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Al Jazeera Magazine | War Veterans | August 2014

In Photography News on August 3, 2014 at 5:17 AM

Reflections of a war photographer.

© Words and photos by Jack Picone
jack@jackpicone.com

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I have never felt more intensely alive than I did in the moments before I was certain I was about to die.

This is how war can make you feel.

War. Even the word is ominous.

People sometimes assume that photographers go to war zones because they are adrenaline junkies. This was not the case for me. Obviously, war zones can be adrenaline-charged places, and by helping you to think clearly when faced with danger, that adrenaline can keep you alive. But my motivation for documenting war has been more layered and nuanced than a need to feed some adrenalin craving or an inclination towards voyeurism – another accusation sometimes directed at war photographers.

In my experience, people rarely do extreme things for a singular reason. And willingly entering a war zone is an extreme thing to do. My grandfather had fought in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War and I’d read extensively on the topic; all of which had helped to form the nagging question in my own mind of whether I had the resourcefulness and courage to document such events. At the time I was a staff photographer on a major daily Australian newspaper; a job I found repetitive and unchallenging. So, when the picture editor of that paper asked its 20 staff photographers whether any would be interested in covering the first Iraq War, my response was immediate. I was the only one to say ‘yes’.

But my first war proved anticlimactic as my time in Baghdad was short-lived. I was arrested by Iraqi secret police for transmitting photographs of Iraqi troops crossing the border into Kuwait, put on an empty plane and deported to Jordan.

My first ‘real’ war experience came some after, and it couldn’t have been more different. The Nagorno-Karabakh War had been raging in Armenia since the mid-1980s. I arrived in 1992, aged around 30 and ready to answer the question I’d carried around with me for years: could I keep my head, literally and metaphorically, as I documented an exchange of gunfire between warring soldiers?

I was making my way towards Armenian soldiers positioned in trenches by the side of a mountain when I got my answer. The mountain suddenly reverberated with the sound of gunfire and exploding mortar shells. Ink-blot black clouds snaked their way eerily towards the sky. A shallow hole – a perfect ready-made grave – provided my only cover from the incoming bullets and cluster bombs. I remember thinking as I lay there, that while this was too picturesque a place to be the scene of war, it was certainly a beautiful place to die.

Then I looked up and saw an Armenian soldier signal for me to run to him. His trench was only about 80m away, but that short run seemed to go on forever. I took some shrapnel in the lower back and head but I was alive. My heart pounded, adrenaline surged through my body and I felt that kind of affirming, edifying euphoria that comes with escaping death.

On reflection, I can conservatively estimate that I should have been killed at least five times over by now: once at the hands of a mob in Rwanda, another time in southern Sudan, when a Sudanese government soldier put his pistol to my temple and screamed that he was going to pull the trigger. On both occasions, only a chance intervention helped me cheat death.

I have worked in some of the most dangerous places on the planet: Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Gaza Strip, Israel, Soviet Central Asia and the former Yugoslavia. It could be argued that most of these were unconventional wars, where armed groups and rebel factions took each other on and where it was possible for a photographer to cover both – or indeed multiple – sides of the conflict. Far from being embedded with one side or the other, as you might in Iraq or Afghanistan, a photographer in less structured conflicts can cross enemy lines, evading censorship and propaganda. But these wars also pose their own challenges – leaving you open to accusations of spying and making it much easier to ‘disappear’.

During many of the African conflicts I covered, photographers and journalists were killed at roadblocks by bored soldiers, who were often stoned, drunk or both. It’s no mystery why they were targeted. War photographers can carry more money and equipment than a rebel soldier in an underfunded rag-tag army can hope to earn in years.

Having escaped death several times, I gained a new-found confidence that I could document the ‘bang bang’, as seasoned war photographers sometimes refer to it, and stay alive. But with this came the realisation that documenting war really ought to involve more than simply photographing soldiers. What seemed exponentially more important was telling the stories of the innocent people – the children, women and elderly men – caught in its crossfire. I shifted my focus from the frontlines to the ordinary people on the edges of war.

Apart from the inbuilt danger of working in a war zone, photographing war is a philosophical, emotional, ethical and moral minefield (pun intended). On many occasions, I have found myself questioning what I was documenting. But the decision about whether or not to press the shutter has to be made in a micro-second and is fraught with responsibility.

I haven’t always made the right choice. During the famine in Somalia in 1992, I photographed an infant cradled in the arms of an aid worker. “You can stop taking pictures now Jack,” the nurse told me in her thick Irish accent. “The baby just died.” The thought that the last thing that child saw was me photographing it, has haunted me ever since. The fact that the aid agency had asked me to photograph them at work in order to help publicise the desperate plight of the Somali people offered no consolation. I was inconsolable.

A photographer has a role to play in a war zone: to bear witness, to make the invisible visible, the unheard heard and to create a visual history. For me, these tenets have acted as a filter for all but the most horrific situations I have encountered in the theatre of war. But the emotional torment often followed me home. In denial, I told myself, my friends and my family that I was unaffected by what I saw. But then the nightmares began. The emotional hangover from witnessing and documenting violence too dark to describe exacted its toll. I self-medicated with alcohol and drugs, which only worsened my problems. I still haven’t come to terms with what I’ve witnessed, but I have stopped trying to use substances to control my emotions and am instead simply trying to co-exist with the discord.

War is many things, most of them barbaric. But what disturbs me most about it is its repetitiveness: the same play, just with a new cast. That being said, nothing seems more important to me than documenting the plight of those caught up in it. Right at this very moment, human beings are frenetically killing each other in countries across the world. All we can really do is bear witness; to hold up a mirror to man’s inhumanity to man in the scant hope that future generations will succeed where we have so conclusively failed and break the cycle.

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Note: You can download the Al Jazeera App — for free — to view and read Part 1, in its entirety. I really recommend downloading the App for a dynamic experience including still image galleries, moving 3D images and brilliant layout.
Click here to download the latest issue via iTunes: aje.me/magazine and on Android devices: aje.me/ajemagazine 
Compatible with iPhone (5, 5S and 5C), Android tablets and phones.

BIO:

Jack Picone is an Australian, Bangkok-based photojournalist and documentary photographer who has been covering war zones since the early 1990s. He has travelled from the Middle East to Eastern Europe and multiple countries on the African continent documenting the fall-out from war.

Censorship

In Photography News on August 18, 2013 at 8:28 AM

Reportage Festival Director Stephen Dupont and photographer Jack Picone discuss how censorship by Tourism NSW, impacted on Reportage Festival.

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View here:

For an more in-depth report concerning censorship during Reportage’s documentary festival and censorship in general in the Arts in Australia; Please read this report by RICHARD PHILLIPS: Photojournalists, artist censored by Australian authorities.

Panorama | Work in Progress | 71 – Degrees

In Street Photography on December 10, 2012 at 8:22 AM

71 – Degrees | by Jack Picone

The images in this gallery have all been made on the Hasselblad X-Pan 1 and the Fuji TX-1 essentially, they are exactly the same camera just branded differently.

Both these cameras are relatively small 35mm film cameras that can produce striking unbroken images across a full 71- degree field of view (the normal field of vision of the human eye, by contrast, is only about 45 degrees). The resulting photographs make concrete the concept of the panorama — quite literally, to “see all.”

I take these cameras with me everywhere I go. They are my, “I am taking my cameras for a walk” cameras. Pictures in this slide gallery are from Bangkok, Hong Kong, Macau, Bali, South Africa, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Kathmandu, Laos, Cambodia China and Australia.

The trick with using these cameras is not to rely too heavily on the actual panorama format in an effort to make your images  more aesthetically interesting. This would be clichéd. It is really about using the panorama format in conjunction with compelling composition. If there is a confluence of  both these variables it is possible to elevate your images to a higher aesthetic plane. The latter sadly, I have yet to achieve with the work here.

I am on a creative cusp! I am close I can feel it, Exciting!

