02 March 2006

Straw man walking

A friend has asked me to talk to his photography students about being a photographer in combat conditions. It sounded simple enough when I said yes; now it's only ten days away and, after a couple of weeks of planning, writing, rewriting, it seems very difficult – in fact, it increasingly seems impossible.

What do I tell them?

That it is, photographically, no different from any other field they might go into – except that their craft must be instinctively faultless?

That morally it is as different from any other field they might go into as anything can possibly be?

That psychologically they would not survive it intact even if they manage to escape physically unscathed?

That there is never, ever, any glamour or romance or nobility in anything to do with war, photography included – but that when I was their age I thought Capa, Burrows, McCullin were the most romantic, glamorous, noble figures imaginable?

That the most important attributes for such a life are the ability to endure and a set of jeweler's tools?

That they must be able to apply their craft when their bodies are numb, their minds paralysed by 95% boredom and 5% mortal terror?

All true, all important, and all meaningless.

I'm very afraid that they are on the other side of an unbridgeable gulf ... where I used to be, in a time when I know that I would have found someone like me inexplicable and embarrassing.

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