By Konstantine Fekos
A group of acclaimed journalists and filmmakers are coming to Allegheny College to share their experiences with war and teach the public about the task of documenting lives touched by extreme conflict.
The two-day conference, which begins Friday at the college’s Vukovich Center for Communication Arts, is entitled “Documents of War: The Ethics and Challenges of Visual Storytelling.” The event is expected to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the physical and psychological dangers of war correspondence as well as the social and ethical responsibilities faced by media professionals and their viewing public.
“Doing these stories about our veterans helps society better understand what they’ve been through and are going through,” said Craig Walker, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Denver Post photojournalist.
Walker will present his work following the lives of two American soldiers, one who joined the war efforts in Iraq upon high school graduation, and a returning veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
“The more outlets you have to share these stories the better,” he said. “I’d tell this story over and over again if they’d let me, because I think it’s important.”
American military is also a focus of international photojournalists Cheryl Hatch and JR Ancheta, who embedded with soldiers of a combat team in Afghanistan.
Hatch spent about 10 years in international combat zones before teaching courses in Fairbanks, Alaska, and eventually Allegheny College. She embarked on a trip to Afghanistan in support of Ancheta, her former student.
“My goal was to document deployment of local soldiers,” said Ancheta, a junior at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “I was curious about what it’s like for soldiers and their families. I decided to go for it.”
“Students could relate to (Ancheta’s) experience,” Hatch said. “If you’re passionate about a story, you figure out a way to get it done.”
The two held a pre-conference discussion in Hatch’s “Covering Conflict” class Wednesday afternoon. They pitched poignant questions to students, placing them behind the camera to consider ethical options in morally grey scenarios involving potential loss of life for photographers and their subjects.
“Some images and stories are difficult; they are not meant to be easy,” Hatch said. “What fascinates me is how firm people can be in their beliefs when you honestly don’t know how you’ll react in a situation like this until you get there. I’m really excited to bring that conversation to the community.”
Other presentations include Guatemalan civil war documentary “Granito,” presented by filmmakers Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis, and “Deadline Every Second,” by photojournalism professor and author Ken Kobre.
The conference will also serve to inaugurate Allegheny’s new academic program, Journalism in the Public Interest, which will allow students to take on a journalism minor.
“The crux of this program is the civic implications of journalism and its historical relationship with democracy and the way it’s portrayed visually,” said Ben Slote, associate dean and English professor at Allegheny College.
“We encourage you to take advantage of this,” Hatch said. “It’s not every day you get the chance to have lunch with Pulitzer Prize winners and make that kind of personal connection.”
You can go
“Documents of War” is free and open to the public. Events will be held at Allegheny College’s Vukovich Center for Communication Arts and will include time for question-and-answer sessions. The conference will include a breakfast buffet at 9 a.m., deli lunch at noon and hors d’oeuvres at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
7 p.m. — “A Deadline Every Second,” film by Ken Kobre.
- 10 a.m. — “Generations of War: From African to Afghanistan,” photographs by Cheryl Hatch and JR Ancheta.
- 1 p.m. — “American Soldier” and “Welcome Home,” Pulitzer Prize-winning photo essays by Craig Walker.
- 7 p.m. — “Granito,” film by Pamela Yates.