On the Heroic, and Doing Our Bit in a Time of Crisis


Every year, we dedicate a cover story to the World Press Photo contest results. These photographs are some of the finest examples of documentary and photojournalistic ethos. It takes uncommon dedication to do the work that these photographers do. It is more than just about being well-informed and knowledgeable about situations and people involved. It is more than being able to navigate the undercurrents and reaching the right places at the right time. It is just as much about planning and envisioning, and the ability to tell a story well, in a single frame, or in a series or frames. It is also about waiting, watching and choosing the right moments. In some of the most telling photographs, it is that rare instinct for just the right fraction of a second to release the shutter. There are also large mechanisms in place. News agencies, media houses, magazines, editors, social media. They all play vital roles. And it is certainly about great deal of courage, every step of the way.

The costs sometimes are huge. At a talk, in response to a question, James Nachtwey spoke of the pitfalls of becoming too emotionally invested, and at the same time, these very emotions make great photographers. Many award winning photographers have needed help in dealing with the trauma of what they saw and experienced. The world owes its recording of history, its legacy, and its sense of humanity and justice to these brave souls, who take it upon themselves to bear witness.

I have sometimes been asked—why dedicate pages in print when all this information is readily available online? When organisations like World Press Photo seek out and laud the very best photographers, it is an acknowledgment of their work and commitment. It also serves to draw the attention of the world to issues and concerns that plague out planet. When the world stands witness along with these photographers, change occurs. More often than not, when cameras are pointed in the direction of wrongdoing, this alone can be deterrence. It is absolutely essential that these images be seen. The compulsive habit while viewing anything on a screen is to quickly move on, or to keep swiping. More than any screen, print offers the sanctity and the space for a viewer to linger upon a photograph, and spend time reading an extended caption, and develop a personal opinion. Besides, I personally believe that the best way of appreciating a good photograph is in its purest from, as a print.

A message to all photographers…

Even as India grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we must strive to do our best. Our photojournalist brothers and sisters are out there, risking everything, even laying down their lives, to do their jobs. You can support the cause by doing these very important things.

Firstly, ensure that you, your families, extended relatives, friends, business acquaintances, workers, and household help, are following safety guidelines, and are either in the process of getting vaccinated, or are registered for vaccinations. The elderly, especially if they are living alone, might need your help with this.

Secondly, share knowledge responsibly by weeding out rumours and hearsay. Educating ourselves and others goes a long way in reducing panic and defeating the pandemic. There are many articles and videos by research organisations and government bodies that provide excellent, up-to-date information on the options and possibilities in various situations you may encounter.

Thirdly, essential services workers, especially frontline workers, are stretched to the breaking point. What they are going through right now cannot be imagined. Doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, ambulance drivers, sanitation workers, crematorium workers, police, and even the armed forces are pitching in valiantly, round the clock. Support them emotionally and morally by making them aware of your concern and love. Message them directly if you know any of them personally, or publicly over social media if you don’t. Just knowing that you are with them, and that you are proud of them, will go a long way in keeping their spirits up. If you can, donate whatever is affordable to you to the many causes that are available.

Fourthly, if you happen to have already contracted and recovered from COVID-19, please do consider donating plasma for others who are severely affected. You could save the life of a grandparent, or a mother, or a child. Your family physician will be able to guide you further on this.

Finally, use the time you have during lockdowns productively. Learn. Try something new or pick up where you left off. Try a fitness regimen. Read. Spend time with family. Get back in touch with old friends and customers. As Rumi had written, this too shall pass. Stay safe.

This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Better Photography.