Love? Who did Pascal think he was kidding? He was like me, like every other war-besotted journalist. An unapologetic hedonist. An adrenaline addict, hooked on fresh blood and the high of survival, on the headlines, and deadlines and the steamy après deadlines. He was—we all were—stuck in the state of prolonged adolescence, justifying every puerile action under the clever guise of contributing to a noble cause.
We were newswhores. Journalists. Holy and just. Upholders of the word, disseminators of the image, incapable of loving any one thing or any one person more than the story, more than ourselves.
Pascal was one of several lovers revealed in Shutterbabe, Adventures in Love and War, written and illustrated by the American Deborah C Kogan. This 300-page, hard-cover book was published by Villard, NY in 2000. The three sections of her book are aptly named: Develop, Stop, Fix. About 35 b&w photographs in the journalistic style, presented as singles or grouped, are scattered throughout. Her captions include the place and year; no names. Places like Afghanistan, 1989, covering the freedom fighters as the Soviets were forced out of the country; faces of men outside strip and porn shops in the USA; drug users with a needle in their arm in Switzerland and Holland; strippers in the USA; rhino poachers in Zimbabwe; gang members, women and men in the USA; an orphanage for unrecoverables in Romania; citizens building barricades against tanks in Moscow, 1991.
Kogan was born in Potomac, Maryland outside of Washington, DC, grew to 5 foot 2 inches (158 cm) tall and graduated from Harvard. Moving to Paris she starts knocking on doors of photo agencies. Her first assignment landed her in Afghanistan. She worked as a photojournalist from 1988 to 1992, for various news agencies – Magnum, Gamma, etc. In those days photojournalists (PJs) had to cover some of their costs when travelling. Income came from an agency selling their photographs to newspapers and magazines, taking their 50%, with the other half going to the photographer in the field. The agency tells them when and where to go for the best stories. Status of the PJs was defined by clothing, gear, and make of camera; Leica was the gold standard, slung around a neck, the lens inward against their body to protect it. Roll film was bought in bricks. Tri-X 400 ASA b&w was used for subtle, more artistic images, but color was what the papers and magazines needed. Once the event was recorded with still images, the PJ went to the nearest airport, and gave their envelops with rolls inside to someone returning to Paris. They would phone their agency, give a description of the person who carried their undeveloped film, so that person could be met at the airport for the delivery. Today, with digital film, emails deliver photos quickly from the field.
For the most part photojournalists deliver the truth, even if it is staged. Riding around in a Land Rover with park soldiers in Zimbabwe looking for rhino poachers, they saw only a lot of elephants. So – Late one afternoon, right before magic hour, I ask three of the soldiers to come with me down to the Zambezi River with their guns. I arrange them in a triangular formation in the tall reeds and tell them to squat in the grass and hold their guns as if they’d just heard a rustling in the trees that might have sounded like a poacher. “Look angry,” I tell them. It’s hard to keep them from laughing, but when they stop, the image in my viewfinder looks great—well composed, beautiful color saturation, great depth of field, shiny guns, scary soldiers. It’s just photo montée, I try to convince myself, every photojournalist out there does it. But I feel like a criminal.
A day later, they locate a dead rhino, horns cut off, by watching vultures circling in Mana Pools National Park. At night the soldiers find the group of poachers in their camp with the horns, and shoot one dead. Kogan takes photos as she circles the body, like a vulture, trying to show the bullet holes. When she asks a soldier what will happen to the corpse? He replies “What corpse? This is the jungle.” Back in Harare, Deborah attends a party given by a diplomat. She meets a couple of reporters working for Sierra magazine writing a story on rhino poachers. She agrees to send them copies of her pictures of the dead 20-year-old poacher and hornless rhino. Without a dead poacher, there is no story.
While waiting for something to happen for the rhino story, Deborah sat by the river. Soon an elephant appeared. She took b&w photos of the dark elephant and trees against a light sky. The sale of the rhino pictures will almost cover her expenses. But the steady money will come from the elephant pictures. Every magazine seems to need a good elephant picture now and then.
Her still photographs are styled for newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Newsweek, and other international publications. Her photographs and stories have won awards. If any of you are planning to be a photojournalist, this book should be at the top of your reading list. Informative, very well written, sexy and intensely interesting, her early post-university life as told by Deborah Kogan is filled with adventures and sex. She likes men. As the book draws to an end, she meets a man, marries, and settles into a working life with her two children in New York City. This is a great book on the life of a woman photojournalist who made it in the crazy, deadly, macho world of covering big stories, especially wars and revolutions. Since humans are always at war, there will always be a need for still photographers to capture the big picture and smaller details the masses back home seem to need on a daily basis.
Tom Reaume’s new 93-page photo ebook, Photography Traditions, is free at trart.ca