Boston Marathon Photographers – Bearing Witness to Horror

Chances are you’ve spent time looking for images from the Boston Marathon bombing.  Chances are you’ve frowned as the videos showing photographers moving in to take photos as emergency personnel moved barricades to get to the injured.  The ugly truth is this:  if a photographer hadn’t kept clicking, you wouldn’t be seeing that or any other photos beyond the initial explosion.

Is it ethical?  How can someone take pictures when others are injured?  Believe me, photojournalists (the good ones anyway), grapple with this pretty much constantly.  Don’t let the old and grizzled ones fool you, first scene or 500th, it hurts.  So why do photojournalists keep doing what they do?  Why do the cameras keep clicking?

What about the injured?  For photojournalists on the scene as events like the Boston Marathon attacks happen they are pretty much operating on instinct.  There isn’t a lot of thought process according to the ones I know of who have been in events as they first unfolded.  When your head slightly clears though there is one basic question.  “Can I help or will I be in the way?”  First on the scene of a car crash?  Help first, photos later.  Fifteenth on the scene of a car crash?  Can I help or is staying out of the way and taking photos all I can do?  Every photojournalist has a different threshold for where that point of help or photograph question breaks.  Every photojournalist will second guess himself or herself at some point about whether they made the right decision.  Photojournalists are still human after all.  Photojournalists aren’t paparazzi (that’s a rant for another day).  It is easy from the safety of your home as you click through the photos to say “they should have helped.”  When you are there it isn’t so easy to make decisions on the fly in the midst of chaos.

Photojournalists bear witness.  It’s more than getting the story or doing a job.  Oh sure, there are a few who are just drawing a paycheck but they don’t last long.  Photojournalists are called, for lack of a better term, to bear witness.  There is an inner drive that requires not only you witness the horror but that you record it so others understand.  The saying is “seeing is believing.”  The truly driven photojournalists feel this with a power that hurts.  The act of witnessing and recording events makes them real, permanent, and unable to be forgotten.  The good and the bad MUST be remembered.  It is almost like the guy standing on the street corner shouting his beliefs to the world.  “The photos will make them understand.  They have to understand.  THIS HAPPENED!”

Updates on the Boston Marathon attacks can be found at (including first hand account of the event from one of their photojournalists). Oh, and Google?  Your algorithm that had local coverage of this horror on PAGE 3 of results yesterday with stuff from across the globe ranking first in search is irreparably broken!


3 thoughts on “Boston Marathon Photographers – Bearing Witness to Horror

  1. Excellent observation about photojournalists being called to bear witness. Those who are truly dedicated to the craft for the right reasons are probably the only journalists we have who just give us the facts and leave out opinions. I admire that.

  2. After watching the different news stations tonight, I made the comment that what if there were no photographers, as the FBI is asking for anyone that was taking photos of the runners and the scene to please come forward and submit them, even with all the cameras from the government, police that were trained on the site, they were getting most of the shots for evidence from the photographers that did step in and start shooting. That is how they found some evidence. Thank you, Liz, for writing this, excellent piece and it would be hard to make snap decisions in a situation like this.

  3. Pingback: Boston Marathon Tragedy Talk Of The Parent Blogosphere

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