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November 2013
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February 2014

Emotional Trouble... Me?


Kenneth Jarecke / Contact Press Images © 2014


As a photojournalist I believe your first responsibility is to your subject. You must tell their story as completely and honestly as you can. That’s the least you can do after someone has let you into their lives (or their death in this case).


In the rare case when you make a picture that strikes a nerve, goes viral, and takes on a life of it’s own, the photographer is given an added burden (blessing?). In my case it’s the picture I made on Highway 8 in Iraq a couple of decades ago.


You can see it here.


The burden/blessing is to forever be answering questions in an attempt to keep the story behind the image accurate.


That’s not to say you’re trying to manipulate people’s reactions or stifle debate. Good photographs start the conversation. The photographer’s job, or more accurately the photojournalist’s job, is to keep the subject the focus of the conversation and stay as much in the background as possible.


The conversation shouldn’t be about you, it should be about the person or people in the photograph. That's why I don’t often volunteer information about this image, but I do always answer questions (mostly from students) about it.


Normally I’m fairly patient with these requests, but the email I received today kind of cracked me up. So instead of answering the two questions with a “yes” and “no” (journalism students take note, try not to ask questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no), I opened up a little bit.


For the record, I did a three hour interview about a month ago with a different Columbia grad student. Her questions were well thought out. Her follow-ups insightful. It was obvious she’d done a ton of research and I’m really looking forward to her piece.


Update - The student really liked my response. I'm glad. Sometimes it pays to be honest and just say the first thing that comes to mind. Sometimes... well, rarely, but still.




I am a student at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University. For our covering conflict module, we had to visit the war photography exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, where among others, your picture of the Incinerated Iraqi stood out.


I found myself looking at it, looking into it for a while. I read your comments under it as to why you made that picture. I agree, to a certain degree. War is a horrible thing and to show its horrors so up close and personal that they suck you in and jolt you, is a novelty among photographers. 


I am doing an OpEd piece on the exhibit and I would appreciate if you could find time to answer me two questions.


1. If you were to come across the same situation today, would you still photograph it?


2. Has that picture caused any trouble to you over the years? Emotionally? 




Best wishes,


Freelance Journalist,

Columbia University.



Hi (Redacted),


Thank you for contacting me.


To answer your questions.


1) Of course I would photograph it again today. Why wouldn't I? That's what I do. To not make the picture would be a great disservice to history, the soldier and well, everyone else on the planet. I'm not some creepy adventure tourist who travels to war zones to boost their Twitter followers and pretend they're more informed and concerned about our world then their parents. I'm a photo-fucking-journalist and the experience you had "looking into" my image is what I and every other PFJ hopes to accomplish with their work.


2) Not that I know of, though you may want to review my answer to your first question and make your own analysis.