DPP: Many journalists, perhaps propelled by tight deadlines and extreme competition, parachute, as you say, into areas of conflict and barely scratch the surface of the reality of the place for the average person. Has photojournalism always had this approach, or have things changed over the years?
Vitale: Strangely enough, with the democratization of media and more locals telling their own stories, things could actually be getting better. The problem is, it has to start in the newsrooms of the Western media. But it’s tricky. You have to make sure that the news is coming from a credible source. Look at the Arab Spring. That’s a perfect example of local voices telling their own stories through social media. Historically, the way we see the world has been very colonial.
Establishing authenticity is one of the things we’re going to have to fork through. People use the media for their own propaganda. You see locals using images; for example, Ron Haviv had an image that he shot in the Balkan conflict, and it’s being reused to illustrate the situation in the Ukraine. For the fantastic campaign Bring Back Our Girls, about the girls that were kidnapped in Nigeria, it turns out they used two images of mine, from girls 2,000 miles away in Guinea-Bissau. It’s misrepresentative.
DPP: Can one be truly objective covering stories in harsh, dangerous places?
Vitale: I don’t think so. We all come in with our own ideas and values. There’s no one absolute truth. That’s why there’s conflict. I think that the way we get to "truth" is through a variety of perspectives. It has got to be a mosaic to get to a deeper understanding of a place. I keep saying a wider lens. We sometimes come in with narrow perspectives. It takes time and a deep curiosity to get beyond the surface.
Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, we leave things out. When I first started working for a newspaper—I won’t mention the name—I remember them asking me to go into a classroom and to photograph a specific ethnicity of child. The truth was, there were only three out of the whole room. It was shaping reality for the story.