June 20th, 2014

Danish Photojournalist Released in Syria after 13 Months in Captivity

Daniel Rye Ottosen, a Danish photojournalist who has been held captive in Syria for 13 months, was released yesterday and reunited with his family, Denmark’s Foreign Ministry reports. According to the Associated Press, a ministry spokesperson would not comment on reports that Ottosen had been kidnapped by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or answer questions about whether or not a ransom had been paid for his release.

Ottosen, a freelancer, had been photographing the effects of the ongoing civil conflict in the country when he went missing on May 17, 2013.

In March of this year, a Spanish photographer and a reporter were released after 194 in captivity. Other journalists, however, remain unaccounted for. James Foley, a contributor to Global Post, has been missing since November 2012. American Austin Tice has been missing since August 2012. Today, Tice’s mother posted on Twitter: “Today, we celebrate the release of Daniel Rye Ottosen. This good news brings us great joy and hope. All the best to him and his family.”

Syria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. At the end of 2013, a dozen international news organizations signed a joint letter to the Syrian opposition and militias demanding action to curb the “disturbing rise in the kidnapping of journalists.”

Related articles:
Kidnapped, Beaten and Shot in Syria, Photographer and Writer Manage to Escape

Spanish Journalists Freed After 194 Days in Captivity in Syria

Freelance Photographer, Age 18, Killed in Syria

May 14th, 2014

Kidnapped, Beaten, and Shot in Syria, Photographer and Writer Manage to Escape

Photographer Jack Hill and reporter Anthony Lloyd of The Times of London escaped to Turkey after they were kidnapped, beaten and shot by a rebel gang in Syria, the newspaper has reported.

The two journalists had been in Aleppo accompanied by bodyguards, and were returning to Turkey when their car was forced off the road and they were taken hostage by about seven men.

Hill was forced into the trunk of a car, and “savagely beaten” when he tried to escape, The Times reported. Lloyd was held in the back seat of the car, and was shot twice in the leg during the ordeal.

The two journalists eventually fled to safety in Turkey, although details about how they escaped were not immediately available.

Related:
Spanish Journalists Freed After 194 Days in Captivity in Syria
Freelance Photographer Killed in Syria

March 31st, 2014

Spanish Journalists Freed After 194 Days in Captivity in Syria

Spanish photojournalist Ricardo Garcia-Vilanova and reporter Javier Espinosa were freed by their Syrian captors Saturday night, 194 days after they were kidnapped while attempting to cover the Syrian civil war for the Spanish daily El Mundo, according to reports by NPPA and other news outlets.

Espinosa is a staff reporter for the Spanish daily El Mundo. Garcia-Vilanova, a freelancer, was on assignment with Espinosa when they were abducted by an Al-Qaeda affiliates at a checkpoint, shortly after crossing into Syria from Turkey last September 16.

Both men were reportedly in good health when they were released to Turkish authorities, and have since been re-united with their families in Spain.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Syria ranks as the world’s most dangerous place for journalists, who “are targeted, kidnapped by all sides in the conflict.”

Related:
Spanish Photographer and Reporter Abducted by Al-Qaeda Affiliate in Syria
Freelance Photographer Killed in Syria

January 27th, 2014

Photographer Fired by AP Says Decision Was Fair, But Process Wasn’t

Courtesy of AP Photos

Courtesy of AP Photos

Freelancer Narciso Contreras, a talented war photographer who was cut off by Associated Press last week after he admitted he had Photoshopped a news photo, told PDN in an e-mail interview that he accepts his punishment, but said, “I’m critical when it comes to how the Industry handles the situation with individual photographers, especially when you are a freelancer.”

AP cut ties with Contreras publicly after the photographer informed the wire service that he had removed a video camera from a corner of an image of a Syrian rebel soldier taking cover during a fire fight. Contreras says he knew it could end his relationship with AP, but that he didn’t expect to be shut out of the process.

“I would have preferred to discuss with the editors the whole situation personally, [but] they went behind locked doors and made their decision.” He added, “As a photographer you should have the right to be included in the process.”

Contreras said he thinks AP also went too far in making its decision so public. “The public punishment seems more like an exhibit of power in order to protect [AP's] own interests,” he said.

Following is an edited transcript of PDN’s e-mail interview with Contreras.

