About 17 days ago, photographer Dan Chung put up this video, on behalf of the Guardian news organization, that showed images of what remains of Shintona in Miyagi prefecture, one of the towns worst affected by the tsunami. What followed was a vigorous debate on whether he had crossed a line in photojournalism. Should Chung have used melodramatic music? Did his use of a slider take away from or perhaps add too much to the drama?
Three days ago, Chung responded to all the criticism. Here are a few excerpts:
"The whole piece is honestly the closest I could bring you to what it felt like standing in that place. It’s one thing I’ve found hardest to do in video and to judge from some of the comments, perhaps I have not succeeded. I am not seeking to manipulate the viewer or to tell them how to feel – I am trying to convey how it feels to be there. Yes, it is uncomfortable looking at the ruins of people’s lives. If a disaster doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable then you are not human.
"It was not frantic – it had a strange sense of calm. When faced with a scene of devastation like this, as I have been many times, you feel dazed, like you are not really there. It feels like it’s all a bad dream. Watching the survivors I think a lot of them feel the same – it’s shock. I felt the use of camera movement with a slider conveyed this sense of displacement.
"Some of the commenters seem to think I am using news as an opportunity to make art. It is the opposite. I have been covering news for a long time and it frustrates me that people do not respond to it. I am trying to use cinematic techniques to make people connect to and care about news, not using news as an opportunity to make cinematic pieces."