Images are one of the most powerful tools we have for storytelling. They stir up emotions in all of us and can work as a universal language without the need for words.
But much like written stories, photos take on something unique from their creator’s experience, which is why it’s important to consider who’s taking them when we look at and interpret them.
Earlier this month I had the privilege of joining ‘Unfiltered’, a joint panel event held by Canon and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at the international photojournalism festival, Visa Pour l’Image. Inspired by our work with the ICRC in nurturing young visual storytellers in areas affected by conflict, I was joined by a panel of experts to discuss why who’s behind the lens is important.
The discussion highlighted how the visual stories we see in the media can be affected by the fact that photojournalists documenting these conflicts are often from outside the community they’re reporting on.
As Fabrizio Carboni, Regional Director for the Near and Middle East at the ICRC explained, when western photojournalists cover conflicts in the Middle East, we often end up with a passive image of the people living in the violence, one that lacks nuance and only gives a part of the full story.
Getting local people behind the lens to tell their own stories is key to tackling this problem and giving them a voice. Daniel Obeid, a participant from our Young People Programme, which saw refugees document what life is really like in the Ein el-Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon, told us why this was so important to him:
“It was very important for me and the group to take photos of Ein El-Helweh because we wanted to show the real life of the people there. It's difficult for other people to show how we really live, because if a photographer comes from outside Ein El-Helweh they will look at things differently. We wanted to show Ein el-Helweh from our own perspective.”
Even where there are local people covering their own communities, we often don’t see the full story in the media. Professional photojournalist Anush Babajanyan, 19th winner of Canon’s Female Photojournalist grant, told of her experience covering conflict in her native Armenia, where editors for the global media would only use one or two very specific images for newswire articles.
Such restricted use of local photographers’ work paints a skewed picture of what’s really taking place, and we need to embrace community photojournalism to combat this.
The challenges don’t always come from outside the community either. Daniel Obeid, a participant from our Young People Programme, shared the difficulties he’d faced when setting out to photograph life in the Ein el-Helweh refugee camp, where he was met with resistance and sometimes even hostility from people who were suspicious of his motives and not used to being photographed.
The ICRC and Canon helped him to overcome this by educating the residents on the purpose of the project and lending the legitimacy Daniel needed to document his community safely. From Daniel’s story it became clear to me that organisations such as Canon and the ICRC are in a unique position to give people affected by conflict the proper training, tools and support to help them tell their own stories, otherwise we’ll rarely get the local perspective we need.
I’m incredibly proud to have played a part in helping to make these stories heard, but as the panel showed there’s always more to be done. I can’t wait to continue working with the ICRC and developing our Young People Programme to help nurture even more visual storytellers working in their own communities.
A special thanks to all of those involved, including:
- Yuichi Ishizuka – President and CEO of Canon EMEA
- Kathryn Cook-Pellegrin – Head of Content, ICRC
- Fabrizio Carboni – Regional Director Near and Middle East, ICRC
- Ayda El Ghoul – Head of the ICRC office in Ein El-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, ICRC
- Anush Babajanyan – Photojournalist and winner of the 19th Canon Female Photojournalist of the Year Grant
- Patrick Baz –Founder of the Beirut Center of Photography and former AFP Photo Director for the MENA region and mentor to the young people programme
- Daniel Obeid – Young People Programme participant
- Roham Salih – Programme Coordinator, ICRC and translator during the panel