JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Joao Silva, a photographer who was grievously injured in Afghanistan in 2010, says journalists who choose to cover conflict should have a clear understanding of the horrific consequences of combat.
The New York Times photographer said Wednesday at an exhibition of his work in Johannesburg, his home base, that “it’s the easiest thing” for journalists to go to war because they can walk away anytime they have had enough.
The civilians left behind often have “nowhere to go. They are stuck. They have to live this reality or this nightmare day in, day out,” said Silva, whose own war coverage ended when a buried explosive blew off his legs while he was with U.S. soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan.
A grueling recovery with multiple surgeries followed at the Walter Reed military hospital in the United States. Now the Portuguese-born photographer wears prostheses and has covered issues including social and economic divisions in post-apartheid South Africa, corruption pervading an Angolan building boom after the country’s civil war and the legacy of Germany’s brutal colonial rule in Namibia.
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“I’m still shooting pictures,” Silva, 51, told visitors to the Wits University exhibition that shows images from his pre-injury coverage of conflict and grief in the run-up to South Africa’s all-race elections in 1994 as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One framed print shows the three images he took as he lay on the ground after he was blown up; an American soldier with a metal detector is seen near a crumbled adobe wall, looking toward the camera.
“The conflict stuff, that’s done. I’ve had my time. I contributed as best I could,” said Silva, co-author of The Bang-Bang Club, whose title refers to a group of South African photographers who covered early 1990s bloodletting in their country.
Silva, who has two children, worked for The Associated Press at one stage of his career.
“I need to believe that I made some sort of a difference. At the end of the day, photography has never stopped a war but it has helped to raise awareness,” Silva said.
Silva addressed questions over whether photographers in some instances should set aside cameras and try to help those in need. “Sometimes you can intervene, at other times you cannot,” he said. He suggested that powerful images of war can skew perceptions, highlighting the photographer at the expense of the suffering people in the photographs.
As American soldiers treated Silva after his legs were shredded, he called his wife and told her he had been blown up and that he thought he would be OK.
“I just knew that there was going to be more,” Silva said. “I knew that I was going to wake up the next day.”
Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris