The War in Iraq: Interview with Photojournalist Zoriah

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Zoriah is a photojournalist who works in some of the world’s most dangerous places.


Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller


War in Iraq

Thirty-four photojournalists (plus 152 journalists and media support workers) have died so far in Iraq since the American invasion of March 2003, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

What then, would drive a man to risk his life photographing the war in Iraq? This is exactly what I was wondering when I read about the termination of photojournalist Zoriah’s military embed in Iraq earlier this year. His work and story are important, and I decided to ask him some questions about his career and his time in Iraq.

Zoriah’s work is difficult and dangerous and the financial rewards are small. His photojournalism is funded largely by money donated by people who support his work and believe in its power. Find out how to contribute here.

Interview

Why did you become a humanitarian photojournalist? What drives you to risk your life in some of the world’s most dangerous locations?

It is import for people to see and understand how others, people who are less fortunate, live their lives.  Understanding that people are suffering and living through hard times helps motivate people to solve the problem.

You’ve recently been to the West Bank. Why did you go there and what did you encounter on the ground – what is the story that you wanted portray?

It is always sad to return to Gaza and the West Bank because nothing ever changes there.  People feel so trapped there, as if there is no hope for things to change.  The Palestinians have an incredibly strong spirit and are kind and wonderful friends, so it is hard to see them suffer.

This trip was especially intense because the fixer we were working with was shot and almost killed when Israeli Border Police opened fire on us at a demonstration.  It is just a reminder of how dangerous and volatile things are there.

What are the three most important qualities that a photojournalist needs to succeed?

It must be your passion and your mission…if you think of it as a job, you will never make it.

You must be willing to give everything up for it.

You have to want it more than anything else…and for the right reasons.

Name three photographers you like or have influenced you – and why.

Jim Nachtwey – Prolific and powerful, the best of the best.

Sebastião Salgado – A true pioneer and genius at making strong images in intense situations

Ami Vitale – A true friend and mentor, also a master at color and light.

War Photography in Iraq

How did you get the involved with this story? Why did you decide to go to Iraq to take photos – what drove you to go this dangerous place?

Journalists stopped covering Iraq, it just got too dangerous.  I knew that the story was still important and that more people were dying than ever.  I hated to go, but I knew that it was important and that I could cover it in a way that had not been done before.

How do you shoot a story like this? What process did you have to go through with the US military to be embedded with the marines?

I shoot all of my stories from as intimate position as possible, so in this case I lived with front line infantry troops and went out on all of their missions, without special treatment…living their lives as they do.

I was embedded with the US Army for several months before I ever embedded with the Marines.   It is the same process for both, a lot of paperwork, background checks and an approval process.

Working in a war zone is obviously extremely dangerous. Buy what unexpected challenges, hardships and dangers have you faced while shooting the story? How have you handled them?

Every single day there are challenges, both as a photographer and as a human.  As a photographer you have to take pictures while running, with no light, when there is fighting going on…impossible situations.  As a human, you have to deal with sickness, danger, frustration, disappointment, fear, excitement…a huge variety of emotions and different situations.

How does shooting a story like this affect you personally? How difficult is it to cope emotionally, both during your time in the war zone and afterwards?

It is always harder afterwards.  While shooting stories, your concentration is focused on capturing the best images you possibly can, and nothing else.  When you leave the war zone and things are quiet…you start to edit your images and the impact of the whole thing starts to set in.  Of course your friends and family can’t understand what you have been through, so it is isolating.

What’s going through your mind when you’re taking photos in a dangerous situation, such as the suicide attack in Anbar? I imagine that while one part of your mind is concentrating on taking the best photos possible, another is concentrating on survival, and another on the pain and suffering the people around you are going through? What’s the reality?

It requires 100% concentration, not only on getting the image captured perfectly but also on not getting in peoples way, not hindering rescue efforts and keeping an eye out for your own safety.  It’s a really difficult juggling act.

You’re risking your life to document the reality of what’s happening in Iraq right now. But what attitudes have you come across in the media to your work, and how does this vary from country to country? How do people react to the graphic nature of your photos? Do you find people perhaps ignoring your work if they don’t like the political implications of what they see or trying to fit it in with their world view?

Mainly people appreciate the fact that you are trying to bring the truth to light.  Some people see it as anti-American, others feel the exact opposite.

Editors in the United States shy away from publishing graphic images because they lose money when people cancel subscriptions because they are offended.  Here is an email I received this morning from an editor in the U.S., it is very typical:

“No (we did not publish the Iraq images,) but it was not because we weren’t impressed with them or anything. My publisher remarked that they were the most powerful images he’s seen since the Vietnam War. So, why didn’t we run them? I don’t have an answer for you.”

What role has blogging played in getting your message out to the world? How useful a tool is it?

The internet is an INCREDIBLY powerful tool and I believe it will become more and more powerful as time goes on.  It is an incredible outlet for independent journalism and a great resource for people to find out about what is going on around the world. Most of my work and funding comes from my blog and other online sites.

Links

Zoriah’s blog:           www.zoriah.net

Zoriah’s website:      www.zoriah.com

Read more about Zoriah on Epic Edits.

Listen to an interview with Zoriah at Photonetcast.

Two more interviews with Zoriah at Global Voices for Justice.

Read about Zoriah and Iraq at the New York Times.

Related Stories

Shooting in Wartime – A Photographer in Iraq

An interview with Iraq war photographer Ashley Gilbertson.

BEARING WITNESS: Five Years Of The Iraq War

The Iraq war through the lenses of Reuters’ photojournalists.

Photo Gallery

Click on the photo to open the corresponding post on Zoriah’s blog in a new window.

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Photo of Iraq War by Zoriah Miller

Click on the photo to open the corresponding post on Zoriah’s blog in a new window.

All photos Copyright © Zoriah Miller.


And please don’t forget:

Zoriah’s work is difficult and dangerous and the financial rewards are small. His photojournalism is funded largely by money donated by people who support his work and believe in its power. Find out how to contribute here.


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3 Responses to “The War in Iraq: Interview with Photojournalist Zoriah”

  1. […] The War in Iraq: Interview with Photojournalist Zoriah Miller Magical Places Fine Art Another interview with one of my favorite war photographers, Zoriah Miller. […]

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