by clicking the arrows at the side of the page, or by using the toolbar.
by clicking anywhere on the page.
by dragging the page around when zoomed in.
by clicking anywhere on the page when zoomed in.
web sites or send emails by clicking on hyperlinks.
Email this page to a friend
Search this issue
Index - jump to page or section
Archive - view past issues
Panpa Bulletin : November 2011
www.panpa.org.au David Leeson uses the Canon 5D MKII for still photography and the Sony Z7U HDV camera for video with Sennheiser microphones PHotoGrAPHEr ProFilE DAVID Leeson has his critics. One of America’s celebrated war photog- raphers, he is accused of compassion for enemy soldiers captured through his lens. Yet, it has added to the haunting quality of his work. Iraq, Nicaragua, Africa and the dark side of his own country, includ- ing death row, feature among his most compelling images. War, rebellion, drug trafficking and famine . . . Leeson has seen it all through a lens. He has brought the human tragedy of disaster and conflict into the lives of readers of the Dallas Morning News, and now those of his own freelance clients. Leeson is a Pulitzer winner for photography but describes himself as a visual journalist. He broke new ground in 2000 when he became one of the world’s first video journalists assigned to a mainstream newspaper. He says his passion for the story has shaped his career more than his love of the lens. “I got into video because I never saw myself as a photographer,” he confesses. “I wasn’t caught up in the photog- raphy aspect of things. I understand photography as the ability to speak; it’s like learning a language. “Photography is about being visu- ally literate, and the more visually literate you are, the better you are with a camera. At some point, you’re not just writing simple sentences or paragraphs any more, you’re speak- ing poetry and prose. “If I’m on a story, and suddenly my cameras die on me – whether video or stills – what do I do as a journalist? Well, I’ll still report. I’ll take notes. And I’ll file a story. “It wasn’t difficult for me to consid- er video because I never established in my mind the notion that, ‘I’m a photographer – and that’s video’. “I didn’t see it that way. I simply thought, ‘I’m a journalist’.” Leeson broke into the industry through tenacity. He filed for his local newspaper, Abilene Reporter News, as a teenager. “I had my own darkroom at my home, so I would occasionally shoot something and take it to the newspa- per and ask them if they wanted to use it,” he recalls. “They never did but that’s how they got to know me.” Persistence paid off. He was sweeping floors at a jewel- lery store when he took a call telling him to apply for a job at the Reporter News. Six years later came another land- mark – his first overseas assignment. Nicaragua. His aim was to photograph the Contra rebels – men illegally financed by the Reagan Government to over- throw the communist Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega. It was a gruelling assignment. “You walked in, you walked out” . . . meaning if you got shot, no one was coming to get you. Certainly not the American government or the CIA. “In so many ways, it is a young person’s game,” Leeson continues. “I remember when I was in Peru, covering drug wars in Peru, and the Shining Path rebels. I was covering a protest, and I was running, out of breath, and I remember thinking – I may have even said it to myself – ‘I’m too old for this’. “That was in my early thirties. “Then came the [first] Gulf War, and I was putting on my chemical warfare suit at 3am. “I don’t know where the hell I am; I’m in a desert somewhere, and one part in a million of nerve gas would be enough to kill me. And again I’m thinking – I’m too old for this. “Over the years, I’ve always thought I’m too old for this,” he laughs. “But you know, in so many ways, you never really are.” Leeson stayed with newspapers until 2008, when he was made redun- dant by the Dallas Morning News, and he began a new stage of his career as a freelancer. The 54-year-old father-of-five ac- knowledges the toll that decades of conflict reporting has taken. When you spend your time abroad, covering destruction and desperation, Leeson says you cannot come home again. “My first wife – a lovely woman – told me: every time you go away, I lose another part of you. And she was correct, in so many ways, because you do lose something,” he confides. “I used to never think about it: about why do you go to these places, why do you risk your life, why do you expose yourself to images, sensations, smells, sounds, touch, senses? “There’s really only one answer. It’s a mission.” The World War II photojournalist William Eugene Smith believed there could be, somewhere, a photograph that could end war. Leeson takes this further. “Think about it: if you could stop war, if you could stop poverty, if you could stop social injustice, is that not worth dying for? Of course it is. But I didn’t find that photograph, and I always felt like a failure,” he said. Leeson is chief among his critics – and he has a few, despite the many accolades he has garnered over his career, including his 1994 Pulitzer and two finalist places in 1995 and 1986. As a photographer embedded with US forces in Iraq, Leeson says he al- ways sought to capture the dignity of the dead, and has copped flak for his compassionate treatment of enemy subjects. “I was always looking for some- thing that tells something more about that human being than just, ‘here’s a dead body’. “At the end of the day, when all is said and done, and for the years that go on after I take that photograph, I’m the one who wakes up every morning and has to look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘did I do the right thing?’ “All the rest don’t. So I never worry too much about the critics.” David Leeson has been a judge of the PANPA Photography awards for the past five years and has spoken at two PANPA conferences. Sophie Tarr NPA See more photos and listen to the in- terview with David leeson by scanning the code with your mobile 16 | NOVEMBER 2011 | The PANPA Bulletin Man on a mission ABoVe: “i’ve been waiting so long, it’s like a trip to the dentist . . . a Texas death row prisoner awaits his execution. rigHT: A couple takes their granddaughter and dog to higher ground during heavy flooding in Conro, Texas A child tries to get milk from his mother’s breast in southern Sudan. The family, fleeing war, has been surviving on tiny pieces of bark from scrub trees in this sub-Saharan region, and the child is only expected to survive another four days