The Dangers of Documentary Photography

Hello friend,

I want to discuss a few things that happened this weekend while photographing in Camp Aida in Bethlehem and Camp Shu’fat in Jerusalem. I believe it is important for me to share my experiences with you. My goal of this project has never been to display Palestinian life in a negative way, but unfortunately there is not much peace in the communities that I explore. I want to spread nothing but love, but this is the reality of the situation. I hope these stories can inform you and help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. 

On Friday, March 24, I travelled to Camp Aida with my friend Matt (@Matt_Wong) who is in the photo below. We were warmly greeted by a nice family on the camp and they made us lunch. They even offered us to sleep in her neighbor’s home as they were out of town. We decided that we would stay the night, so we continued shooting there throughout the day. Before the sun began to set, we headed to the wall dividing Israel and the West Bank. While taking some pictures, a group of teenagers approached us. 

One of them pulled out a knife and put it up to Matt’s body. We remained calm, but he came up to me with the knife next. I told his friend to take the knife away from him, as we are just students working on a project and pose no threat. They disarmed the boy, but he then picked up a cracked lightbulb and attempted to approach us with the sharp object as well. His friends diffused the situation and Matt and I walked away. A rock came flying our way as we left, alluding to my next story. We feel very lucky that it was just a young boy with the knife and not somebody our size. 

The next day, we decided to go to Camp Shu’fat. While photographing by the wall of the camp, we were under attack once again. We walked along the wall with two young boys that were showing us their favorite places in Shu’fat. The wall is located at the lowest point in the camp and is surrounded by steep hills on all sides. A huge rock came flying from the top of the hill, landing close to Matt. I was turned the other way, taking the photograph you see below. Just a few seconds later, an even bigger rock is launched our way, slamming the back of my leg behind my knee. 

We notified a local adult that was nearby, pointing towards the threatening person on the hill. Matt and I climbed the hill towards the young man and attempted to make peace. I wanted to give him and handshake and explain to the best of my ability that we are peaceful and mean no harm. Unfortunately, he refused to give me a handshake and we went our separate ways. My leg does hurt quite a bit as the rock was very big and it was coming from a steep hill at a high velocity. Again, we are lucky. If the rock had hit me anywhere else, I would be a lot more injured right now. I am currently resting the day after the incident and hope my leg feels better soon so I may continue to shoot. 

I completely understand why locals would feel threatened by strangers from America and Canada entering their communities with cameras. The Palestinian people cannot trust anybody. It is a tough situation that they are living in. They have been going through decades of conflict. I watched a dog die yesterday before I was attacked with the rock. A young boy opened the door of an abandoned car, pulling out the dying dog. He tied a rope around it’s neck and proceeded to drag it along the path near the wall in Shu’fat. It could barely stand and would not move at all. The dog laid there on the side of the dirt road, surrounded by garbage, and died before our eyes. I never had any emotional attachment to animals, but this was quite a sad site. Here is a photo that I made moments before it’s death:

I uploaded raw footage of the events so that you can get an understanding of what kinds of situations you may get into as a documentary photographer. Danger is definitely a part of the job and I accept the risk I need to take while photographing. It was just unfortunate that I had to experience so much hostility in one weekend. Many people I meet here are extremely hospitable and welcoming, but the youth are definitely more violent than anybody else. I will use these situations to better my awareness and to understand how to react in life threatening encounters. 

My hope is that this video can inform you while you are out photographing. If you ever have to experience something like this, just remain calm, do not come cross as angry, and always try your best to make a peaceful resolve. I would appreciate some discussion in the comment section of the video and will answer questions if you have any. Stay shooting, spread peace, and love one another. If you would like to watch the video I made of these events, click the link below: