UAE: Photojournalists speak about hostile environments, emotional trauma, importance of credible witnesses

Since 1992, more than 2,000 have lost their lives, revealing the dangerous nature of the profession

Supplied photos

By Web Desk

Published: Fri 10 Feb 2023, 9:40 PM

The inaugural day of the International Photography Festival ‘Xposure’ on Thursday (February 9), convened top photojournalists Giles Clarke, Jodi Cobb, Muhammed Muheisen, Tommy Trenchard and former Sunday Times picture editor Ray Wells to explain the risks involved in visually documenting news in the most dangerous of circumstances, and address questions about the relevance of the genre in an age dominated by social media, AI and other technologies.


Speaking at a panel session titled ‘Credible Witness’, moderated by Aidan Sullivan, the photographers outlined how they have ensured their safety in high-risk environments and dealt with the emotional trauma of being surrounded by death and despair while working in war zones and other conflict-ridden environments.

Credibility of a first-hand witness

The speakers emphasised the importance of photojournalism in visually documenting key global events to provide a factually accurate representation of the world we live in. They also spoke about pursuing their careers in the field as a result of a deep desire to experience world cultures and share them with their own nations and communities.

“I grew up overseas and came to realise how little I knew about the world. I was driven by my own curiosity; I wanted to see things for myself and share what I was seeing”, noted Jodi Cobb adding that’s when he understood the power of photography in sharing with the world things he witnessed, accurately.

Tommy Trenchard, also passionate about seeing “more of the world”, picked up the camera more than 10 years ago to “document the things I was seeing with the audience in the UK and elsewhere”.

Myriad challenges

From lack of financial support for photojournalism projects to the disappearance of traditional media outlets that are being replaced by social media, AI and other technologies, to companies’ hesitation to offer life insurance support owing to the high-risk nature of the profession, the speakers listed the many challenges they face.

“I find it more convenient or effective to assume the risks myself, and then, I just cross my fingers that my coverage will be disseminated widely enough to pay my bills, while also achieving the objective of sharing a story with an audience. This is the whole point of this line of work”,Trenchard added.

The speakers emphasised that in recent years protection for visual journalists has declined significantly - the past decade is a stark example of this with an increasing number of photographers having to work in extremely hostile environments. Since 1992, more than 2,000 photojournalists have lost their lives, they pointed out.

Clarke explained: “Coming into countries now, I have to carry a tiny camera to remain low key. I often find myself operating in environments that do not want photographers - they just don’t want you around. Carrying a camera has always isolated photographers, making them easy targets. These risks are a reminder why we need credible witnesses on ground.”

The speakers also elaborated that the personal consequences of photojournalism can be significant for both photographers and their families. Photojournalists often find themselves dealing with burnout, stress, and mental health issues. Muheisen noted that photojournalists start to feel the consequences after they return home to their countries away from the red zone. They stay resilient by trying as much as possible to leave their work behind when they return home and seek professional help if they need it.


Web Desk

Published: Fri 10 Feb 2023, 9:40 PM

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