A group of experienced conflict photographers, including Jason P. Howe and Eric Bouvet, and military instructors are collaborating to offer a unique training opportunity for photographers preparing to work in dangerous environments.
Update: Due to Covid-19, the workshop has been postponed until November
Jason Howe answered our questions on what workshop participants can expect and why journalists need to prepare for working in areas of conflict.
You’re conducting a conflict photography workshop in April in Spain. What are you covering?
There is a heavy emphasis on Battle Field First Aid Drills, IED and mine awareness, the capabilities of various weaponry, personal security and kidnap avoidance. Also general situational awareness, risk assessment, dealing with checkpoints, rapport building, keeping local staff safe and making ethical and sound decisions often under very stressful circumstances.
Mentoring, safety and planning
Mixed in with all the safety training is photographic mentoring and some very carefully designed and challenging scenarios during which the students are expected to both use the new skills they learn to act safely and at the same time produce images and do their job as photographers.
Our aim is to hugely increase the participants’ awareness of the realities of working in demanding and unforgiving environments and to give them the skills to work much more safely. In addition, we actually help them move their photography, storytelling and editing skills forward, too.
We also deal extensively with assignment planning, researching, developing and pitching stories, creating alternative revenue streams and the overall evolution of the industry, as well as the potential long term effects that putting oneself in harm’s way, witnessing and experiencing trauma can have on one’s physical and mental health.
Will the workshop address the ethics of documenting the worst days of people’s lives?
It is a subject that we both discuss from personal experience and invite the students to raise questions about.
Once we have imparted some guidelines and advice, the students find themselves exposed to scenarios where their ethical reactions and behaviour are the point of the exercise. We feel strongly that the workshop is the place to learn these lessons and indeed make mistakes rather than in the field where the consequences of a ‘real-time’ mistake may live with you forever and ever.
In the past there was always this pressure to ‘get the shot no matter what.’ I think now it is crucial that newer photographers learn an awareness of the impact of their behaviour on people, as you say, having the worst day of their lives. How can we get the job done and have the minimum negative impact. This becomes very problematic once you have anywhere between dozens and hundreds of photographers, writers and TV crews descending on a story.
Who would benefit from conflict photography training?
The workshop is designed in such a way that it allows everybody and anybody, whatever their background or experience level, to come away at the end better-equipped to deal with whatever challenges they may face. The skills and mentality of prior preparation and situational awareness that we encourage have great value in any demanding situation or location, and even in every day life.
We welcome early stage professionals who have maybe travelled to a hotspot and realised that they were a bit out of their depth and wisely pulled back, and are now looking to build their skill set to allow them to work in a safer way and feel more comfortable about making good decisions in places where the wrong choice can cost the life of the photographer or of those around them.
People who are simply considering the possibility of covering conflicts or working in disaster zones in the future but want to learn more about what to expect and how to manage the situations they may face will definitely find the workshop very beneficial.
Preparation and training with experienced professionals
From personal experience, I do not believe that anyone can ever be totally prepared for the pressure, utter chaos and sensory overload that one has to deal with when working for the first time in an active war zone.
In exactly the same way that no professional soldier would ever be sent to a war zone without proper training, no professional photographer should be there either without having a pretty good idea what to expect and at least the basic skills needed to work safely.
Because we are not a profit making business, but rather a group of collaborating professionals looking to pass on our skill set, we are able to offer something that is not in direct competition with the many great companies out there offering HEAT courses or traditional photo workshops.
For freelancers, by freelancers
We are all freelance photographers and we know how hard it is to make ends meet in this business, so we really want to offer the best of all worlds to other freelancers for whom many courses and workshops are either prohibitively expensive or who do not qualify for grants or bursaries, and do not have employers who will foot the bill for such training.
In the same way that war zone insurance was until fairly recently way out of the reach of a freelancers, budget safety training is still, it seems in many cases, just too costly for new folks starting out in the business.
Fantastic programs and organisations such as RISC and the Rory Peck Trust, with its bursaries are really helping to change that, and for the last 6 years we have been trying to do our bit to also add to the resources that freelancers have available to them.
For more info please visit: