In the annals of heroism, the criteria for the act usually involves saving lives or protecting freedom — gathering information is not often held in high regard, if acknowledged at all. The role of the photojournalist is to do just that, however, and to accomplish the task by throwing himself into some dicey situations that require as much skill for survival as any soldier. The point of this action is be a witness for those of us who can’t be or can’t bear the burden of being, to provide the needed information to understand some of the darkest places in humanity, to come up with solutions other than pummeling each other into non-existence. It is a different sort of service than what a soldier or a policeman or a firefighter provides, it is a far more abstract one, but the dangers are just as real and the resolve necessary to perform the job is just as vital.
In the documentary film “Shooting Under Fire,” photojournalists for Reuters covering the disputed territories in Israel are followed, examined, spoken to and revealed to be — surprise, surprise — men who lead dangerous lives and grapple with death every day. Why do they do it? To reveal the truth — something that can be harder to sink your teeth into than, say, fighting for the American Way, but no less vital to our lives.
The film focuses on German photographer Reinhard Krause, who not only careens through the streets of Jerusalem trying to get to suicide bombings on time, but who also has created a system of photographers for Reuters that can cover the conflict from both sides. Krause has Israeli and Palestinian shutterbugs documenting the story from physical areas that are hard for one or the other to move around in safely. Israelis can document certain places, Palestinians others and Krause’s role is as the impartial foreigner who must show both sides equally.
Krause is very clear of his role in Israel and as a photographer. It is about the truth and, when it comes to conflict, it is about the impact of that aggression. In Krause’s eyes, to skimp on the details that violence creates is tantamount to telling a lie — and a dangerous one at that.
The film also concerns itself with the other photographers who work for Krause, Palestinians and Israelis who find themselves stepping outside the continuum of their own homes to occupy an outside dimension that offers observation. The end result is another kind of truth that they might not otherwise come to by participation in the conflict and this leads to sacrifice. These native photographers place themselves in jeopardy and, by mental proxy, their families, and their access to the hidden areas of their countries create both angst and excitement that other citizens might not feel. Their job is danger and they like to do their job, but, like any human, they are also repelled by danger.
As important as the psyches of these men is the terrain they wander, and “Shooting Under Fire” does well to correct what sometimes appears as a soft sell of a conflict to those who are not there. In fact, Israel is not a country with some unrest, but a place of war. It stinks of death and destruction and the cameras show this in all its repellent glory. The beautiful streets of Jerusalem are tainted by the bodies of pretty Palestinian suicide bombers, while areas of the Gaza are decimated into rubble, with whole Palestinian families wandering the debris and children exacting their revenge against soldiers who look not much older than their stone-throwing attackers. Even the photographers themselves are attacked by Palestinian rebels and shot at by Israeli soldiers. The middle ground is not a safe place to be and in several cases being a witness for all of us nearly costs the photographers life and limb.
“Shooting Under Fire” not only reveals the darkness and excitement of such work, but also the officiousness. With each suicide bombing, Krause must decide if it is worth his time to go back to the office to upload the photos. It’s a decision built on the impact and volume of death with any incident. The gruesome images must be looked through with an editor’s eye, coldly analyzed to find that middle point that offers evocation of the horror without rubbing a viewer’s face in the gore, an image that tells the story of what is going on without making you want to turn away.