Q: How did AP find out you had altered the photo? Did you tell them after they confronted you about it? Or did you voluntarily turn yourself in? And if so, what led you to do that?

A: I told one of the AP photo editors about the picture when we were working on selecting images for the [World Press and other photo] contests some weeks ago. I told the photo editor immediately when I saw the image on the screen. I didn’t hesitate in telling him, it just came up.

Q: If your own ethical principles required you to correct the mistake, why didn’t you tell AP sooner?

A. I was thinking all the time [about] that picture and I found the moment to explain [it] to the AP photo editor. Why not before? [For] the same reason that I submitted the altered picture, it was my wrong decision.

Q. Why were you retouching the image in the first place? Do you typically make the types of adjustments to your image files that AP permits, and if so, what are your usual adjustments?

A: I was conscious about the camera [in the original image] from the beginning. I couldn’t get the camera out of the frame when we were at the top of the hill and running down, away from the [gunfire]. I used a wide angle lens [because] the rebel [ie, the subject of the photo] was so close. [It was] difficult to work, under [fire]. So, when I got back to our base and tried to find a picture to describe the situation, I found this frame, but with the camera in the corner. It took me time to make the decision to remove it from the frame, but I did it.

I usually develop my images using the base process, RAW files toned and desaturated. The photo with the rebel ducking is my exception. I gave all my archives to the AP, almost 500 pictures, and they could see for themselves that this was a singe case.

Q. Do you know what caused your lapse in judgment? I am trying to understand: What caused you to cross the line this time–but not other times?

A: It took me time before I decided to take it [the camera] out. I recognize and assume the rules of photojournalism as the basis of my work, but I was weak at this point. There is no other reason, I broke my own rules. My fault was that I din’t contact my editors to ask for advice or try to get feedback from my very experienced colleague, who was with me.

I’m not trying to excuse myself, but it is not easy to be at a place where you are facing death every single moment, your mind and feelings are moved to another reality, far away from the one you are used to, [and] you perform like a different person. You can support long working days under tough conditions, your mind is set up to survive, and obsessively in the perfection of your work. This is the problem. We are obsessed about getting the perfect shot, that means you want to get the perfect shot under hazardous conditions. It is not worth [it] as a photographer, to come back with nothing if you risk your life [covering a story]. This obsession made the difference, and affected my decision to alter the picture. But I recognize that I made a mistake, a severe one, and a wish I could undo it.

Q. Did you understand when you made the alteration what the consequences might be if you were caught? In other words, were you aware of AP’s ethics policy, and the consequences of violating it?

A: I did know the consequences to alter a picture, and I did know when I told the AP photo editor about this as well, but at the time I told the AP editor I was looking to be honest for what I had done, and I feel this time I took the correct decision to try to repair my mistake.

Q. What do you think of [AP's] ethics policy?

A: That policy means to respect the credibility of the profession and the credibility of the service that all journalists and photographers are doing. So, this is the basis of our work.

Q. Do you think the punishment was fair? If not, why not? And what action by AP would have been more fair?

A: As I mentioned before, the credibility of our work is on the table when a single mistake is [made]. So, to prevent this kind of situation [from] happening again, and to protect the credibility of our profession I have to assume the consequences. But all situations and cases are unique and should be treated as such.

I would have preferred to discuss with the editors the whole situation personally, before they took their decision, but I have not had the chance to talk to anyone. They went behind locked doors and made their decision. This is a very critical situation, and accordingly it has to be analyzed and talked through with whom committed the fault. We are not disposable. They have to analyze every single case according to its unique nature.

Q. Our readers are divided about AP’s reaction to what you did. Some think AP was too harsh. Others expressed zero tolerance for altering news images, and think your punishment was justified. What would you say to them?

A: Zero tolerance is justified when it comes to altering news images. We must all play by the rules. But I’m critical when it comes to how the Industry handles the situation with individual photographers, especially when you are a freelance[r]. [For] editors it is not always easy to handle mistakes, but as a photographer you should have the right to be included in the process. Every single case is unique and that has to be taken in to consideration as well.

Q. What would you have said to AP? Is there an argument you wanted to make to them, to prevent them from ending their relationship with you?

