As a history major in college I was required to write a senior thesis. A historical paper deeply researched, and at least 30 pages in length, with a minimum number of first-person references. My effort, centered on the Vietnam War, was to highlight how the American soldiers on the ground reacted to the Tet Offensive, which to many, flew in the face of the “light at the end of the tunnel” mantra which was being sold to the American people at the time. During my research I came across images by the iconic Vietnam war photographer Larry Burrows, and I was forever changed.
Burrows and Vietnam
Burrows’ haunting photo essay “One Ride with Yankee Papa” told the moving and visceral story of a downed American helicopter, and rescue Burrows participated in and photographed. The photographs are seared in my mind. The images nearly shatter the viewer. Since seeing the story, I always wanted to create something so impactful. So important.
Becoming a Photographer
Flash-forward twenty years: After two decades working in glass enclosed towers selling financial instruments in New York City I left. Seeking a creative profession in the second half of my life, I became a journalist and photographer. Burrows’ work continued to captivate me. And as Burrows did, I wanted to work on stories that the world was watching. To work in locations where news was happening, and the unfolding events were shaping the future. To be on the edge. That’s what I wanted to call my office.
Over time my photography reached the point where I moved from covering local stories and events to working on stories domestically that were being watched internationally. In 2017 I covered hurricanes in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. I finally felt I was doing something important. This was my calling.
Conflict Photography Workshop
In November I traveled to the Andalusian mountains in southern Spain to take my photography even further. I had signed up for Jason Howe’s Conflict Photography Workshop, a sort of primer for conflict photographers. I realized that to move forward into this genre simply arriving on site is hardly the way to do anything–except get yourself killed. My hope was that the workshop would become the springboard I needed. What I later realized, it was the experience itself, and the people I met that would become so much more.
Attendees came from throughout Europe, Mexico and the United States. Each on their own was a talented photographer with unique shooting experiences. And those experiences were shared the first evening we were together when each person projected a dozen or so of their images, their “edits,” to the rest of the workshop. It was a powerful and effective way for us to get to know each other, and each other’s work. We immediately bonded, and became fast-friends. Several of their images are shared on this post.
The instructors included Jason Howe, who worked in both South America and the Middle East, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan; American JB Russell who, based in Paris, has worked in combat zones for over three decades; and Parisian Eric Bouvet, who has also worked around the world in combat zones since the 1980s. All three photographers possess a wealth of knowledge that during the workshop they freely impart to you in formal presentations, classes, and informal discussions. The most interesting evenings came when JB and Eric presented their “edits,” sharing their images from years of work. Those evenings left the workshop attendees speechless. We witnessed brilliance. And we became better photographers because of it.
Saving Your Life
But the core of the workshop is not just photography. It also focuses on ensuring you have the critically necessary tools and knowledge that will keep you alive in a conflict zone, and teaches you how to keep someone else alive. Know how to extract yourself from a mine field? Can you properly apply a tourniquet that will keep you from bleeding to death if you’re wounded? Or how to work in strict light discipline? Find hard cover vs. soft cover? Taught by experienced combat corpsmen, you will.
But it’s not just classroom instruction. Participants drill and experience life-like, in-the-field combat situations where what they’ve learned about keeping each other alive is applied–all under the backdrop of a startling reality.
During the workshop you’re up early and in the field. You’re always learning, soaking up knowledge. You’re exhausted. You’re dirty. You’re loving every second of it. You walk away with friends scattered across the globe. And you will never forget it.
For those interested in an in-depth primer on conflict photography that culminates in an all-out simulated attack on a fortified position with you as an embedded photographer, the workshop is a photographer’s panacea, that could just save your life.
For more information, and to attend this year’s workshop, click the button below.