Photojournalism on the 8th of January

Image: Alexander Zvir


Understanding what happened on January 2023, XNUMX depends on how we understand the use of images

In the book Seeing is a whole – interviews and conversations (1951-1998), the renowned French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson summarized in a few lines an important question for thinking about the work of photojournalists: “I don't have a 'message' or 'mission', I have a point of view. Photography is a very important means of communication, and we are responsible for the millions of people we reach with our reports disseminated by the press” (CARTIER-BRESSON, 2015, p.37).

Through the eyes of Cartier-Bresson, it is evident not only the importance of an ethical sense for the craft of photojournalism, but also the responsibility that the work of a photojournalist entails for those who will read the news and see the images. For this reason, it is always important to bear in mind that the work of a photojournalist is not limited to “complementing” a journalistic text: it is, rather, about understanding the responsibilities of building, through images, a look at a certain event.

As fate would have it, January XNUMXth – celebrated as National Photography Day and Photographer's Day here in Brazil – was marked, this year, by such sad images for the country's history. Seeing the photographic records of the coup attacks committed by extreme right-wing groups on the buildings of the Three Powers reinforces, even more, a reflection on the role of images in the face of historical and traumatic events.

Understanding what happened on January 2023, XNUMX depends on how we understand the use of images. The photographic and audiovisual records made by Bolsonarists not only exalt the barbarity of the act they committed, but also constitute a fundamental part of the construction of the act. To the selfies and the publications of these images on social networks fulfill a desire for legitimacy and ostentation on the part of those who registered them. What, for justice, constitutes proof of a crime, for its authors, constitutes an act of supposed patriotism and “anti-system” courage. We are, therefore, reaching levels never seen before in this “society atomized by an individualism with narcissistic edges, which needs to see its beautiful image reflected in the eyes of others in order to be” (SIBILIA, 2008, p. 263).

However, it is necessary to take into account that, during these attacks on democracy, institutions and public property, images were also recorded by people who did not support the attempted coup. By exercising their craft of documenting the facts, the photojournalists assumed the tough mission of transmitting in images the dimension of vandalism and destruction practiced by the coup plotters. The reports of photojournalists who were present that day in Brasília show how Bolsonaristas viewed the press as an enemy.

This is the case, for example, of the testimony of Gabriela Biló, photojournalist at Folha de S. Paul: “I couldn't get into the STF because of the violence. In addition to the aggressiveness of the scammers, the police had started to retake the STF, so it was risky anyway for me. (…) Many, many colleagues were cowardly attacked. (…) There were photographers who were beaten inside the Planalto Palace. The next day, in the photographers' room there was even blood on the floor”.[I]

Marina Dias, reporter and photojournalist for the North American newspaper The Washington Post, exposes what happened on that fateful afternoon in the federal capital: “Me and fellow journalists were attacked while we were working covering terrorist acts in Brasília. I was surrounded, kicked, pushed, cursed. They broke my glasses, pulled my hair, tried to take my cell phone.”[ii]

A newspaper reporter The time, who preferred to keep his identity preserved, presents another dramatic account: “Three or four men dressed as soldiers surrounded me, approached me and began to bombard me with questions: “Who are you? why are you here? why aren't you dressed like a patriot? is infiltrated? Are you PT?”. I froze. One of them stepped on me and I fell. More people showed up. Everyone was screaming, pointing fingers at me, threatening. Some kicked my legs. They took my backpack, found my badge. I said that I was an employee of Grupo Sada, from Minas Gerais, but they didn't want to talk. They stole my badge, broke it. They took my wallet, stole my documents, took my cell phone. They repeated all the time that I was an infiltrated PT. I replied that I wasn't, I was there on business. It was then that they put a gun on my waist, saying I was going to die. Another one showed up with a gun placed on my back and they kept slapping me in the face, cursing”.[iii]

Other reporters and photojournalists – from entities such as Reuters Agency, Agence France Presse, Agency Brazil, channel BandTV, site Metropolis lashed aggressions by the scammers.

Faced with reports like these, it is always important to recall the teachings of Cartier-Bresson: “[...] the most gratifying thing for a photographer is not recognition, success, etc. It's communication: what you say can have meaning for other people and acquire a certain importance. We have a great responsibility and we must be absolutely honest with what we see” (CARTIER-BRESSON, 2015, p. 26). Even in the face of the war scenario and all the adversities they faced on January XNUMXth, the photojournalists were there to inform and communicate.

While the images taken by the coup plotters serve as evidence to incriminate them for the acts of savagery they committed, the images taken by the photojournalists build a path for us to understand the complexity of the history being written. The records made by reporters and photojournalists today travel the world to show why the 2023th of January has become one of the most dramatic moments in the history of this country and why it can never be repeated again. Somehow, National Photography Day and Photographer's Day gained a deeper meaning in this year XNUMX.

*Rafael Valles é writer, journalist, audiovisual director. PhD in Social Communication from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS).


CARTIER-BRESSON, Henri. Seeing is a Whole – Interviews and Conversations 1951-1998. São Paulo: Gustavo Gili, 2015.

SIBILIA, Paula. The show of the self – intimacy as a show. Rio de Janeiro: New Frontier, 2008.





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