Video Proof That Many War Images Are Staged

Video Proof That Many War Images Are Staged

We have all read how biased different news organizations can be when it comes to the cold hard facts. We've also pretty much come to expect that a photograph tells a story better than anything else. Documentary film maker Ruben Salvadori recently exposed how some of the most epic images from war torn areas of the world are actually staged...and it's pretty surprising. Ruben recognized how photographers can drastically change the mood of a scene just by being present, so he decided to turn the cameras on the photographers themselves and show just how "dangerous" many of events we see on tv and in print really are. Next time you see an image that appears to be in the thick of the action, step back and ask the question "but how many photographers are standing right off camera?" You can read more here about this video project and let us know what you think in the comments below.


Log in or register to post comments
Mike Folden's picture

This is really strange. It shows how powerful the media can be. That's why I don't really watch the news. They end up just scaring us from going anywhere because it's "so dangerous". Really cool that these guys did this. 

Tracy Nanthavongsa's picture

Amazing find, Patrick. This is hella interesting. I guess I can fake a civil rights photos to get Getty to buy my image too

None of the photos were faked though, nor where they staged. I think the headline is misleading people. Change the West Bank to Harlem and then ask if the charge of staged would still be applicable.

Mike M's picture

Well... it's actually a very blurry line between who is causing the event.  As far as I'm concerned, this is as close to staging images as you can get, without saying "I'm staging these".  Encouraging people to act differently by your presence, is just as bad as telling them what to do.

Awesome video, makes you think. It's actually considered a good trait for a photographer to be able to suggest things with his images: make a small protest seem like a huge gathering, make a dull concert seem exciting by capturing the 5 seconds the crowd went nuts etc. In most cases and especially if it's a commercial job and not a journalism-related one, it's what we're paid to do. However in the case of news it can be a bit ambiguous as this video shows. Interesting, I repeat :)

William Walker's picture

Really interesting, especially because I just watched the movie "the Bang Bang Club" about South African conflict photographers in the 90's.  In these video's it's very interesting to see how the photographers definitely influence the scene and mood.

Marek Janicek's picture

Nothing new to the journalist world though, there are scenes that you simply can't capture (unless you're a nut) because of the raged crowd on both ends. This situation is probably one of a very few that appears on remote end of real conflict zone. I spent 4 years in Israel and frankly, when you arrive to a location after bomb attack, where teenagers were killed and the army blocks the area from getting closer, your first thought is, how can I show what really happened here? You want the world to know but sometimes your possibilities are limited so you need to think creatively. It's like when you miss your shot of bride and groom when they're accepting their rings from each other because the videographer steps in your way. You simply ask them after the ceremony to pose for these photos. Anyhow, the media distorts the reality. We all know that. But on the other hand, there are some ruthless things happening and you want the people to know. However, not at the cost of your life.
As William stated in the previous post, watch Bang Bang Club to see what it took (for most what it still takes) to create the real, unaltered drama.

Domagoj Kunic's picture

Western media distorting reality?! This can't be! :-P

Anonymous's picture

I think they should be ashamed as photographers, sorry.   Who knows how many photographers have won awards because of "staged" photos like these.  I dunno, 

Anonymous's picture

Cyberphoto, I strongly disagree that this is "lying". As any type of photographer, you are always interpreting a scene for the audience, deciding which elements to include or exclude to tell your story. Note that none of these PJs repositioned people or asked them to do anything specific. It was just not as dangerous as it looked. I think it's a bit unfortunate that Patrick characterized this as "staging," which unfairly casts doubt on the many PJs who do take tremendous risks to get their shots.

Your analogy is incorrect because it implies that PJs are dressing up, say, Israelis, or even Americans, and asking them to pose as Palestinian kids. In your example, it would be more analogous to say that you saw Tiger Woods leaving BK, and you asked him to sit back down with some fans and eat another burger so you could get some shots. Would you then say you were lying to your audience?

