Storytelling and narratives
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Conflict, photojournalism and storytelling

My life is unfolding to the soundtrack of Brandi Carlile. Her voice escorted me as I conducted workshops on post-conflict reintegration of women into peaceful communities. Her songs of nostalgia kept me company when my harpaxophobia robbed me of sleep. Brandi Carlile has a transportive quality: she grabs me by the lapels and forces me to reflect, dream and do. Here are some of the other words and images that have had that effect on me recently:

1. On conflict, photography, and the perils of photojournalism
As revolutions spread around the Middle East, I find the narrative of photojournalists captivating. In late March, forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi captured four NYT journalists in Libya, including Lynsey Addario.  After her release, she spoke to the New York Times about the unique perspective women bring to conflict journalism and the consequences of this profession for one’s personal life.Fellow war photographer Goran Tomasevic talked to the BBC about the logistics of war zone photography.

 A preview: “I do not believe in running when bombs are dropped.”

One of my personal struggles with photojournalism, and conflict photography in particular, is the faintness of the line between insensitive voyeurism and the responsibility to bear witness and tell a story. Nicholas Kristof talked to Facing History about that line, as well as the guidelines photographers and writers keep in mind when covering conflict zones and the role of compassion in this environment.

2. Iman al-Obeidi and Gene Sharp: From violence against women to non-violence
One of the cases that triggered the discussion of journalists standing by versus actively getting involved in events was that of Iman al-Obeidi. She is a Libyan woman who charged into a hotel restaurant on March 26th to tell journalists that she was being abused and threatened by government forces, who also forcibly removed her from this space. Weeks later, Iman al-Obeidi told her story to Lourdes Garcia-Navarro of NPR.

The conflict news pouring in from Libya, Ivory Coast, Yemen and beyond has been heavy on my heart. I found great solace and inspiration in a profile of Gene Sharp and his views on non-violence in The Nation.

3. Photography – this time, without a conflict lens
Human rights advocate, peace-keeper and role model extraordinaire Marianne Elliott devised some useful guidelines for respectful travel photography. Karen Walrond started a series called “Occasionally Technical Tuesdays”, in which she demystifies photography techniques and offers advice on topics ranging from purchasing a camera and lenses to understanding aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

My favorite recent photography project is Rania Matar’s “A Girl and Her Room.” This Lebanese photographer observed her daughter’s path from childhood to adulthood and noticed the ways in which her room and space reflected the changes in her life. She then photographed teenage girls’ bedrooms in the United States and the Middle East. Her project generated so many questions in my head that interviewing Rania Matar is now solidly at the top of my wish list.

4. On women and writing
Personal essays are a genre dear to my heart. Female essayists I admire have been giving interviews that dispell myths on women and writing. When asked if it is difficult to be taken seriously as a humorist when you are a woman, Sloane Crosley responded:

“The difficulty is when people seem so self-satisfied complimenting a woman for what they perceive to be a man’s domain. They reveal themselves in the surprise. I’ve had men tell me — and this comes from a kind place — that they like that I’m “quick” or “clever.” All I can think is, a) Who the hell have you been dating? and b) How insulting it would be if I told a man how adorable I find his being clever.”

Tina Fey, another woman I greatly respect, recently released Bossypants. While her memoir sits on my ‘to-read list’, I enjoyed Tina Fey’s interview and profile in the New York Times. Among her tips for succeeding in male-dominated environments? “Don’t eat diet food in meetings.”

Capping off the discussion of women, humor, and writing, an article in Contrary asks a question that has been on my own mind: What does it mean to write like a girl?

5. Mary Oliver

She has taught me so much that she deserves a category of her own. Maria Shriver’s interview with Mary Oliver touches on love, loss, creativity, poetry and memory. One of my favorite excerpts:

Maria Shriver: Mary, you’ve told me that for you, poetry is and always was a calling. How do you know when something is a calling? Mary Oliver: When you can’t help but go there. We all have a hungry heart, and one of the things we hunger for is happiness. So as much as I possibly could, I stayed where I was happy.


  1. Clare, I am thrilled to find that we share a love for Ex Libris. Following the Twitter recommendations, I started “The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down.” I will let you know when I finish it, so we can compare notes!

    Noel, let’s start a TV show. Let’s give those Kardashians a run for their money.

    Kyle, weren’t those images unbelievable? I am very inspired by the work of the photographer and have about a million questions for her. I share your thoughts on the ethical dilemmas of photography and look forward to exploring these issues further both through both my photography and that of others. I think you do a beautiful job of capturing human emotion respectfully and I’d love to see your images from conflict zones (hint: come visit!)

  2. Those girl and her room pictures are simply unbelievable.

    I found a lot of the articles really interesting, I’m glad you linked.

    One thing I too find fascinating is the ethical dilemma of respecting emotions and a situation versus the “responsibility to bear witness,” as well as “standing by versus actively getting involved,” which I think are two things that go hand in hand.

    On one hand, if you are too involved, your photos are not an accurate unbiased portrayal of what was really happening. On the other hand, I do believe that if you are involved in the situation you tend to observe and therefore photograph the scene with more respect.

    It’s all a really interesting debate.

  3. Such good women, such good work, such good reads. Thank you! (Wouldn’t it be interesting if this kind of work was showcased on Sunday night TV, instead of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians?”)

  4. Kim and Michelle, I am so glad you enjoyed the links and that they kept you company this morning.

    In terms of the ghetto-ization of books to particular aisles and audiences: I am very interested in this topic, not only from a gender parameter, but also from a genre one. Essays and travel writing are not easily classified and they are often relegated to an obscure section in which they do not belong. A book I have really enjoyed on the topic of our relationship to books, bookstores, libraries, shelves and classification systems (yes, I know I am a nerd) is Ann Fadiman’s “Ex Libris.” She writes insightfully and beautifully about topics close to my heart.

  5. Roxanne, do you realize I now have 7 tabs open that will distract me from my work?! Thanks for all this fascinating reading material, you’re the best!

  6. This page has been open for a while, and I have spent all morning reading article after article. And I could talk and talk about most of these but I’d wind up with an embarrassingly overlong comment.

    The “write like a girl” one strikes an important chord with me, that ghetto-ization of books written by women to particular aisles and audiences. And yet when I think about someone reading my work, I always think of that person as female. I wasn’t always this way, but as I’ve gotten older my voice has changed (well, so has the rest of me, I guess). And I like the thought that a man might read what this book becomes and not only enjoy it as entertainment but find it praiseworthy. The only thing I can do is my best, and hope that it finds its audience somehow.

    This was a wonderful way to spend the morning, Roxanne. Thank you.

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