By Thomas Haley
to an article in the New York Daily News, photographer, Stephen Ferry,
was apprehended on the site of the World Trade Center the night of September
11th wearing a fireman's turnout jacket, boots and helmet. (A charge
that Mr. Ferry emphatically denies.) His cameras and 19 rolls of film
were confiscated. Two days later, Ferry returned to the site to take
more pictures, snuck into the area which had been declared a crime scene,
and was nabbed again as he was leaving. For the second time authorities
confiscated his cameras, nine more rolls of film and a doctored driver's
license. Under a plea deal with prosecutors he has been required to
hand over his exposed film to the the Library of Congress, receiving
no credit or payment, as well as performing 1,200 hours of community
service with disadvantaged children.
A most unfortunate affair. However, what I find shocking is not Stephen
Ferry's persistence to report the news on the major news story of the
decade, but the fact that his film should be confiscated and handed
over to the Library of Congress and secondly the attitude amongst some
of our politically correct minded colleagues who apparently feel that
he has gone too far and that he should be branded for such "reprehensible
This incident reminds me of the debate following the death of Lady Di
and Dodi Al-Fayed in the Alma tunnel in Paris. The TV media were the
first to lay the blame of the accident at the door step of the "paparazzi"
pursuing Al-Fayed's Mercedes from the Hotel Ritz. Early on many of us
believed that this time our less "concerned" photographic
colleagues had gone too far. We all remember the repercussions on the
profession, photographers being insulted, in some cases beaten up, from
L.A. to Sydney, because they were carrying long lenses. Only after a
few days did it become evident that the "Alma 9" were the
scapegoats of the French Prefect (the local police authority) in order
to show the Brits that the French were doing something. Evidence later
showed that the accusations against the photographers were untenable,
the pursuing photographers were way behind the speeding Mercedes when
the crash occurred and there was an excess amount of alcohol and drugs
in the chauffeur's blood stream. Discussions within the profession were
heated and there was a lot of pontificating about "concerned"
photography versus "people" photography and "cleaning
up" the profession. The fact is that these guys had been made into
scapegoats, they had been lynched first by the media and then by politically
correct minded folks because they were doing their job.
Doing our job often means finding sideroads in order to circumvent the
local authority, like getting into Palestinian areas through the Israeli
blockades. Doing our job often means being impenitent or intrusive and
taking a picture when any "well-behaved" chap would refrain.
Doing our job often means disguising oneself as a soldier and camouflaging
one's vehicle, as did some of our more resourceful colleagues during
the Gulf War in order to beat the press pools organized by the military
(a group known as "FTP" - fuck the pool). Doing our job might
mean donning a bourka in order to get past the Taliban in order to get
into Afghanistan and to get the real story. Doing our job is not asking
for permission to take a picture nor accepting to do only what the suits
want us to do. Disobedience is perhaps the photographer's last refuge
where the meddling eye is free to roam about and reveal more to us than
only what the authorities want us to know... that's propaganda! Political
correctness is not good for photo journalism.
This is a difficult matter because it is up to each of us to determine
our own limits. It is up to each of us to determine where that line
is beyond which we will not go. Some of us are more "crass"
than others. Some of us are more daring. Some of us get caught, others
don't. The reporters who snuck into Afghanistan wearing bourkas and
came back out with stories to tell were heroes and got lots of kudos.
Those who got caught by the Taliban were considered irresponsible and
foolhardy... lucky to be alive. As a photographer, what matters is the
picture and the story it tells. It should not matter if the NYPD or
FDNY or John Doe do not like us... because they have already made up
their minds about photographers... we are vultures, right!? ("Los
buitres"... vultures, that's what the Panamanian press under the
control of Gen. Emmanuel Noriega labeled the North American press corps
when we reported the troubles in that country in the 80's. We were arrested
and detained in a baseball stadium because we were doing our job. This
is where I met Stephen Ferry for the first time.)
There's one more thing. I have a problem with the hypocrisy amongst
my politically correct minded colleagues. We can go into a refugee camp
where people are suffering from famine, natural disaster, or war, and
take the pictures we want of these poor folks, totally helpless and
unable to refuse or have any control of their image and when we are
in New York or Paris, two capitals where a lot of us come from and where
a lot of us sell our "concerned photography" we bend to the
restrictions of the local authority when there is a similar event on
our home turf. (In France, a law prohibits publishing or airing of images
of victims of terrorist acts.) To my way of thinking, this is some kind
of late 20th century colonialism. We can record the misery of Africans
or Palestinians or Bosnians, but we can't record this misery when it
happens in our own country, to our own people... ??!!
When the presiding judge in Stephen Ferry's case handed down the verdict,
he said, "Your conduct was reprehensible on a day that was the
greatest tragedy in my lifetime." Well, maybe Ferry's conduct was
reprehensible... The fact that 9/11 was the most tragic day of the judges'
lifetime is beside the point and should have nothing to do with the
judgment; (nor our own) of Stephen Ferry. However, I think this is the
real problem, Stephen Ferry's transgression involves one of the most
emotionally charged events in recent history of the United States. I
ignore the truth of the matter as to why Stephen Ferry was wearing a
fireman's outfit. But it seems to me that his professional instinct
was right on. He was in the right place at the right time and he got
pictures. If he did this anywhere else on the planet, especially in
the third world, he would be heralded as a terrifically ingenious photographer
who doesn't take "NO" for an answer... World Press material!
Why should it be any different in the United States?
Okay, Stephen Ferry broke the law (or at least some misdemeanors...
?) by using false I.D. (how many of us have not forged false press credentials
in foreign countries... ?) and illegally infiltrating a crime site (which
happened to be the biggest fucking story in decades!) and he will pay
the consequences. Nevertheless, I think Stephen Ferry deserves our respect
and encouragement rather than the unsympathetic branding of which he
seems to be the recipient from certain members or our profession. The
fact that his films have been confiscated and turned over to the Library
of Congress is scandalous! If the loss of revenues from the sale of
these photos is part of his punishment, at least he should be given
the credit for his pictures which is his due.
from Oregon, photographer Thomas Haley has been living in Paris, France
for the last 25 years. Working for Sipa Press since 1983, he has covered
international news from Panama to Tiananmen Square, from the fall of
Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines to the fall of the Berlin Wall;
the Gulf War and the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia. His work on the Bhopal
industrial accident brought him an award from the World Press. Haley
works regularly with the major international news magazines.