Salvadori's rather muddled point is that the mere fact of your camera's presence distorts reality, which any photographer, including mom with a pocket camera, knows. I note that Salvadori is listed as a documentary filmmaker, not a PJ, though I don't know his true background. Documentary filmmakers "stage" things all the time.

The headline is lying to you, the photos are not staged. The photographers, by their presence, might influence events, but that is very different from staging events. 

Rex Larsen's picture

What's phony is the headline for the story and video. No staged photos were presented. The fact that protestors show up or stick around longer if media is present is not a revelation. A dramatic picture of a soldier, police officer, or protestor with a rock in his hand is not a staged war photograph.  This FS feature was misleading and oversold.

Lee Morris's picture

Perhaps the word "staged" doesn't exactly fit pertaining to the photography but what would you call it if I took a picture of a kid throwing a rock down a road and then wrote a story about how he was throwing it at a specific group of people, or I put it next to another group of images that were taken on a completely different day.

Perhaps the photo wasn't "staged" but the story the photo is used in is staged in or fake in my opinion. 

Martin Beebee's picture

If you took a picture of a kid throwing a rock down and empty street, and wrote a story that said he was throwing it a group of people, that would be lying. Nothing of the sort was shown or even implied in the above video.

In fact, the headline here is completely deceptive -- no where in that video did he say these photographs were staged -- simply that photographers can influence events.

Rex Larsen's picture

The outrage here with many of the comments makes little sense.

Anonymous's picture

Huckle_Cat, sure, I kinda agree that my Tiger Woods analogy was a bit off and kinda lame.  I can admit that.  What I'm getting at is if the picture of the kids throwing rocks is sold as "THE CONFLICT IN ISRAEL" but it was literally just kids in the street throwing rocks, THAT is a lie.  It's a lie.  There is no conflict, the kids aren't throwing rocks AT somebody, they're just kids throwing rocks in the street. Sorry, it's a lie if a magazine or newspaper publishes that picture and says it's something more than kids in the street throwing rocks around.  That make better sense?

Anonymous's picture

By the way, Cyberphoto, I didn't think the analogy was lame, just that I didn't agree with the way you applied it. I do see what you are saying, though I may not think it is as black-and-white as you do. If I were one of these photographers, would I sell this picture? Probably, if I were assigned to shoot it. Would I be embarrassed and conflicted if I got an award for it? Most definitely. I am not a photojournalist and I know the standards for them are (supposedly) higher. I was very interested to see what the working PJs thought of this.

Jens Marklund's picture

I have to agree with Cyberfoto.

And I think the photographers know what kind of photos they need to take to get published and paid, as the guy in the video was talking about. Unless you're going over there for a documentary reason - which these people aren't since they get paid to get the most dramatic shots they can (such as the shot of the police with shields just standing around, but looked like it was the front of the protests, the way the photographer told the story with his photo) - then these photographers are as much documentary as commercial photographers.

I will also bet that not only the papers, but also the photographers themselves, will leave important bits when describing the photos in galleries - and most likely just include the "protests in this country" description.

Domagoj Kunic's picture

The bigger issue here is for what purpose and whose agenda are these 'staged' photographs being used...these are just a few photographers trying to make a buck...the real problem are the magazine editors and journalists twisting and bending the reality to suit the political agenda...

bush72's picture

The photos are a lie. They are staged. Sure the photographer my not be telling them how to pose but they are taking images of these people going through the motions of what it might look like during a real conflict. As a photojournalist for 15 years I have never showed up to an assignment and asked them to just run through the motions so I could get the photo. I have been told that the people at the assignment are going to run through it again so I can get the photo, at that point I tell them no thanks and explain that it would be a lie. I became a photographer to record the truth not make it up. I'm sure there are PJ's out there in harms way getting the truth but what this is showing is that there are some people out there just to make money and have no respect for the craft.

They aren't staged, anymore that people waving at a camera on a civil march demo are staged. 

David Peno's picture

They are staged. Kids throwing rocks down an empty street is a staged photo, there may not be a discussion where the PJ asks the kids to stand here and throw the rock there etc. But there is an obvious understanding on both sides what is required. Ten PJ standing on the side of an empty road where a kid creates a "road block" and it is used to show the "conflict" is a lie.

