Famine, by Radhika Chalasani
Some photographers and journalists have a very absolute point of view that you never interfere, because your job is as an observer and you can do the most good by remaining one. I decided a long time ago that I had to do what I could live with in terms of my own conscience, so when it felt appropriate to try to do something, I would. There are certain situations you struggle with. We’re interfering with a situation by our very presence, and that automatically changes the dynamic. At one point, I was photographing a woman carrying her son into a feeding centre. He was extremely malnourished, and I was photographing her as she walked along. All of a sudden, these Sudanese people started directing her for the photos. They had her sit down and were indicating how she should hold her child. I ran to get a translator, and said, “Tell her to take her child to the feeding centre. She should not be stopping because I’m taking a photograph.”
Another time, there was a family sitting under a tree just outside the feeding centre, about 10 feet away. But they couldn’t walk, they were so emaciated. And there was a group of photographers all around them. I took a few pictures, but then I walked into the feeding centre and asked a nurse, “Is there anything you can do for this family?”
I’ve been in situations where it’s been a hard call, though. On one occasion, a group of photographers went into an abandoned refugee camp and found a massacre site. There were some children who had survived. There were two baby twins in a hut: I tried to get one child to take my hand and realised it had been chopped off. We didn’t know how long they had been there. And it’s in the middle of a civil war, so you’re not sure how safe things are.
Myself and another photographer wanted to take the kids out of there in the car. Several of the other people didn’t think it was safe, in case we got stopped at a checkpoint, and they wanted to get back for their deadlines. In the end, we didn’t take the children. We found the Red Cross and reported the situation to them, but I found that another photographer went there the next day and found another child who was a survivor. To this day I think that I didn’t necessarily do the right thing.
I do believe that our main contribution is trying to get the story understood. And sometimes, when you think you’re helping, you’re actually making a situation worse. But, for me, you try to do what you can live with.