Photojournalism is a serious form of storytelling that has an immediate as well as lasting impact on the ground situation. A frame can shake or break the chain of events or even trigger a reaction. Kashmir is extremely fortunate to have amazing photo professionals who have been documenting our lives tirelessly through their lens, generation after generation. They have documented everything for us and about us.
The decades-long conflict we have been enduring has been captured to a large extent by these brave professionals in addition to the written words of our journalist community. Out of our huge archive of sufferings assembled, the quantum of photo-documentation generated over the years is immense.
Recognitions that photographers receive over time, individually or as a collective, has brought laurels to our entire community. Be it the prestigious Pulitzer or the AFP’s Kate Webb Prize or numerous other notable recognitions, they have made their mark with flair. Our untold, hidden stories are unearthed and brought to the front and are spoken about, debated while the injustice unleashed on the masses is shamed and condemned due to these works.
The hostility and risks these professionals face can be imagined by the fact that when an incident takes place, a commoner flees the epicenter of the event but a scribe converges towards the spot, risking life, just to document the moment. Often bullets and shells whiz past while they keep their cameras clicking and rolling.
Talking about another aspect, our photojournalists have been at the receiving end — few almost became news while covering and documenting stories and events. Many were injured seriously, cutting short their careers. Many have been beaten, arrested, jailed and persecuted for capturing truth. Some even lost their lives while doing so.
It is good to see youth making its way into the field and doing excellent work with commendable objectivity under the guidance of the veterans in the field and in spite of the watchful eyes of the State. Their skill set and flair reflects in the startling work they produce, and that work is getting eyeballs around the world.
Circumstances were different for me when I tried to enter the folds of photojournalism in Kashmir years ago. Luck favoured me and I filed my first batch of shots for a noted publication. The images were out next day and my happiness knew no bounds. But I could gauge the insecurity among a few (who were already there since years) who didn’t see me as a colleague but a serious competitor now. One of them, a noted photojournalist, started passing discouraging comments about my work, even though they knew it was my first attempt.
Another lens-man claimed he could create such photos out of a sewer. When I pointed towards the human story in it, he dismissed the argument, citing his busy schedule and disinterest. Nobody was ready to teach or hear me except one professional who always went an extra mile to hear me out. I strongly felt that either you have to be a part of their local photojournalist association or you have to be a friend, a relative or an acquaintance of a noted journalist. Things would be easier if you fulfil such criteria. This I realised when I was stopped by a group of photographers while chasing an assignment in the heart of the city. Those moments were extremely demoralising.
Thankfully, I switched to what I was good at professionally. Years later I ended up in a larger strategic role and simultaneously was also helping new professionals with their captions and copies whenever they needed. I wonder if things would have been different if I would have had a similar mentor.
I am sure the present times are kind enough for the new generation, but there are a few things that need to be pointed out here. With the advent of technology, and abundance of news sources, we tend to enter a rat race while we overlook and forget the very basic ethics of the profession. This we do in order to win the race of filing well before the fellow scribe. In the process, we sometimes end up compromising not only on quality but also on various other vital aspects.
Veterans have a role to play in rendering guidance and expertise to the young in such a situation. The senior photojournalists who have been there since decades have to do something about projecting a collective image of this fraternity, while upholding ethics and mutual respect, especially in Kashmir.
Youngsters bring ideas, freshness and flair but I see them competing since Day One without catching on to the learning curve. I have witnessed gossiping and mudslinging happening at will and leisure. We need more serious discussion and debate. We have lost the sense of debate on serious issues. Here seniors have a vital role to play. They have to teach and not take sides. I recall a serious situation with a friend who happened to be an acclaimed photojournalist who had covered many wars and conflicts around the globe, including ours. His story later became a case study. The point I am making is that while it is important to bring out the best of creativity individually, it should not be at the cost of integrity. The so-called association, if it really exists, has to come into play to uphold the name and identity of photojournalism of Kashmir.
Recognition shakes the oppressor and it always tries to mock us in the process. Where do we stand? Are we doing something on this? Hope my message gets through to the right people. The photojournalist community has to find a way to identify and resolve these glitches for the better of everyone.