Listen to the actual guy in the video and not the inappropriate headline that this website has attributed to it. His comments are almost exclusively related to the personal motivations of the photographer's in depicting the  scene he is sent to cover, he barely mentions the subjects themselves, which is what you would expect if talking about staging. The road block and the conflict are very real, ask a Palestinian in Gaza or the village who placed that maleshift roadblock, they have the empty tear gas cannisters to prove it.

Jason Pratt's picture

I am really quite annoyed at this.  I honestly thought they were in the nitty gritty of it all and I praised them on being so brave to put themselves in situations like this.  I feel somehow hurt as a photographer.  What else is staged?

They aren't staged though, the headline is misleading.

The headline is misleading, these photos ARE NOT STAGED. That the photographer might influence it's subject is not new, but staging suggests that they are willfully complicit in creating events rather than documenting  them. By that measure, all forms of public protest which are designed to attract media attention are staged too.

Lee Morris's picture

But there is no story to photograph right? If the photographers were not there, then the kids wouldn't "create" the photos and then these "fake" images would not be available to create a fake story with. 

You mentioned a civil march above. What if a peaceful civil march was captured as violent by one photographer who got a small group do catch something on fire. That image would sell more than any other but that image does not reflect the march at all. 

I can see both sides here and it's hard for me to take one side or the other but it is an interesting debate. 

Ghislain Leduc's picture

what I hate is when people say: That's what the public wants to know... I only want to know the truth and nothing else.... If there are no conflicts, don't imagine one because your government wants you to think there is one... The best thing we could do is this: Let's all stop for a full month to watch any news channel.... That would end it all...

Forget the erronous headline and focus on what the guy in the video is saying. His comments are all about the bias a photographer has when trying to get a dramatic or commercial shot. He mentions how everyweek these demos take place, that's a lot of effort if it was purely staged for the benefit of the cameras. 

Martin Beebee's picture

Again: if a photographer "got a small group to catch something on fire" that would be staged -- nothing like that was shown or suggested in this video.

lord trini's picture

In hot button issues we want to believe what we want to believe. We was to see the Palestinians as rock throwing terrorists. But as soon as that illusions is shattered we have to come up with a reason that what we believe is true. This is a difficult concept for members of the dominant culture to grasp. But people who have been cast as "others" or "less than" live this everyday.

amrosario's picture

It's the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - the mere act of observing changes what's being observed. The camera does that.

BradBell's picture

The big question is why trust the 2nd camera point of view, simply because it includes the photographers.
Is there a 3rd camera point of view that shows the entire scene, where it is revealed we are on a stage set? Shot with a super wide lens to reveal the bare ugly honest reality of it all. Is ugly a style that means real?

Mike's picture

'recreating' a scene and selling it as what actually happened seems wrong to me.
if it said under the photo caption that "this is what it would of looked like in a 'real-life' situation" then id understand. otherwise its either a lie for some extra cash or a distortion of truth to fuel propaganda or misinformation

Anonymous's picture

Yea, like I said, you can't take a picture of kids throwing rocks around in the street and call it anything different than "Kids throwing rocks around in the street", otherwise it's a lie. Period!.  Note that I spelled out Period which shows you how serious I am about stopping the sentence right then and there... except for the fact that I had to explain it. so ignore everything after Period and the ".". 

Rex Larsen's picture

Video Proof That Many War Images Are Staged----This headline is sensational and misleading.
Please list all pictures in the piece there were posed and directed by the photographer.
What is needed here is to see how the pictures were published, and what the captions, stories, and headlines stated.

Vadim Berestetsky's picture

Bit more on the same topic:

In case you are interested to learn about staged images from the Middle East...

Martin Beebee's picture

Really, Lee, I love this website, but the headline is simply wrong.
"Evidence that photographers can influence the events they photograph"
would be much more accurate -- there is nothing in the video to suggest
that any photos were staged. All the images shown simply show a
photographer behind the scenes at work -- not doing anything unethical.

