Filmmaker Nick Fitzhugh on Conflict, human rights journalism, and the evolving landscape of documentary.
How does our coverage of conflict shape our understanding of the event? Is it just reporting, or is it something more? In Conflict, filmmaker Nick Fitzhugh examines the role and reality of embedded journalism, through the lives of six extraordinary photographers. The series goes behind the lens and behind enemy lines, documenting the shifting media landscape and the profoundly human impact of captured image. We sat down with Nick to talk about Conflict, human rights journalism, and the power of photography to create real change.
BitTorrent: What inspired this series?
Nick Fitzhugh: Conflict was inspired by the work of my good friend and brilliant photographer Pete Muller. Beyond the pure quality of Pete's photographs, his work has always focused on the human element; the "conflict behind combat." That idea has always resonated with me, and it’s something that his work crystallized for me. I felt that it would be meaningful for viewers to witness not just war, but different forms of conflict, and to do so from the perspective of those capturing it.
These photographers are shedding light on some of the most important issues we face as human beings. Some of these issues are events the world is well aware of. Some are completely hidden, or misunderstood. These photographers bring light to the shadows. If, through film, I can make more people aware of these issues, these stories, and the people behind them, then I have to do my part. Particularly if what I'm doing can not only inform, but more importantly, help create positive change.
What was your approach? Can you tell us a bit about the process that went in to making this series?
The approach was always to be personal. I wanted viewers to be brought behind the lens. I wanted them to connect with the photographers, and to feel as they felt while capturing these images. I wanted to spend time in each photographer's home, and with their families; to capture them off-duty, and to further establish a degree of intimacy. The interview locations were selected to reflect the places they shot; to bring viewers along with them.
I got to know each of these photographers well--more than well. They have become very good friends.This created a necessary amount of trust--necessary for delving into very personal and difficult memories.
What is it like to be in the field, on the streets, documenting conflict? What are the demands and challenges these journalists face?
These photographers face tremendous challenges capturing these images. Sometimes they face bullets and life-and-death situations. Sometimes they face cases of abuse so overwhelming they're crippling. Sometime they face personal loss so severe they risk losing themselves to it. They also face the challenge of maintaining their relationships with friends and family who have no first hand experience of what they have to deal with in their work.
Which photographers’ stories particularly stood out to you, and why?
I'm often asked if I have a favorite episode and, quite honestly, I can't choose. Each of them stand out to me for different reasons. Pete stands out to me for his absolute dedication to his subjects, and because his story and his episode gave rise to the entire series. Joao stands out to me as the man who has given his entire life to the documentation of conflict and who also very nearly lost his life to it as well. Donna stands out to me for dedicating over 30 years to exposing domestic violence in a way no one else had been able to and inspiring positive change no one else had been able to achieve. Nicole stands out to me for her strength of character, despite unbelievable loss at an shockingly young age. Robin stands out to me for giving everything, absolutely everything, to his work regardless of the consequences and despite the overwhelming odds. And Eros stands out to me for choosing to leave it all behind in order to be a father to his newborn daughter in a way his own father hadn't been able to be.
How do you see the field of conflict journalism and photography changing?
The biggest change is the rise of citizen and freelance photography at the expense of staff photography. In many ways this is exciting, because it means vastly more expansive and immediate coverage of conflict stories. However, it's also dangerous, because citizens often lack training and experience. This can lead to misreported information.
It's also dangerous for freelancers who are often forced to put themselves in high-risk situations without upfront pay, security, or support from employers. This needs to change.
How and why do images affect us so profoundly? What do you see as the impact of photojournalism?
The images of these photographers particularly when combined with their stories expose horrible truths so unavoidable that they motivate us to change the situations that give rise to them. I believe in the power of story to motivate change.