A: They have the right to cut ties if you break the rules, but they should not have the exclusive right to manage the consequences of a photographer’s fault. Dialogue is the base to solve any single problem. If you are not allowed to talk when you are being judged by a company, there is something that is not working properly.

I do accept to break up the working relationship between them and me if I broke the rules, but the public punishment seems more like an exhibit of power in order to protect its own interests.

Q. What effect do you think this incident will have on your career? Do you expect to continue working as a photojournalist? If so, for whom?

A:  This incident affected my working relationship with the AP, and probably with some other media outlets, but nothing has changed for me in terms of what I assume as my duty in life, as a person and as photographer, to document what I perceive as the breaking moments for our history. I’m still the same person that I was when I got recognition for what I’ve done in Syria or anywhere else. I’m still in the same place where I was when I started collaborating with the AP.

I made a mistake, but it does not mean that the whole body of my work is lost. I have to restore my credibility, firstly by assuming that I made a mistake and sincerely apologizing for this, secondly by reinforcing the working relationship with the media outlets I work with.

As far as I can, I would keep on doing photography. This incident affects my way temporarily, not permanently. I believe in what I do in my life, this is my engagement and this is beyond photography.

Related:
AP Cuts Ties with Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image

January 23rd, 2014

AP Severs Ties with Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image

Courtesy of AP Photos

Courtesy of AP Photos

Associated Press (AP) has severed ties with freelance photographer Narciso Contreras for altering a news photograph he shot in Syria, the wire service has announced. Contreras was part of a team of AP photographers that shared the Pulitzer Prize last year for coverage of the Syrian civil war.

AP reports that Contreras “recently told its editors that he manipulated a digital picture of a Syrian rebel fighter taken last September.” The image shows the rebel fighter taking cover in a rugged landscape. Contreras altered the image by removing from the scene a video camera sitting on the ground near the soldier.

Santiago Lyon, AP’s director of photography, said the alteration “involved a corner of the image with little news importance,” but it was nevertheless a breach of AP’s standards. “Deliberately removing elements from our photographs is completely unacceptable,” Lyon said.

AP says the altered image was not part of AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning portfolio.

Contreras said he removed the video camera from the image in question because he thought it would distract viewers, according to the AP report.

“I took the wrong decision when I removed the camera … I feel ashamed about that,” he said. “You can go through my archives and you can find that this is a single case that happened probably at one very stressed moment, at one very difficult situation, but yeah, it happened to me, so I have to assume the consequences.”

Contreras, who is 38, began his career freelancing for newspapers in Mexico, but made his reputation with his coverage of the war in Syria. Time Lightbox showcased his work in December, 2012.

“[Contreras] has managed to illuminate and distill the horrors of the…war — more consistently than any of his often more-experienced peers,” Time senior photo editor Phil Bicker wrote in a story that accompanies the 44-image gallery. “What makes Contreras’s work in Syria even more astonishing is the fact that he has, in a sense, come out of nowhere to emerge as the one photographer whose work will likely be seen as the photographic record of the conflict.”

AP says it has removed all of Contreras’s images from its archives. There were about 500 in all. AP says it has compared as many as it could to Contreras’s original image files, and found no other instances of alteration.

December 27th, 2013

What Did Reuters Pay a Teenager to Cover the Syrian Conflict?

Molhem Barakat, the 18-year-old Reuters stringer who was killed in Syria on December 20, had told another photographer that Reuters paid him $100 a day for uploading a set of 10 pictures, according to a report on Global Voices.

Barakat also told the photographer, Prague-based photojournalist Stanislav Krupar, that Reuters paid him a bonus of $50 to $100 if his photos were published by The New York Times or the newspaper’s Lens Blog.

Reuters avoided answering questions from a BBC reporter about whether or not Reuters checked to see if Barakat was a minor before paying him for his work in a war zone, or if the agency provided him with a flak jacket, helmet or any hostile environment training.

The Global Voices article also offers information Barakat gave to another reporter about why he had to remain in Aleppo. Barakat was the twenty-third journalist killed this year in Syria, according to Committee to Protect Journalists.

Related Articles
Freelance Photographer Killed in Syria

Freelance Photog’s Tale of Abduction by Syrian Rebels Serves as Warning

December 23rd, 2013

Freelance Photographer Killed in Syria

Molhem Barakat ©Reuters

Molhem Barakat ©Reuters

A Syrian freelance photographer was killed in Aleppo December 20 while covering a battle between rebels and government forces for control of a hospital, according to a report from Reuters.