When you say "many war images are staged" you attack the professionalism
and integrity of all war photographers. Many war photographers have
been killed doing what they do -- and I bet they weren't staging photos
at the time.

Anonymous's picture

As a Media Operations Photographer with the British Armys Combat Camera Team, I can tell you that none of ours are staged. We patrol alongside whoever we're shooting with rifles and cameras and capture things as and when/if they happen. 

It's a shame some organisations feel the need to stage shots. Any civilian journalist I ever come across over there always seem massively disappointed if they go out and there's no 'action'. They just want the action shots, shooting and smoke. They tend not to bother focusing on the actual work the forces are doing in some of these countries. 

Brian White's picture

I just had to sign in to say that neither the kid who made the video, nor the person here who wrote the headline and blurb when re-posting it, have any idea what they're talking about.  

Foster Snell's picture

I agree with Martin in that it attacks the professionalism and ethics of photojournalists.

If anyone wants to see genuine war photography, watch James Nachtwey's documentary War Photographer. It is very powerful.

Clement's picture

It is clearly poor ethics. But the guy is using only one scene to make his point. That's a little short if you ask me... Show us bunch of examples if you want to convince us!

Sergio Alonso Rodríguez's picture

Israel-palestina its an old conflict, no one disturbs there at seeying a camera. Try to do the same in Siria right now, if you come back alive your can consider yourself a lucky one.

Very interesting, but troubling. The globalization and sensationalism of the news degrades it's credibility. Really makes you question every conflict images you see. I am a lowly freelance photojournalist working for my father; Like many others I dream about rushing towards the chaos with a heavy helmet on my head. This video impacted me. Where is the news real, as opposed to news created by the newsmen? The media hoard has a falsifying effect.

David Crockett's picture

This is how it happens in riots and protests, which this was. The protesters want to be seen by the media. I am a world traveled photojournalist and have covered war, and I assure you all, nothing is "staged" by the media and they are indeed in a great deal of danger by being where the action is. To anyone who thinks for an instant that they stage that stuff, I suggest you go there yourself and cover it. First, you don't need to stage anything because lots to photograph is happening on its own, second, photojournalist have very strict ethical rules to follow and third, they are very much in harms way and would not take the time to stage anything or hype it up because that would make it even more dangerous.

However, many Civil War photos you see were very staged and photographers would move bodies around and that sort to compose the war shots better. But not in today's war setting. You'd get your ass shot off! 

RepublicWay's picture

We are talking about the same journalists that was involved in the hacking scandal right? Ethics? please you are all still human. i assisted a photo journalist in Afghanistan. Yes, there was war raging but at times when we were "slow" some photos were staged for National news distribution. You just haven't been around people that have done it.

RepublicWay's picture

And that's why Photo-Journalism is a sham and is made up of hacks that "wannabe" photographers.

RepublicWay's picture

When you give crazy people attention they only get crazier.

Ivan Apfel's picture

What you need to keep in mind is that this piece appears to have been done by a pretty young person who is only speaking of his experience in this one particular conflict in this one particular time in history.  That would be like summarizing "All War" by analyzing the war in Falkland Islands. 

In real conflict and war situations the last thing photographers are doing is manipulating or staging the situation.  Our job is to document the events and people.  The picture used in this discussion did not lie or distort the truth.  It was a strong image of what was going on there.  The photographer has zero control over what the new editors do with the image.  So you can blame them for making more of a story out of it than there really was.

By the way this just adds to why photographers hate videographers.  Many photojournalist like wide lenses because it forces them to get close to the subject.  This accounts for both the popularity of still images from conflicts as well as the large number of conflict photographers deaths.  Videographers on the other hand like staying on the outside shooting it.  This is why most of their stuff never makes it past the evening news and their death count is much lower.  Then video guys have the audacity of taking reputation and professional pop shots at photographers.

Al Jezeera has been doing this for years with terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.  That's why I always go on high alert whenever I see them out on the battlefield, usually something is going to blow up very soon and I'M the target.

More comments