International Symposium of Photojournalism

Pointing out that there was voluminous documentary evidence in the shape of video and still images of the events of May 12, 2007, renowned barrister Qazi Faez Isa lamented the fact that this evidence was being ignored and the truth, as he put it, was being suppressed.

He made these observations while delivering a lecture on ‘Laws and photojournalism’ at the first session of a two-day seminar on photojournalism that kicked off at the Japan Cultural Centre here on Saturday. The seminar has been principally organized by the Pakistan-Japan Cultural Association (Sindh) and delegates have come from several Saarc countries as well as Japan and across Pakistan to attend the various symposia.

Mr Isa said the use of photos as evidence related to the Qanoon-i-Shahadat and cited precedents from the recent past where recordings had been accepted in courts of law.

“We are living in extremely violent times and Karachi has seen its share of violence. May 12 has been etched in our memories,” he said, adding that the photograph of former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry being manhandled by what appear to be law enforcement officials was a watershed. “That wrong has not been corrected till date.

“On May 12, 55 people were killed. It was not a random bomb blast. You know who the terrorists were. There are volumes of tape on this. People were shot at point blank range. But this is a part of history we want to forget,” said Mr Isa. “Photojournalism is not about taking pretty pictures. It is about depicting reality. You may not like it. Why do journalists go into war-zones? For entertainment, or to inform? Photojournalism is the truth, it is the pursuit of justice. After violence has been recorded, we all live compromised lives.”

He claimed there was no difference between the old and new political orders. “The truth is not being told.”

Computer manipulation

Senior photojournalist Zahid Hussain gave an informative lecture on the state of photojournalism in Pakistan, especially the dangers technology posed to the authenticity of news photographs.

“The camera records moments unemotionally. But the machine is only as truthful as the hands that guide it. The most serious threat to photojournalism is computer manipulation, the faking of photographs, as well as stage direction by photographers. This has a long tradition, going back about 50 years. Even Pulitzer Prize winning photographs have been suspected of manipulation,” said Mr Hussain.He said photography was like love: without passion it was nothing. “Press photography is strenuous and demanding. You have to sum up an event in a single photograph. Pictures make the reader want to read the article. Speed is more important than technical mastery.”

He lamented the fact that mass communications students at local universities were not being taught photography. He also pointed out that photojournalists in Pakistan were facing various threats, such as from militants, while there was no support from owners, nor any insurance.

Japanese photojournalist Kenjiro Sato, who works for the Mainichi, Japan’s third largest daily newspaper, talked about trends in photojournalism in his home country. He said Japanese newspapers preferred to hire fresh graduates and train them on the job, while there was no real scope for freelancers. He said news photography was moving towards videography, where pictures could be grabbed from the video footage.

Mr Sato described his transition from photojournalist to reporter and shared his experience of reporting from disaster areas such as Afghanistan, Kashmir after the 2005 earthquake and Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami.

“I have felt powerless in disaster areas. But I feel a good picture can move the viewer to action. Some say this is activism and not journalism. But we must make a choice of what we shoot and how we shoot it.”

Art and journalism

Durriya Kazi, head of the University of Karachi’s Department of Visual Studies, talked about art and photojournalism. “There is a strong connection between journalists and artists. We both deal with images and stories,” she said.

Ms Kazi discussed some of history’s most memorable photographs, such as a 19th century image from the American Civil War, a horrific image from Vietnam, while she also shared with the audience examples of how art has been used to document and record events, such as the crucifixion, the coronation of kings, etc.

“Art leads you to the truth. However, the angle and how you place it can manipulate the truth. Truth is the biggest casualty in the modern age, when truth is fiction and fiction is truth. Photojournalists have to be mindful of the fact that their pictures don’t move too far from the truth.”

Himanshu Vyas, the Hindustan Times’ Jaipur bureau’s chief photographer, discussed the state of the profession in India. He said there were three classes of photojournalists in India: the prized, the surprised and the compromised. The prized, he said, were lens-men based in big cities whose work was more conceptual and who were more well-versed in the language of photojournalism. The surprised, he said, were photographers posted mainly in the bureaux of state capitals.

“This is the category which most belong to. They are usually too busy filling the pages to worry about discussing theory. The bottom rung is occupied by the compromised, who are usually rural stringers and freelancers. They never get a by-line and get paid Rs40 per picture, even if their picture gets an eight-column spread nationally. But these are the photographers in touch with the raw reality.”

A three-day international exhibition of press photographs will be inaugurated on Sunday as part of the symposium.

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2 Comments so far

  1. barristerakc on November 17th, 2008 @ 10:04 am

    Barrister Qazi Faez Isa is a low life scoundrel and nothing less who would do anything and everything to get Iftikhar Chaudry as Chief….although I love people like Durriya who’s a great friend and contributing to our society positively….

    Forensic documentation and photography is the new thing although we do not have the proper labs in Pakistan to authenticate any manipulation – one should understand that a photographic evidence should go hand in hand with crime scene sketches, witnesses, forensic case notes (authenticating the picture) and other forms of documentation in the case.

    We were taught a theory called Silent Witness Theory back in the UK although it’s not accepted in Pakistan for admission of photographic evidence as a substantive evidence as opposed to a demonstrative evidence….for visual or even audio evidences to be taken seriously in a country like Pakistan – we need independent forensic scientists and neutral laboratories to authenticate a photograph as an evidence……

  2. MB (kar_munib) on November 26th, 2008 @ 10:17 pm

    very very informative RAJA
    thanks for sharing
    damn it i, for missing it

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