Jack Picone

Moments

In Photography News on December 8, 2012 at 5:48 AM

If you are in HK, drop in and see the brilliant work by the Visual Studies students I taught during my AIR program in Hong Kong. They produced some absolutely compelling imagery. Also, on show is the final edit of my Thai-Burma Border documentary project ‘1200 Miles’  in both multimedia and book form.

View the ‘where and opening times’ link  here:

Just as a taste, here is Bobo Tsang image using a Lomo camera and doing a double exposure. Intriguing.

BoboTsang-001                                                                                                                            Photograph by Bobo Tsang

PEACE

In Photography News on November 3, 2012 at 3:10 AM

The photography collective, ˚South (Degree South), will launch its latest exhibition, “PEACE” at the Tanks Arts Centre  in Cairns, in Far North Queensland, on Friday 23rd November.   The photographs for this exhibition have been printed on Fujifilm Crystal Archive PD paper as part of Fujifilm’s sponsorship of the exhibition.

                                                                                                                               © Photograph by Jack Picone

“PEACE”, which follows Degree South’s WAR exhibition and book, features photographs from the Collective’s members – Tim Page, Michael Coyne, Jack Picone, David Dare Parker, Ben Bohane, Stephen Dupont, and Ashley Gilbertson – who have selected photographs they believe reflect their notion of peace. The exhibition also includes photographs from Sean Flynn, who is listed as missing in action in Cambodia since 1970, and whose archive falls under the Degree South banner.

For further exhibition details please read  here:

• Jack Picone

Enchanting Luang Prabang by Gary Jones

In Workshop News on October 28, 2012 at 2:42 AM

It’s been said, after all, that the Vietnamese plant rice, the Cambodians watch rice grow, and the languorous Lao simply listen to the whispers of rice growing. Luang Prabang is simply – and lazily – enchanting.

                                                                                    Funfair arrives in Luang Prabang. © Photograph by Gary Jones

The writer Gary Jones joined us as a participant on our Laos Workshop, held in Luang Prabang July 2012. Read Gary’s musings about the workshop, his fellow participants and Luang Prabang’s becalming hypnotic effect in Prestige Magazine

There are still a few places remaining for our upcoming workshop in Havana Cuba. Interested? Email Jack Picone at  jack@jackpicone.com

Living Buddhism

In Random Moments on July 30, 2012 at 6:25 AM

Eclectic and random vignettes (all images made on the Fujifilm X-Pro-1) of ‘living Buddhism’ on the streets and in the temples of Bangkok made over the last several days. All images are concerned and connected with the the central theme of ‘Buddhism’ and it’s ubiquity and universality  in contemporary Thai life.

JP                                                                                                                                                                    

* Click on ‘Living Buddhism’  heading above, to go to the next window and view the slideshow in a larger format.

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Broken People by Nana Chen

In Photography News, Workshop in Motion on July 18, 2012 at 5:14 AM

© Photograph by Nana Chen

A soulful and intimate reportage concerning the challenges of health and medical care, for people in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Broken People authored by Nana Chen during The Jack Picone and Stephen Dupont Documentary Photography Workshops in Laos. View here:

Our next workshop takes place in iconic Havana, Cuba 25th Nov – 30th Nov 2012.

JP

10X100 ’10 Australian Photographers’

In Photography News on July 6, 2012 at 3:38 AM

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10 of Australia’s finest contemporary photographers were invited to explore their creativity using Fujifilm’s recently developed, compact, new generation Finepix X100 digital camera, submitting 10 photographs each for publication in the book and exhibition ’10×100: 10 Australian Photographers’.

“The 10 were chosen for their prominence as world-class photographers, their award-winning careers and their status as some of Australia’s finest working visual artists”.

’10×100: 10 Australian Photographers’ to exhibit at the Queensland Centre For Photography. Read here:

10 Photographers You Should Ignore

In Photography News on May 11, 2012 at 2:25 AM

WIRED are hot wired on this one. Too funny and clever not to read.

                                                                                                                                                                            © Photograph by Diane Arbus