OLIVIER VOISIN…ANOTHER PHOTOGRAPHER IN SYRIA DIES

I recently read of the death of Olivier Voisin, a French photographer covering the Syrian conflict for various agencies. The story I encountered first was this one on the British Journal of Photography’s (BJP) website.

In the BJP report I came across this disturbing quote:

Last week, a group of photographers, editors and journalists launched the “A Day Without News?” campaign to highlight the risks their peers face when covering war zones, and to persuade governments to take action to ensure their safety.

(emphasis added).

War photographers choose to do what they do. They know the risks and are willing to take those risks. Whether they are adrenalin junkies or not I cannot say. All I know is they go to places most of us would rather not go, often to bring us stories many of us would rather not hear. Nevertheless, it’s their choice. I feel the concept of expecting governments “to take action to ensure their safety” a bit beyond the pale.

What, I ask, can governments do to ensure the safety of people who willingly and deliberately put themselves in highly volatile and dangerous situations day in and day out? And which government should, say in Voisin’s case, take the responsibility? France, because he was a French citizen, Syria, because he was in Syria at the time he sustained his injuries, or Turkey, where he was taken following the tragic events a few days ago?

It should also be noted that Voisin, who, according to this moving tribute “loved danger”, was in Syria illegally. Surely, in a case like this no amount of government intervention could have helped. I’m not criticising Voisin for his actions. Rather, I’m criticising calls for ever-increasing government interventions. Government interferes far too much in too many sphere’s of life as it is and we don’t really need them interfering in areas where they cannot have any form of control.

Worse, according to this this Huffington Post article Syria is today regarded the most dangerous place for journalists, with 28 deaths reported in 2012, while others remain captive or unaccounted for. According to the report at least one newspaper has ceased accepting submissions from Syria because “the dangers of operating there are too great”. Just what do these esteemed “photographers, editors, and journalists” expect governments to do to ensure the safety of newspeople in such hostile territories as Syria.

Many photographers have died while covering armed conflicts, and many more will die in future. That’s what happens in wars. To all those engaged in this most dangerous of photographic pursuits I can only say “Keep clicking, but please stay out of danger as far as you possibly can!”

Naturally, too, I offer my sincere condolences and sympathy to the family of Olivier Voisin, and to the families of the many other fine photographers, journalists, and reporters who’ve paid the ultimate price to bring us face-to-face with the most unimaginable horrors of the world. Long may your light shine.

Olivier Voisin’s work can be viewed at his website.

Another aspect of the BJP article that bothers me slightly concerns the writing style. Years ago I did a brief stint in a radio newsroom. There I was taught to keep a semblence of recency on any story by keeping it, as far as possible, in the present tense, as in “A man has died in a freak accident…” rather than “a man died in a freak accident…” which is past tense. That’s all well and good for the most part, but more and more these days I’m seeing ridiculous attempts to follow this rule at all costs. Thus, in the BJP story we find this tortuous phraseology:

Freelance photographer Olivier Voisin has died on 24 February from injuries sustained while covering the Syrian conflict.

If you’re going to put a date on the event you are not fooling anyone into thinking it’s present tense and there’s no need for the awkward “has died” construction. While one can possibly forgive these faux pas in reports from non-English speaking sources, this is from the British Journal of Photography, by jove!

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