Rikio Imajo, who used to work as a photojournalist, is a keen reader of Enjoyable Philosophy. He was born in Taiwan in 1939 and when World War II ended, he was 6 years old. Since he was a junior high-school student, he started to take photos with a German-made camera with his father’s encouragement. He learned about monochrome development by developing his own photographs. At that time, it took about one hour to develop and wash a photograph.
He went on to major in Photograph at the Technical Junior College of Chiba University, and he learned about the mechanical engineering of cameras and the photo chemistry. The university specialized in the chemistry of photography, so there were few chances to take photos when he was a student. In the philosophy class that he could select at that time, he studied the text of The Nature of Metaphysics. He had liked geometry since he was a child, so he did not feel any difficulty learning Metaphysics.
After his graduation in 1961, he gained employment with the Tokyo bureau of United Press International (UPI). While his classmates got their jobs at manufacturing companies for cameras or photography materials, the young Mr. Imajo became a photojournalist. When he was a student, he had a chance to join a demonstration against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, and he wanted to see the reality of war with his own .
In 1967, after he visited Cambodia to cover a story on Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, he entered Saigon in Vietnam, where the war with no end in sight was still continuing. The day was the 13th of November, which he can recall even now.
For the coverage on the high-risk battlefront, the UPI journalists could enter there not after the company order it but only after the UPI admitted journalists’ strong will to go there . His colleagues were Kyoichi Sawada, Hiromich Mine, Toshio Sakai, and Syunsuke Akatsuka.
The New York headquarters showed a reluctance towards the US military taking care of the Japanese journalists because of the language barrier. In the end, Kyoich Sawada and Toshio Sakai won the Pulitzer Prize and the photojournalist Imajo’s photos were used by many media organizations around the world.
On the other hand, many photographs that were not liked by the US government and military were also released to the world. Those photographs, with which Imajo wanted to show people what was happening in front of him, included pictures of the torturing of captive Vietnamese and those photos lead to criticism against the US governments from people around the world.
Since the Vietnam War, the US government has started to strongly regulate media coverage. They set an exam for physical fitness for war correspondents on the Golf War coverage, and the US military started keeping the journalists with them from the beginning of the war to the end on the Iraq War, which helped them to control the news getting out about them. This form of press restraint is called ‘embedded journalism’.
As the US military moved away from ground wars after the Vietnam War, and airstrikes using the most advanced armaments became their primary offensive strategy, the quality of war photographs has changed dramatically. Since the Gulf War and the Iraq War following it, it has been difficult to see the destroyed life for the ordinary people.
And now wars, even at this moment, are continuing in other parts of the world, while we do not notice the fact.
Of the Japanese photojournalists who reported the Vietnam War at that time, only Mr. Imajo is still alive. He is now 74 years old and is trying to write about journalists’ attitude towards coverage and “the issue of journalists ethics”.
Here is a quote from a paragraph where you can see a piece of dignity, where the photojournalist Imajo is thinking about how he can inform others about the facts in front of him.
Even though the photograph is great for capturing a decisive moment, sometimes people ask questions like “why did not try to save the lives of the subjects who you were taking pictures of”. Kevin Carter’s “vulture and a girl” illustrates this . The photograph shows a scene where a vulture is watching a starving girl crouching down weakly. This photo raised controversial arguments over whether he should have taken the photo or saved her life. (Snip) I think that photojournalists should help save the lives of the subjects, and people actually do so. I heard that Mr. Carter helped the girl by driving away the vulture. I think that a journalist should not draw any conclusion nor push it, but recognise the journalist’s role to report pieces of information to the public so that they can draw their own conclusions. Therefore, I think that a photojournalist should give priority to taking the photo. (3)
(1) Saigon Heart Break Hotel: the Vietnam War by Japanese journalists, Yasutsune Hirashiki, Kodansya, 2010 (In Japanese).
(2) Iraq War Coverage: Controled coverage and embed journalists, Rikio Imajo, Journalism Quarterly Review, vol. 185, 2003 (In Japanese).
(3) When Coverage lost it’s Reliability, Rikio Imajo, International Exchange, vol.22 no. 4, 2000, Japan Foundation (In Japanese).