Monday, 28 May 2012

The Haviv affair - with great power comes great responsibility

So no doubt that most who follow the world of photojournalism and multimedia are aware of the existence of the renowned photojournalism blog Duckrabbit. If so, then I am sure you must be equally as aware of what, for the purposes of this post, I will call 'the Haviv affair'. The debate, which has been raging amongst blogs, forums and even Twitter and Facebook, started when Benjamin Chesterton of Duckrabbit posted this on their blog. It was a letter sent to Stephen Mayes, C.E.O and co-founder of VII Photo Agency, asking some pretty searching questions:

Dear Stephen.
I am writing an article in relation to VII’s work for the arms industry.
You’ve stated during many interviews (and most recently to my knowledge here) that working for VII ‘Quality journalism, photography and integrity are key’.
Good stuff, but how does that square with working on campaigns for the arms industry? I am aware of least two such companies that a VII photographer (according to the copyright notice) has provided imagery or produced images for.
How is it possible for a photographer to class themselves as a ‘journalist’ covering conflict and at the same time be involved in the sales marketing of bombs?
Article to follow.
Yours Sincerely


As of yet, Chesterton has not received a reply from Stephen Mayes. But the plot thickens. Two days later Duckrabbit were back on the assault, posting what has become the subject matter of debate over the past 72 hours: VII Photo Agency, Ron Haviv and the world's two largest arms dealers. . The post used the late Namir Nor-Eldeen as the epicentre of their argument, a 22-year-old photojournalist who was killed in an American-led attack via Apache helicopter in Baghdad - the video of which was revealed by Wikileaks in 2010.  
Que Ron Haviv, a (now perhaps not) respected combat photographer. Duckrabbit accompanied the aforementioned post with this image:

The image's byline reads: Lockheed Martin (c) Ron Haviv, VII. Can you see where this is going yet? Of course you can, it's like a bloody film script: Haviv supplies promotional imagery to Lockheed; Lockheed supplies weapons to both American and Israeli forces; Namir Noor-Eldeen is killed at the hands of Lockheed's weaponry. Duckrabbit have seemingly launched a personal and to all extents ballsy attack on Haviv - not blaming him for the death of Noor-Eldeen, although I think a few may have seen it that way, but seriously questioning his ethics as a journalist. That is the gist, anyway. I wont go in to the details of the post as it is pretty lengthy, but you can find out for yourself here. Over the past 3 days or so there has been a cacophony of varied response:

David Campbell (@Davidc7): "I think @VIIPhoto (especially @StephenMayes and @ronhaviv) should respond publicly and in detail to the issues raised by @Duckrabbitblog"
Prison Photography (@brookepete): "@Duckrabbitblog went about it arse-backwords, but at last writes on @VIIPhoto's Ron Haviv's Lockheed Martin assignment.
Elena G. Sosa Lerin (@eg_serin): "If true, it's heartbreaking. @VIIPhoto controversy. Documentary integrity vs. selling work to #Lockheed Martin?

I found this to be an interesting debate, and one that I have been following quite closely - a change, since I am usually terribly lazy at keeping up with current events. The reason: I pretty much despise everything to do with 'war photography'. It's exploitative, often contradictory and, I feel, can never quite be justified. I do find it quite an irony, though,  how people have kicked up such a stink about the matter when it seems that almost every photojournalist I have spoken to encourages one to "keep a finger in every pie" - do you see what I mean about contradictions now?

Now I'm by no means condoning photographing ads for renowned arms dealers - personally I would rather hang up my camera than see one of my images used to advertise Lockheed - but I think there has been a fair bit of sensationalism surrounding the whole affair; take, for example, Duckrabbit labelling VII's photographers to be, quote, working for the arms industry, unquote. Notwithstanding the gravity of the situation, but such a claim, in my opinion, is unusually rash of Duckrabbit. He does not work for the arms industry. 

Haviv actually posted a response on his blog, where he explains that the original image was of tire tacks only, and was sold to Lockheed Martin as stock by his commercial agent where "they exercised their rights to add smoke". Just because Haviv's commercial agent sold a stock photo to Lockheed does not mean he works for the arms industry. Am I wrong? 

Christopher Morris, also of VII,  did not receive any criticism for being White House photographer during the Bush era, whilst Mr. George W. Jr. himself was out coordinating atrocities against Iraqi prisoners at the same time, for which he has recently been condemned for war crimes in a Kuala Lumpa tribunal. Does this mean Morris was providing propaganda to - and therefore aiding - a war-mongering criminal? Perhaps, although 'the Haviv affair' is less constitutionally-orientated .  My point is that there are probably a myriad of occasions where photographers have contradicted their beliefs and journalistic ideologies in the name of profit. This is what I find most sad about this situation, and Duckrabbit are 100% correct in pointing it out and calling for a public explanation from both from Mayes and Haviv.

I think that now is probably the best, and hopefully not the only time, when I can quote a Marvel Heroes character in regards to journalism. Here goes: 

"With great power, comes great responsibility" - Ben Parker. 

Haviv has horribly abused his responsibility as a photojournalist here. To paraphrase Benjamin in the Duckrabbit post, how can he class himself as a 'journalist' covering conflict when he is aiding the sale of bombs? Haviv - and indeed every journalist, photographic or otherwise - has a responsibility which is never officially acknowledged but is omnipresent. That responsibility includes not aiding the very thing you are working to fight against. Yes, the photograph may have been a stock  image, but Haviv must have been in some way aware of its use, and it is down to him, and him alone, to decide where his imagery is used. Perhaps I am wrong. If I am, then there is something seriously wrong within the commercial world of photojournalism.

On the subject of things being wrong with journalism, I would like to point out that there should be at least some scrutiny aimed at Lockheed Martin, who have quite blatantly and crudely put a twist on what was originally a harmless image. Again, although Haviv should have kept a more responsible eye on where his photographs were being used, Lockheed should take a critical look at the way they produce propaganda in the future. I would like to call upon of friend of mine, Alex Atack, who stated in a casual conversation regarding the foul play that "war photography can be a great and honest thing if done properly, but it's just so easy for people to warp the meanings of photographs". These grievously true words hit home when considering what has come to light over the past 72 hours, and the whole situation is a stark example of how imagery in the twenty-first century has and will continue to be spun in un-truthful manners. Shame on Haviv for allowing it to happen, but also shame on Lockheed. But then what do we know; we're just students, right?

Perhaps Duckrabbit did go about the affair "arse-backwards"  in their "tabloid-style" of attack, but it will be extremely interesting to see if any more similar cases crawl out of the proverbial woodwork as a result. In this case, I believe Haviv has severely compromised his stature as a journalist and has debased journalism full stop. Although there are several variables at play here, it is definitely Haviv who should be standing up and giving a public explanation. We're all listening.



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