 2009, p. 98.
28 The Open Society Foundation has been a major supporter of photographic projects, and has supported over 300 projects since 1998. See (Accessed 12 May 2018).
29 In 2009 his black-and-white images were exhibited before the United States Senate during a hearing on sexual violence in the DRC, which acted as the catalyst for a sequence of events that resulted in the US Government committing more resources to its treatment and prevention. Bleasdale has also been involved in developing a role playing computer game based on his work Zero Hour Congo, in which the viewer can play the role of a photojournalist investigating the issues around conflict minerals.
30 See Human Rights Watch (ed.): The Curse of Gold, New York 2005, (Accessed 12 May 2018).
31 He is also aware of the contradictions inherent in using technology that itself potentially uses conflict minerals, as he remarked: “I’m probably the worst user of conflict minerals on the planet; I’m a photographer with five camera bodies and two computers and phones. I walk around with half a Congolese mine in my bag every day”, Marcus Bleasdale, cited in: Fran Berkman: ‘Africa Photographer Witnesses the Human Cost of Our Electronics’, in: Mashable, 22 September 2013, (Accessed 12 May 2018). At the bottom of his emails he signs off with the note “Sent from the machine I am pretty sure is not conflict-mineral free nor made with the highest labour standards – hoping and working for change in both areas. Together with you all hopefully.” Conflict minerals include tantalum, tungsten, gold, and tin. Camera manufacturers Canon and Nikon fall at the bottom of a list developed by the ‘Raise Hope for Congo’ Campaign with scores below 10% on an index that measures the steps they have taken to prevent the use of conflict minerals. Their low scores indicate that “These companies have done next to nothing to shift their practices toward conflict-free minerals from Congo. They are not members of industry-wide efforts, have not taken the pro- per steps to investigate their supply chains, have said nothing about legislation, and are not actively engaged with other stakeholders”, (Accessed 12 May 2015).
32 Announcing the move, Intel’s statement underlined the idea that achieving sustainable change needs a coherent, collaborative approach that unites a wide range of stakeholders and agents, “This problem cannot be solved by one company alone, and Intel encourages others, both industry and consumers alike, to join our continuing efforts to tackle this important global issue. By making faster and deeper strides toward conflict-free supply chains and fostering greater understanding and curiosity about what’s inside the products we buy, we can move more quickly toward improving the situation in the DRC and the surrounding region”, InteI corporate website, ‘conflict-free minerals’, 2014, (Accessed 31 August 2018).
33 David Campbell: ‘How photojournalism contributes to change: Marcus Bleasdale’s work on conflict minerals’, in: David Campbell Blog, 14 January 2014, (Accessed 13 March 2014).
34 See Ziyah Gafić: Quest for Identity in this volume.
35 Gilles Peress / Carole Kismaric: ‘Gilles Peress by Carole Kismaric’, in: Bomb Magazine, 1 April 1997, (Accessed 1 August 2014).
36 Gary Knight, interview with the author, 10 September 2010.