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The Daily Need

Running toward danger, and finding it

Joao Silva in February 2000 while on assignment in Madagascar. Photo: AP/Jerome Delay

In a blog post written this past weekend in response to the news of Joao Silva’s injury in Afghanistan, Nick Kristof explains why he never accepts a ride from a war photographer in a conflict zone – “if they hear gunfire, they’ll rush toward it.” This impulse to run toward danger is, of course, a prerequisite for war correspondents, but Kristof singles out the particular heroism of photographers in the field:

[T]he truth is that it’s the photographers who usually end up taking the biggest risks of all. A reporter can get information from a distance, but a photographer or cameraman has to be right in the middle of the action.

Silva, a contract photographer for The New York Times, was seriously injured after stepping on a landmine in the Kandahar province this past weekend. Silva, 44, and a Times reporter, Carlotta Gall, were embedded with an army patrol unit at the time of the explosion. Three soldiers traveling with the journalists suffered concussions; Gall was not injured.

Considered by many to be one of the leading combat photographers in the world, Silva is a veteran of numerous conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa. Since his accident, many of his colleagues have offered testimonies about Silva’s consummate professionalism and generosity.

In his recent Lens blog post, Michael Kamber, a fellow Times photographer, published an interview he’d conducted with Silva last December in Baghdad. The wide-ranging conversation touches upon issues vital to photojournalists, including the changing role of the photographer in contemporary conflicts, maintaining objectivity when embedded with a military unit and managing fear in a war zone.

Silva’s response to Kamber’s question about the latter is particularly striking for its thoughtfulness and prescience:

I certainly don’t want to get hurt. I certainly don’t want to get killed. And I think those two powerful thought processes help you in deciding what you might and might not do. Or how far you might and might not push things. But you have no control over destiny inside a Humvee when a roadside bomb goes off. You have no control when you’re covering a firefight and something falls out of the sky and lands next to you. It’s very complex.

There’s certainly no death wish. I have too much to live for. It’s not about having a death wish. Life is good; life is very good. But I’ve seen so many people get hurt, I don’t exclude the fact that it might be my turn one day.

For the rest of the interview and a slideshow of Silva’s work, visit the Lens blog.

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