Photographer Meets Photographed

I used to be a great fan of the BBC, but experience in reporting events over the years as well as some aspects of their output have at least to some extent changed my mind, though they are still obviously rather better than many other broadcasters.I strongly support the idea of broadcasting as a public service and they do produce some very fine programmes in various genres.

But of course they are still over-manned,  still over-complacent, and still deliberately misreporting many events. Still giving far too much air time to bigots, racists and climate change deniers. And still wasting far too much money on rubbish which may be popular but would be done more or less as well by commercial broadcasters.

One of the finest aspects of the BBC’s work has always been the World Service, today celebrating 80 years of existence, though celebrating this by massive cuts, leaving its long-time home in Bush House and insulting its retired employees.

Thanks yet again to Duckrabbit and a post by Ciara LeemingThe face of the Gujarat riots meets his photographer ‘saviour‘ for bringing an interesting piece from BBC News India to my attention.

In 2002, Arko Datta photographed tailor Qutubuddin Ansari praying for help during religious riots in Gujarat during which around a thousand people, mainly Muslims, were killed – the worst riots since Independence. It was a picture that summed up the fear and desperation of many, and was printed on front pages around the world.

A week later, Mr Ansari became aware of the picture for the first time, when a foreign journalist hunted him out in a refugee camp and showed him a newspaper with it across a whole page. It made him notorious and “followed me wherever I went. It haunted me, and drove me out of my job, and my state.”  He lost half a dozen jobs and continued to be hounded by journalists. Ten years on,  BBC Hindi’s Rupa Jha was present when a meeting had been arranged between the two men.

Datta has been in a military vehicle and had taken a few frames of Ansari with a telephoto lens as he had pleaded with the soldiers to rescue him and a few other Muslims from a Hindu mob. Then he told the soldiers to stop and do something, and he and others in the van said they were not leaving until they did something to help the trapped people.

Although Datta’s photograph caused Ansari considerable grief, the journalists’ insistence that the military take action almost certainly saved the lives of the trapped Muslims, as well as bringing what was happening in Gujarat to the attention of the world.

Towards the end of their meeting, Ansari tells the photographer “Nobody is to blame, brother. You did your job. I was doing mine, trying to save my life. Your picture showed the world what was happening here.

Few photographs have the impact that this image does, either as a picture or on the subjects in it, or indeed on the world and on the photographer, but it is a reminder that photography can have consequences we fail to foresee.

This is not the only time Datta has returned to meet the subject of one of his award-winning images. You can watch a video in which he talks about photographing the aftermath of the Asian tsunami and how he retuned to find the Indian woman mourning a dead relative which was the World Press Photo of the Year in 2004.

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