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08 / 09 / 2004
Reza Deghati, photojournalist: I leave aside the camera when the person I was going to photograph needs my help

The Forum's "141 Questions" (121): "Is an image worth more than a thousand lies?" The Iranian photojournalist Reza Deghati said that there are many examples of photos and photo captions being misused to manipulate the public. Convinced that the perfect combination between image and information lends photography a value much higher than any writing that may accompany it, he said "many books would be needed to explain the stories that can be condensed into a single photo". He went on to mention that he sees Western countries as being like the Titanic, sailing through oceans of water and fire without stopping to help the victims of the Third World, and pointed out that if people were to ask themselves "Why" more often, then everybody would have a better understanding of what is, in fact, going on in the world

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Reza Deghati, photo-journalist and president of "A´na", an NGO that promotes the development of independent media in Afghanistan, pointed out on the Haima Stage that although he works on location to photograph reality, there are two reasons that force him to lay down his camera: "I do not take photos that go against people's privacy, or when the person that I was going to photograph needs my help". With respect to this, he explained that near Kabul, just after the fall of the Russian government in Afghanistan, he was present when a landmine exploded under a minibus full of refugees: "From out of the smoke, flames and confusion, a girl covered in blood got up and ran towards me; I prepared myself to take a photo that would have won many prizes...but stopped because that girl needed to be hugged, not photographed". Deghati, a prestigious professional who has worked for "Newsweek", "Time Magazine", "Vanity Fair", "New York Times Magazine" and "National Geographic", among other publications, said that he has frequently referred to today's question to explain his work: "Many people have heard me repeat that 'you don't know how many times it is necessary to use 10,000 words' (from the expression in English) to describe an image". Immediately afterwards he admitted that there are many examples of photos and photo captions being misused to manipulate the public.

He expressed his belief in that the perfect combination between image and information lends the photos used in photojournalism a value much higher than any piece of writing that may accompany them: "The resulting photograph has to try and be as perfect a composition as possible, as close to the perfection of a painting as possible; the informative part should take into consideration the truth that is being transmitted by each of the elements that will ultimately be portrayed". He went on to say that, "you'd need a lot of books to explain the stories that can be condensed into a single photo" and that photos provide very important educational features: "A single photo is capable of making people changes their opinions", he pointed out. He also mentioned that it would be a good idea to produce more emotive photos to prevent the effects of 'switching off' that can result from a feeling of saturation from seeing blood-drenched and dramatic photographs.

Following his many years of experience working in war zones such as Iraq, Lebanon or Kosovo, Reza Deghati said that he sees Western countries as being like the Titanic, sailing through oceans of water and flame without stopping to assist victims in the Third World: "We, the photojournalists, jump overboard to see what is going on and we see that the starving people clutch onto driftwood as their houses burn down. Then we get back on the great ship and ask them to stop, but the passengers are too wrapped out in their parties and their concerts. The Titanic carries on on its voyage". "In spite of this, I still feel optimistic because I believe in the Human race", he concluded.

He went on to add that if people asked themselves "Why?" more often, then everybody would have a better understanding of what is, in actual fact, happening in the world: "In terms of the tragedy that has taken place in the school in Russia, the highest levels of power only have one question: why did this happen? If we asked why they took school children as hostages and if we took the question to the world leaders, we'd succeed in shaking the very bases of power?"

After his intervention in the "141 Questions", Reza Deghati went on to the Balcony Screen for the screening of the documentary called "Shadows ľ Afghanistan Shadows" (2004), as part oaf the Dialogue "New Ignorances, New Literacies. Learning to Live Together in a Globalizing World", being held at the Forum until Wednesday. "Shadows", dealing with the situation of women in Afghanistan, is the second film produced by the members of the Women's Film Group, set up by the NGO "A´na" with the support of UNESCO.