Disaster Photography

Posted on November 1, 2012


In light of hurricane Sandy, the topic of natural disaster photography has reared its head amongst my friends and I.

For a photojournalist covering a disaster such as Hurricane Sandy, would conjure up images in my mind of floods, high wind, fallen trees/buildings/roofs, derelict streets and possibly a lonesome shadow of someone braving the streets despite being advised to stay indoors.
If I was in New York, New Jersey or any of the other affected areas, I would probably have looked for places, where these images in my mind would have been realised. The problem I guess with this is that the images I would instinctively try to create are the type that dramatise the events and would show the worst of the event (portrayed in the most beautiful way – of course) regardless of the actual or real situation.
This is a recognised approach in media and has long been a practice in news coverage. Dramatisation to gain interest and sell papers. But as a street photographer who doesn’t overly use photoshop to fabricate images, I still appreciate beautiful photographs, even of a disaster, but I still see the images as a true depiction of the disaster (or any other event). There is a well know photographer that beautifies images of people in developing countries, Salvador Salgado (as shown), but does this give a true view of what is happening? does it give a window to the world of the events happening or is the purpose of photographing these events solely for art and not for archival/historical purposes?

The question is really more – Why are you taking the photo? What are you using it for?

A question often posed to me during my photography  and photojournalism studies. Are (photojournalist) photographers solely robots required to take photos of facts and nothing else? If I was to find better angles or lead in lines would this be seen as beautifying and straying from the facts?

I don’t know the answer to this but what I do know is that the difference of a good an bad photo is a fine line, but very distinct.