A VETERAN photojournalist said he was “sad” over the “dissolving” role of today’s journalists.
Last Oct. 19, visiting professor Mahdi Nazemroaya invited Pablo S. Quiza to address a class of Mass Communication students at the University of the Philippines Cebu.
Prior to living in Cebu City, Mr. Quiza was a freelance photographer who transferred to Singapore as a photojournalist and editor working with the international news agency Reuters.
In over 30 years, he has covered all subjects, from culture to politics and war, in many places, including his home, the Basque country straddling France and Spain, a region whose history of divisions prompted professor Nazemroaya to compare this with Mindanao in the Philippines.
All of the photos Mr. Quiza showed the class, except for one, featured conflict. The scenes varied in the elements posed as counterpoints: people versus people, people versus the machines of war, and people versus nature.
The images converged on one point: veracity.
Mr. Quiza said that the photojournalist has a commitment to witness all sides. Once refusing an assignment to cover Afghanistan as a photojournalist embedded with the U.S. military, he commented that immersing in one side curtails the journalist’s independence to tell the whole story.
Yet a photojournalist can never be truly objective because he or she is human. The trick is to find a balance, said Mr. Quiza.
As witnesses, photojournalists may be purveyors of ugliness but these images help “make the world a better place”. The photographers of the iconic images of the Vietnam War galvanized sectors of the American public to oppose the war and pressure the government to end it earlier, Mr. Quiza pointed out.
But truth’s greatest adversary may neither be governments nor corporations. Technology has brought changes, including the improved capacity to manipulate images, information and the balance of power.
While a trained eye is required to detect computer manipulation of photos, access to technology transforms any smartphone owner into an instant photojournalist.
His retirement from photojournalism stemmed from Mr. Quiza’s disillusionment with an industry and an audience increasingly inured to images. I was willing to risk my life to take photos but people prefer those that don’t ruin their breakfast, he mused.
A day later, I listened as my students discussed a TV footage showing a police van mowing into a crowd of protesters outside the U.S. Embassy. Thesis advisees studying how Netizens engage online, these young women are too harassed to be active in campus politics.
Yet, they cried each time the cop behind the van drove into, reversed, and drove again into the crowd of national minorities protesting their displacement by American companies and state interests.
When matter dissolves, doesn’t it change into other forms? What will journalists give way to?
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 23, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”