Lynsey Addario – Sight Unseen
Lynsey Addario is a photo journalist who has photographed many conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, Haiti and Republic of the Congo and during these has taken many photo essays documenting her time there for magazines such as New York Time, Time and National Geographic.
Recently, I have listened to a radio discussion with her with radio lab with was aired on April 28th 2015. This interview talks about one of her experiences in Afghanistan in December 2009 where she was placed with a medevac team taking pictures for the time magazine. She dwscribed waiting for days for the medics to be needed. She says that a call finally came late at night; the medics called it an Alpha which means a gravely wounded the solider may have only minutes to live. On the helicopter to get to the soldier she started to take pictures, however it was so dark she could not see a thing which meant the images she was taking were all black. So she came up with the idea to use night vision googles over the lens so that the images would come out.
When they finally got to the soldier and brought him back to base he was lucky to still be alive and the medics began to work on the soldier. She deliberately faded into the background and every so often lifted her camera and took a shot of the scene in front of her and slowly lowered the camera again – before then repeating this a couple of minutes later.
Sadly the soldier died but, due to the contract she has with the army, she has to ask the soldier for permission to use the photos. However, because the soldier died she needs to get the next of kin’s permission but she is also not allowed to contact them and must wait for them to contact her. So began a waiting game. Eventually, the soldiers father contacted her as he wanted to know what happened to his son and of course Lynsey gave all the information she knew. After this, she asked if she would be able to use the images of his son. The father said he wanted to see the images first and then decide. This is when the ethical consideration comes in as normally they are not allowed to show anyone the images until they are published in the magazine. So she had to go to the head of Time Magazine asking if it would be okay.
What made this situation so different was that the editor of Time said it was okay to show the pictures to the father and his family without first signing a contract stating it is ok to publish them. Lynsey showed the father the images and afterwards he said he didn’t want any of the images showing his face or any identifying features because he did not want his daughters to see them and get upset. The daughters will have a choice whether to view the images when they are twenty-one.
This meant that the whole idea for the article and the images/ title had to change as the title was going to be the fallen soldier and the pictures/article would mirror the name of the title. But because of the father’s wishes, they had to change the article to be about the medics and the title was changed to Afghanistan: The Rescue Brigade and any of the pictures had to hide any identifying features of the solider who died.
The key questions and the ethics behind these images is really about who should see them? And who gets to decide who sees them? What can images like this do to those of us not seeing the horrors of conflict zones and those who are too close to it?
In my opinion it was ethically right to get permission from the soldier’s father, have him view the images beforehand and then decided if he wanted the images published in the magazine or not. If he signed a contract beforehand saying the images could be used and they turned out to be too graphic or to upsetting for the family, the negative press from this could have been significant. The alternative was for the father to have said no and this would have meant that an important story would not have been told. It is also the same if they did not need permission from the father as if one day he just looked in a magazine and saw images of his son when he was dying or dead. That could be devastating for the soldiers family; seeing his last moments and not really knowing what happened. If I was in a similar situation to Lynsey, I would hope I would make similar choices and help the editor of the magazine understand the ethical importance of publishing decisions.
here is the link to the interview with Lynsey Addario – http://www.radiolab.org/story/sight-unseen/
Here is the link if you want to see the article and all of the images from the photo essay
Here are some of the images from the photo essay
This is my favourite image out of this photo essay as it shows the upsetting reality that people die every day protecting their country. Even though the medics see it happening every day it still brings them to silent contemplation when they can’t save one of their fellow brothers-in-arms.