Confessions of a War Photojournalist

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“There is intense rivalry among photographers and getting the better picture faster than the guy next to you is important”

Being a war photojournalist, there are some things you take for granted. Such as, no laundry service, edible food if you are lucky, and a shower if Lady Luck is truly in a lovely mood. The one thing you don’t take for granted is returning safely to your sleeping bag every evening. 

Being a conflict photographer is a huge responsibility. You bear witness to some of the most heroic, terrifying and basest of human emotions and intentions. While watching someone being blown to shreds, someone losing a limb, someone bleeding his last drop while begging for help, a child make sense of why her dad is being hit by a strange man, it takes effort to pick up your camera. Every situation and every person leaves behind a scar. You are never quite free of the memories. 

Life as a conflict photographer is lonely. It’s an elite club. You acknowledge the regulars and ignore the greenhorns (most of them are there for the thrill). Everyone is wary of making friends; you don’t know if either of you will be alive the next minute. The few friends you make are like family. 

There is intense rivalry and getting the better picture faster than the guy next to you is important. It’s more than just being at the right place at the right time. It’s about being constantly aware of where every other photographer is positioned, and when to wait till everyone has left and when to leave before everyone else. Oh, and let’s not forget keeping your back covered and making sure there is an exit close by in case you have to get out in a hurry. Only the very best have all these bases covered and come back with pictures that make the front pages. 

To listen to an eight-year-old describe the difference between a Kalashnikov’s gunfire and an LMG (light machine gun) teaches you a lot about life. Then you return to listen to your accountant drone about your tax returns and you wonder how he would look in the middle of a Taliban offensive. 

(The photojournalist has been covering conflicts in various countries, mainly in South Asia, for nearly 15 years)

As told to Aliefya Vahanvaty.