Molhem Barakat had contributed “dozens of photographs” of the conflict to Reuters since last May, according to the report, which provided few other details about the photographer.

The fighting between rebels and government forces for control of Aleppo, Syria’s second largest city, has been intense in recent days. The government has launched air strikes on the city for the past week, according to news reports.

Twenty-two other journalists have died while covering the civil war in Syria during 2013, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. More than 50 have been killed since the fighting there began in 2011.

December 10th, 2013

Spanish Photographer and Reporter Abducted by Al-Qaeda Affliliate in Syria

Freelance photographer Ricardo Garcia Vilanova and reporter Javier Espinosa of El Mundo were abducted in Syria on September 16, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The families of the journalists made the news of their capture public today. According to CPJ, they were abducted at gunpoint at a checkpoint near tal-Abyad in northern Syria and taken to a detention center run by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, an Al-Qaeda affiliate that has been operating in Syria amidst fighting between the Syrian Army and rebels opposed to the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Vilanova has been covering the conflict in Syria for over a year; his photos have been published by CNN Photos and Al Jazeera. At the time of their abduction, Vilanova and Espinosa were accompanied by four soldiers of the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group; the soldiers were released two weeks after they were captured alongside the journalists.

CPJ ranks Syria as the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Since the uprising began, numerous journalists have been abducted or murdered.

Related stories
Freelance Photog’s Tale of Abduction by Syrian Rebels Serves as Warning

Photographer Remi Ochllk Killed in Homs, Syria

Injured Photographer Paul Conroy Smuggled Out of Syria

September 13th, 2013

Do Execution Photos Serve a Journalistic Purpose?

TIME announced the publication yesterday of “exclusive images taken by a photojournalist of Islamic militants publicly executing, by decapitation, a young Syrian…near Aleppo, on August 31, 2013.” TIME said in the announcement that, “because of the danger in reporting inside Syria,” it cannot confirm the identity or political affiliation of the victim, or the motivation of the killers.

The unnamed photographer gave a statement to Time in which he says, “I was feeling awful; several times I had been on the verge of throwing up. But I kept it under control because as a journalist I knew I had to document this, as I had the three previous beheadings I had photographed that day, in three other locations outside Aleppo.”

Read more at TIME Lighbox. A link to the images accompanied the announcement, but some of us at PDN couldn’t quite bring ourselves to look. Do such images, presented with so little context, do more harm than good?  Do they inform, and stir public outrage that ultimately discourages atrocity? Or does the photographer’s presence encourage the atrocity by giving the perpetrators a forum?

We’d like to hear from our readers about this. The images are posted at http://ti.me/14OW3hX.

September 4th, 2013

John McCain’s iPhone Poker: A Brief History of Long-Lens Gotchas

©The Washington Post. Photo © Melina Mara/Washington Post

©The Washington Post. Photo © Melina Mara/Washington Post

Yesterday photographer Melina Mara of The Washington Post got a photo of Senator John McCain playing poker on his iPhone during the Senate hearing on military action in Syria. Mara’s photo is the most widely seen photo of yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

This isn’t the first time a sharp-eyed photographer has managed to zoom in and figure out what was on a politician’s mind during a long meeting.

© Rick Wilking/Reuters

© Rick Wilking/Reuters

There was the famous close-up of the note that President George Bush slipped to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice during a 2005 UN summit, asking if he could get a bathroom break.

Reuters photographer Rick Wilking photographed the note, and the wire service enlarged the image to make sure the writing was legible before distributing the image.

In 2011, Mario Tama of Getty Images got a shot of the text of the speech Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered to the UN General Assembly, including the revisions he had scribbled on the page– possibly while he was listening to the previous speaker, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Tama told PDNPulse he shot over Netanyahu’s shoulder from a booth above the Assembly using a 400mm lens, and then zoomed into the image in Photoshop to read the words.

The takeaway for photographers: Bring a long lens with you, and remember to look down.

The takeaway for politicians: Look behind you.

Unless, that is, the politician doesn’t care who sees what you’re doing. After he was caught playing online poker during the hearing on Syria, Senator McCain made a sarcastic joke about the photo on Twitter.