Photojournalist Paul Lowe Discusses Covering Violent Events

By Mariah Rivera

SALEM, Mass., Nov. 5, 2016 — Covering the Yugoslavia conflict, the war in Bosnia and Somalia, photographer Paul Lowe faced moral dilemmas not often taught in photography courses.

“He’s an interesting guy,” said Chris Mauriello, a history professor who met him through a co-worker.

Since Mauriello is an academic coordinator at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and Lowe has been in the middle of wars, Mauriello decided that Lowe would be an excellent choice to come speak at Salem State University on October 27 for one of the school’s many speaker series.

When up in front of the audience, Lowe admitted that he has always been fascinated by the idea of “the ordinary person being thrown into extraordinary situations.”

Photographer Paul Lowe answers questions during the Q&A part of an October 27, 2016, panel in Marsh Hall at Salem State University. Photo: Mara Rivera

“There is always a barrier between you and the subject,” said Lowe after showing a photo of two Somali boys behind a metal gate. One boy’s face was fully shown while another boy was hidden behind the gate, but one of his eyes could be seen through a puncture hole.

While photojournalists often cover these perilous-state areas, most are unable to help. Not because they don’t want to. The reason is that there are many different people with different roles: people whose role is to heal; people whose role is to fight. The photojournalist’s role as Lowe explained is to record.

If there is no one else around, they can help. However, they risk potential threats to themselves. Possible consequences include being targeted for getting involved or being blamed for the social issues of the world.

For most people, having a witness to their story to help spread awareness of the situation is a form of respect.

Photojournalists who work for mainstream media are told where to go and have more protection and money. On the other hand, majority of photojournalists that go out into the field tend to be freelance journalists, Lowe explained to the Salem State audience.

While they have more liberty to explore areas that could hold valuable information for a story, they tend to have less protection. Photojournalists are easy targets especially by authoritarian powers that want to censor them.

There are times when they are battling between their profession and their morals. When Lowe published his book, Bosnians, he edited out one photo of a boy getting shot. He didn’t want to risk the chance of the victim’s parents seeing their son dying.

As exciting and anxiety-inducing war and fighting sounds like, Lowe says that majority of the time is spent simply waiting for something to happen.

“War is actually dull,” he said.

While photojournalism is a news profession, it is also an art profession, the photographer noted. When photojournalists are looking for an image, they are looking for that moment when the aesthetic collides with an interesting story.

“Photographs have a metaphorical power,” Lowe explained.

Anyone could read a news story, but as the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Many people don’t understand unless they see.

Photojournalists like Paul Lowe have gone through so much like going through barbed wire and passing traps. Some have even developed mental disorders. Lowe told his audience that he was diagnosed with borderline PTSD.

At the end of the panel, the audience gave a hearty applause. Many students and faculty members came up to him, expressing words of gratitude.

Amber Shannon, a senior at Salem State University, especially thought him to be insightful.

“I learned about events I’ve never heard of before. It was cool to get an introduction to those events through those photographs and through the photographer’s,” she said.