A combat photographer

They couldn't arrest Saddam, so they took his picture. AFP photographer Romy Gacad explains the humor behind his picture in a seminar at St. Benilde's.
AFP photographer Romeo Gacad is a great photographer, but nowadays he’s most known for his pictures on war, mainly shot in wars in the Middle East, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. He gave a lecture recently on war photography at the St. Benilde’s Museum on Contemporary Arts, during which he talked not only about his pictures, but also the stories behind them. Here are my notes on the lecture.
If you've seen death you know the meaning of life, Romy says during the lecture.

Explaining a well-composed picture in which two American soldiers, framed by two pillars in Saddam’s palace, enter through the doorway: I spot an area, I study it. If I have time, I wait.

To be a combat photographer, you have to be tough. Physically and mentally.

Of a picture showing US soldiers treating wounded Iraqi fighters: This is exactly what the US want us to see. This is why we’re embedded with the US forces.

On covering the war as an embedded photographer: You have to balance the information because we know that what we are putting out are censored materials.

Explaining a group shot of soldiers with their company flag, all smiling at the cameras: (They had asked him to take the picture shortly after arriving in Iraq). These are moments when you bond with them…and you can be used. You can use them, too. A week later the same group of soldiers were dead. Their helicopter was shot down.

On a picture of a female US soldier squatting on the ground crying, her bag and gun beside her: Romy saw her from behind, knew he had to move in front to take the picture. He prepared for two reactions: an angry one and a not-angry one.
Be ready for the reaction to your presence. Don’t be caught by surprise.

On a shot showing only a part of a face of a wounded soldier, his buddy behind him: Photographers were not allowed to show pictures that would identify dead or wounded soldiers as part of the police. So I shot from below; only a part of the face can be seen.

This is what I saw and I had to tell the world that this is what happens during the war. There are casualties.

On being a photographer: It was an incredible experience: to see, to witness, to experience. As photographers we can contribute through the image that we see, to bring about understanding. There’s a way of looking at things to create more understanding instead of creating more enmity.

On pictures: You never touch or add or remove an element of the picture when you’re talking about photojournalism.

On covering wars and disasters: It takes its toll in the sense that you see things that won’t disappear. As photographers we don’t carry guns, only cameras, so it is the violence that we see, and absorb.

On achieving balanced reportage: When it’s war (we’re covering) we don’t have two; we have 50 people, all of them trying to get as much information as they can. It’s a method of trying to draw balance, to tell as whole a picture of the truth as possible.


3 Responses

  1. I am a professional photographer and a U.S. Veteran and I am really interested in being a combat photographer. How and where do I get started with that? Are there private companies that hire people like me to do this job? Please help with any information you can give me.

    • Hi Colin. The combat photogs I know are working with the media agencies; you might try applying with them. There are some photogs — as well as journos — who go into combat areas as stringers or correspondents, but not regular employees, of news agencies. I really wouldn’t recommend that, considering the risks involved.

      • Thanks for the reply, I will continue to seach differnt agencies and avenues to accomplish this. Hopefully I will find something in the near future.


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