At the moment of execution the rebels grasped his throat. The young man put up a struggle. Three or four rebels pinned him down. The man tried to protect his throat with his hands, which were still tied together. He tried to resist but they were stronger than he was and they cut his throat. They raised his head into the air. People waved their guns and cheered. Everyone was happy that the execution had gone ahead.
That scene in Syria, that moment, was like a scene from the Middle Ages, the kind of thing you read about in history books. The war in Syria has reached the point where a person can be mercilessly killed in front of hundreds of people—who enjoy the spectacle.
As a human being I would never have wished to see what I saw. But as a journalist I have a camera and a responsibility. I have a responsibility to share what I saw that day. That’s why I am making this statement and that’s why I took the photographs. I will close this chapter soon and try never to remember it.
TIME Lightbox, Witness to a Syrian Execution: “I Saw a Scene of Utter Cruelty”.
The perpetrators of atrocities themselves often use digital cameras or smartphones to photograph or film their acts of torture and murder, uploading the images to the Internet. These images and videos are used for propaganda, and their authenticity is often impossible to verify. It is very rare that a group of fighters from either side gives a professional photojournalist from a country outside Syria full and unfettered access to chronicle an atrocity as it unfolds. The images above are products of that access.
The photographer in the piece goes unnamed in order to protect him from repercussions when he returns to Syria. He reports that this was the fourth execution he had seen that day.
I wonder if I need to tell them about how I once woke up in my hotel room and found the bellboy standing over my bed. I wonder if I need to recount that while crouching on the ground during a festival, I didn’t realise I had been surrounded by a group of drunken boys and had to crawl through their legs before the leering, lewd gesticulating and touching turned into something uglier. I wonder if I need to talk about the things I never talk about, like fear, because I have been lucky enough to come out safely.
I think it is time not to be ashamed to talk about fear. Fear is what ensures I look back as I walk, it’s what makes me look for exits when I enter potentially difficult spaces, it is what keeps me alert and often, alive. I call it other things like discomfort or commonsense, because it’s weak to be afraid — it might expose me for what I am, a woman.
Ashima Narain, Fear in the Frame, Indian Express.
Narain is a photo editor at National Geographic Traveller India and her piece is an honest, heartfelt call to action to create measures of protection and support for photographers and journalists, particularly women.
For context, see this recent NY Times piece—Why Female Journalists in India Still Can’t Have It All—in which her story is highlighted along with accounts from other female journalists in India, many of whom do not report harassment they experience on the job because if they do, they risk losing the opportunity and freedom to report. It’s a disheartening catch-22 and definitely something to be aware of.
As press, we are expected to take calculated risks. That is the job, but what do our employers do to protect us? When we join, do they give us any safety guidelines while travelling around the city or the country on an assignment? Do interns receive consistent mentorship on safety in the field? Do the people controlling the purse strings know what it means to be on the ground, or what it means to be gender sensitive?
These questions are in no way about this particular, heinous incident, but ones that I feel need to be addressed based on experiences that I, and many of my peers, have had. They are questions that have been highlighted by this tragedy, and are for media organisations across the board. But we don’t have to stop at the media. Why don’t we make it an institutional obligation for all employers to ensure that, every few months, all their staff has to attend safety seminars?
I couldn’t sleep the night I heard about this incident. For 13 years I have psychologically converted my camera into my protective shield — one that I felt would keep me from harm as it showed that I have the means to retaliate. My shield has been shattered. I do feel scared. I think we all should. But this fear should not paralyse us, nor stop us from doing our work — but channel it so we can do our work better.
Over the past few days, several journalists and photographers have been talking about creating a voluntary mentoring programme for interns, or young people who work in the media and want guidance. Until then, if there are photographers who feel they need to talk, you can look me up. I am easy to find.
Among the core concepts of Buddhism is the idea of understanding your individual experience of living and the way that you are connected to other people. As a photographer, you observe your subject, try to become connected and then capture that in a single moment.
David Butow, as quoted in Photographing the Part of Buddhism that Can’t Be Seen. New York Times Lens Blog.
When David Butow decided to spend 2012 traveling the world to photograph Buddhism, he knew there would be a rich abundance of visual material: colorful clothing, vibrant decorations and precisely choreographed rituals.
But the challenge of capturing the essence of spiritual experience became apparent to him quickly. While sacred rites are visually lush, and obvious, spiritual experience is interior and hidden — and it is difficult to photograph something that is not visible.
Mr. Butow used a variety of strategies — and camera formats — to try to capture the heart of Buddhism. He layered reflections, employed camera motion and made metaphoric images that suggested stillness. He included double exposures, used diptychs and even physically altered negatives with a small blade.
His journey last year, as he worked on “Seeing Buddha: A Photographic Journey,” spanned 10 countries including Bhutan, Cambodia, Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the Tibetan exile community in Dharamsala, India. Along the way, he discovered that Buddhism and photography have much in common, including observation, empathy and being fully in the moment.
FJP: It’s an awesome set of photos and an awesome project. Check it out.