BOGOTA – In these times of Twitter, viral images and the post-truth, veteran Spanish photojournalist Gervasio Sanchez retains a clear ethical vision of his profession and takes great care about how and where his photos are published, convinced as he is that they can easily be used to misinform and manipulate.
“I’m very scrupulous about who publishes things and how, because it’s easy to use photographs to misinform and manipulate, depending on how they are presented,” Sanchez told EFE during an interview in Bogota.
The photojournalist has covered conflicts in the Balkans, Latin America, Africa and Asia, where he continually perfected his professional skills but also learned to take precautions against a misleading use of his images.
He recalls with particular regret a report about child soldiers in Liberia that he published in 1995 “with the idea of showing that the kids who took over the streets of Monrovia, executed people and cut off their testicles were themselves war victims.
“I thought the only way to get that across was to take those kids out of combat and interview them. During those interviews we saw those little boys practically having a breakdown while remembering their dead parents, who they didn’t want to kill but had no choice,” he said.
Nonetheless, the pictures were not printed in the right context in the Spanish Sunday newspaper that published them and “just looked like kids showing off their guns.”
“There was a big controversy and people started sending complaints to the daily... I was the one who answered them and told them why I chose these photos, how the story was told so badly and how I felt fooled,” Sanchez said.
Since then, and despite all the innumerable changes he has seen in the world of journalism, that incident inevitably sounds the alarm when it comes to checking on how his photos are published. He is also protected by his own prestige that allows him to put pressure on editors.
The portraits he shot of those children, many of them looking into the camera, are examples of one of the principles Sanchez believes in, that “wars are fought by people like us, with all our virtues and defects,” but we’re not monsters.
“It’s obvious that if wars were fought by monsters, most of us would not go off to war,” though he believes that many go to war “for the action, for giving orders or executing them.”
“Here’s what’s terrible, that when everything collapses, when the rules no longer function, when the government can no longer enforce the law, when there are no trials and laws no longer exist, we humans become nothing but vermin,” he said.