As part of a series of talks associated with the Library’s current exhibition Colour In Darkness (World War 1 photographs), on Thursday July 21 the Walkley Foundation arranged a panel discussion at the Metcalfe Auditorium, State Library of New South Wales. The panel, who were moderated by Sally Sara, comprised of combat photographs Gary Ramage, a freelancer, David Maurice Smith, an Oculi member, and Edwina Pickles of Fairfax Media.
By way of introduction Elise Edmonds, curator of the exhibition, stated that this exhibition tried to replicate an exhibition that toured Australia in the 1920s, right down to the original caption notes. Most photos were taken by amateurs whilst the hand colouring was designed to give the images a dreamlike quality.
The discussion was based on a question and answer format. Gary Ramage indicated that he dealt with direct contact with frontline troops in combat. David Maurice Smith dealt with the consequences of war especially Syrian refugees. Edwina Pickles said that she doesn’t go to the frontline but her most recent conflict assignment was in the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab in Kenya which contained half a million people mainly Somalia women and children who were still vulnerable to rape and child kidnapping.
Gary Ramage talked about the military censorship involved in being embedded with the troops. “You could shoot them in combat but not with their sleeves rolled up when back at base camp.” Edwina Pickles could only work between 10 am and 3 pm for personal safety reasons.
David Maurice Smith commented that we are bombarded by so many war photos that they have no impact. Edwina Pickles said that she too was overwhelmed and flicks through these images more quickly than in the past. Gary Ramage agreed that the community is numb to war photography but the challenge was to take photos from a different angle to make people sit up and notice.
When quizzed about self censorship David Maurice Smith talked of the difficulty of putting constraints upon himself. In the past he would go to a war zone, say for a fortnight, and then send in the photos whereby he could more sensitively edit them, especially if they were too graphic. Now war photographers must file several times a day. However looking at images on a phone makes some images that you would withhold slip through. Furthermore today you can’t follow up the personal stories behind the photos.
Gary Ramage agreed with the rest of the panel that there were some photos that you would not shoot out of respect for the subject. However his form of restraint was to reposition himself and try and snap an image that was less graphic. Edwina Pickles said that in the Dadaab camp she would not photograph Somali women who had behind raped and tortured.
The panel then showed slides of their war photography which illustrated some of the issues they had previously discussed.