DPP Home Profiles Patrick Whelan, Joe Raedle, Justin Sullivan & Spencer Platt - War Photography: From The Field To The Cover

Friday, June 8, 2007

Patrick Whelan, Joe Raedle, Justin Sullivan & Spencer Platt - War Photography: From The Field To The Cover

Photojournalists equipped with digital SLRs, laptop computers and satellite modems took pictures that were available to their editors within hours or even minutes

We talked with Patrick Whalen, the assignment editor of Getty Images news division in New York, and three of the photographers he put into the field to risk life and limb to bring us, via satellite, the face of war. Floridian Joe Raedle was embedded with the Marines Corps, San Francisco-based Justin Sullivan was embedded with the Navy, and Spencer Platt from Brooklyn covered the war from the no-man's-land of the unilateral journalist, who's unattached to any governmental organization.

Patrick Whalen, Assignment Editor, Getty News And Sport
DPP: How did Getty get its photographers embedded with the military?
Patrick Whalen: Initially, it was done through the Pentagon. You express interest in participating in the embed program and then they take all the news organizations worldwide and allocate a certain number of embeds to each organization. The Pentagon offered some training, though it wasn't required. I'm the assignment editor, so I was organizing the coverage, handling the logistics and assigning and getting photographers there. We were given six embeds from the military—one on a carrier, one on a missile cruiser, and a couple were going to go on an air base in Saudi Arabia, but in the end, the Saudis didn't want any journalists there. I had to choose which photographers were going to take those specific slots based on their experience and how well I thought they would fit in on a particular assignment. We also determined that we'd have some unilaterals, so we chose who would fit that bill. Then we had them equipped with chemical suits, body armor, helmets, communications gear and so forth.

DPP: Did journalists go along with the photographers?
Whalen: No, we're not a text organization. There were writers with units, but our photographers did their own research and wrote their own captions in the field. We'd give them some direction, but obviously what they needed to photograph was most of the time unfolding in front of their eyes, so they didn't require too much direction. Communication was difficult anyway. We'd try and talk every day, but a lot of times that wouldn't happen.

DPP: How were the images sent in?
Whalen: They used BGAN satellite phones to transmit images—they don't have voice capacity; you can only transmit data on them. They would have a separate phone, an Iridium, to communicate. They had satellite pagers, so I'd page them and they would call me back. With their BGANs, we could communicate through instant messenger or just e-mail each other.

Joe Raedle was embedded with one of the Marine Corps units that went in first up through Nasiriyah and was there for some pretty heavy fighting. He was wounded and treated in the field, but continued photographing. We think he was wounded in a friendly fire incident. He was there when they secured the bridge in Nasiriyah. Another photographer, Scott Nelson, was embedded with the Army; they took the airport. We had three who went over to cover unilaterally—they just drove in across the border without being in a unit and were able to operate freely without the military.

DPP: But also without the protection of the military—pretty dangerous stuff.
Whalen: One of our unilateral photographers, Chris Hondros, was ambushed with other journalists by Iraqis dressed in civilian clothes. His car was destroyed. They had to ditch their vehicles and equipment and run through the fields at night, and were eventually rescued by meeting up with the U.S. military.

DPP: How were the Getty photographers sending images back for dissemination to magazines and newspapers?
Whalen: They were shooting with Nikon or Canon digital cameras, then were transmitting using Inmarsat BGANs. The images were transmitted here to our picture desk in New York or to the picture desk in London. They would come in as JPEGs, then they would be edited and captions cleaned up, then moved out on our wire feed.

DPP: Did the embed program allow for a balanced point of view?
Whalen: It gave unique insights into the war from the units' point of view, but it was difficult to get the whole story. We had to piece together things from everyone. It was difficult just for the embedded journalists to get the Iraqi civilians' point of view. It was very difficult for the embedded journalists to even get the point of view of the unit right next to them. They had to stay with their specific unit. This means staying in the back of an armored personnel carrier for hundreds of miles in some cases. They couldn't just get out and walk around when they wanted to. They were at the mercy of the unit, so we relied on the unilaterals, who were obviously getting a different point of view.

The military tried to accommodate the embedded journalists as much as possible, but they couldn't stop and let people out for a photo opportunity; they had their missions.

DPP: How long would it take for an image to get out from the time it came into your office?
Whalen: It's hard to get images in front of editors when you have to pitch each one individually. So the way we're set up now, they're getting a live feed on their desktop as we send it out. As images come in, we clean up the captions a little bit, make any minor adjustments in Photoshop, if needed. Our turnaround time to get the images out to our subscription clients, which are mostly newspapers and magazines, is around 15 minutes. The time between the image being sent here and going out depended on how busy the desk was at the time, but anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes. That's compared to taking several hours just a couple of years ago.


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