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Campaign Contest: "The Necessity of Photojournalism" by London Dernis

The Necessity of Photojournalism - Creative-Nonfiction

Phones are stuck to hands like glue is to paper. Some people have screen times that exceed eight hours, that’s a third of a day. These endless minutes are often spent accompanied by a thumb that is sore from all its scrolling. So just imagine the likely scenario of someone mindlessly scrolling on their phone before coming across a blurred image from a news source. This image is covered by big bold letters that read “Warning: Graphic Image.” Out of fear, this person might decide to keep scrolling. Does that make them a coward? No, it makes them human. However, if they decided to view the image, they would see the reality of the cruel world we live in. So while they might be just human, sometimes they need to be more.

Photojournalism is when journalists use images to portray what can’t be said in words, and it is my belief that it is a necessity when discussing social advocacy. The photos that journalists take can and do bring awareness to the issues we face as a society. There are many examples where this can be applied, such as climate change, school shootings, animal cruelty, food insecurity, and though the list goes on, I’m afraid I would exceed the word limit. An extraordinary example of photojournalism’s necessity is with war photography, specifically, its use during the Russo-Ukrainian war.

There is an ongoing war that started with Russia invading Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by order of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Since then, thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, and even more have been injured, the exact number is unknown. Those who are not killed are either forced to live under Russian rule, be political prisoners, or seek asylum in countries like Poland, Hungary, and Romania.

While the war has mitigated since its start a year ago, it is still ongoing and Ukrainians every day are suffering from the effects of Putin’s attacks. To share my own personal anecdote, my step mother's parents have lived with me since the beginning of the war, and express how deeply they miss their home. A home is someplace everyone has a right to, and a place that should be safe. This is why awareness of the conditions in Ukraine are necessary, and there is no better way to share this than through photos.

The horrible actions of Russia’s military towards civilians in Ukraine is simply terrifying. Many people outside of Ukraine are unaware of the specifics of what is going on. One reason for this is that people do not want to see the graphic photos because they instill fear, another reason is willful ignorance by many to what is really going on. These people refuse to see photos because they are afraid of what they will see. Fear, though, is not a reason to ignore reality.

Photojournalism is essential during times of crisis. In this situation, photos tell the real story as to what Ukrainians are currently, and have been, facing. When people see the graphic images of humans suffering and families separating, they will become aware of how serious the situation is. These photos capture more than what the statistics of who was killed can. They capture the love between families and friends that is being destroyed because of the Russian military.

War photography also prevents claims of “fake news.” As much as Putin may downplay his actions, the truth and its severity cannot be ignored, and because of photojournalists, there are pictures to prove it. In this way, photography has the potential to act as a “wake up call” to people ignoring local, national or international problems. When people are made aware of how severe an issue is, action can be spurred. The war photos that reporters capture can lead to people looking into ways to help Ukraine. The smallest actions can help, such as donating money to organizations like UNICEF.

My sincere hope is that people will stop putting “Warning: Graphic Image” on photos, and instead, allow people to see what Ukrainians are facing. This applies to many other scenarios. There are polar bears dying because of ice that is melting. This should not be avoided because it may be sad, the fact is yes, it is sad, but it is our world. With this said, those who skip these blurred images should reconsider their decision.

These graphic image warnings serve as a barrier between the public and the truth. When images are censored, photojournalists reporting from Ukraine are risking their lives for nothing. Several journalists have died in Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s invasion. These photojournalists are putting the need to spread the truth in front of their own safety. For this, they deserve to have their work shared without censorship. It is their photos that allow people around the world to see the severity of Putin’s appalling actions towards innocent Ukrainian civilians.

Photojournalists have taken photos of destroyed buildings, piles of body bags, and families saying their goodbyes as they are forced to separate. The people in these photos deserve to be seen, not censored. These journalists rightfully force people to realize the reality of this war.

In everyday life, people are killed by actions out of their control. Killed by guns when they thought they were safe going to school, killed in their home because war is spurring outside their bedroom, or killed by a stranger on the street who didn’t like how they looked. These people deserve justice, and their families and loved ones deserve to have closure. When these deaths go unknown, the lives lost do too.

It is not a new revelation that our society has issues, but we are not helpless, and I believe that seeing the truth is as important as ever. This is why photojournalism is a necessity.

London Dernis is an upcoming junior with a passion for writing. She is from Florida and is an editor for her school's newspaper. She hopes to one day publish a book and is excited for the journey it will take her on.

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