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Monday, 8 March 2010

What does collaboration mean?

Colin Jacobson comes up with some comments on the World Press Photo in his Foto 8 blog post, especially why there are such limited captions on the winning entries - a mystery considering the Press that comes between the World and the Photo.

It's a point that is especially relevant to Farah Abdi Warsameh's picture story of a Somali being stoned to death. Swiss photographer Matthias Bruggman, who says he is the "last white guy, to the best of my knowledge, to have gone to that area" (in Somalia) comes up with an explanation of how the victim came to be stoned.

...the story I've been told (but haven't been able to check, for obvious reasons) is much more mundane - an official wanted to sleep with the guy's wife, he paid a witness and got him killed.

Which kind of puts a different tack on things. Anyway, the real reason Bruggman is pitching in is because Jacobson has these comments to make about the Somali Stoning pictures.

"The rather disgusting pictures in General News Stories of a man being stoned to death in Somalia raise some interesting ethical matters. Obviously, there was collaboration between the photographer, Farah Abdl Warsameh, and those carrying out this gruesome death sentence and without wanting to sound frivolous, the last thing on the unfortunate victim’s mind would have been a request for model release (though it could be an interesting debate as to whether those about to die can legitimately claim rights over their image). What we can deduce is that a photographer who is prepared to document such a horrible event must have a peculiarly strong stomach."

The key word here is collaboration and it is one that Bruggman picks up on in no uncertain terms.

Second, the calling out of a Somali stringer as "collaborating" with the insurgent group that stoned a man. This is, quite frankly, shows a tragic, and complete disconnect with the realities that Somali photographers face. Collaborating my ass. The guy either lives in Afgooye, the town where the picture was taken, or had to get there from Mogadishu, through an extremely dangerous road. These guys are taking an impossible amount of risk to get the story of their country, which no one gives a rat's ass about outside of militant islam and pirates.

......And later.

Maybe it's just a dreadful lack of command of the english language on Jacobson's side. Or the symptoms of too many years behind a desk. Describing Somali photographers as "collaborators" from a lofty position in Britain is of a level of disconnect only matched with bringing up model releases right behind it.

Coming from a state of fearful ignorance about all the characters concerned, I'm with Bruggman on this - it does seem strange why Jacobson should use the word collaboration (in an implicity pejorative sense ) in connection with Warsameh. It also raises the ethics bar on photography and news gathering in general?

What is collaboration, who is a collaborator? Is anyone who photographers evil deeds a collaborator, is anyone who misreports or underreports or exagerrates a collaborator, anyone who works with a particular brand or ownership of press, or reports on events in particular places from a particular standpoint. Are these people now or have they ever been collaborators - Nachtwey, Hetherington, Broomberg and Chanarin, Meisel, Teller, Richardson, McGinley, Clarke, Parr, Griffiths Jones, Adams, McCullin, Mann, Meiselas?  And if they are collaborating, who are they collaborating with and to what end?

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