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Congratulations to Dr. Anthony Feinstein

November 9, 2018

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Congratulations to Dr. Anthony Feinstein, Sunnybrook neuropsychiatrist, on the publication of his book Shooting War.

Shooting War is a compilation of profiles on 18 of the world’s most esteemed conflict photographers, their experiences and “the consequences that come from exposure to grave danger.”

Dr. Feinstein is a pioneer in the study of mental trauma in journalists who report from the frontlines of conflict abroad. In 2012, his documentary Under Fire: Journalists in Combat, was shortlisted for an academy award.

Dr. Feinstein shares his insights on his latest book and what he has learned about the psychological cost of war on the photojournalists who cover conflict.

Why did you decide to write this book?

I have interviewed 18 celebrated conflict photographers, or in the case of the three who are deceased, their closest relatives or friends. I started with photographs that I admire and then went in search of the men and women who took them.

Conflict photographers are visual historians, bearing witness to stories that must be told. The images they produce seize our attention and pose troubling questions: What has become of these victims of? How did human behavior turn so dark? What were the repercussions for the perpetrators of such atrocities? How did the traumatized veterans fare after the guns fell silent and they returned home to lives forever altered by their experiences of war?

The aim of my work has been to harness these thoughts, but shift them in a different direction by asking a new set of questions: What of the person taking the photograph? If we are so strongly affected by an image, something that we perceive secondhand, what might the photographer experience?

What kind of trauma do journalists face in war and how does this impact their lives?

“Your photographs are not good enough if you are not close enough,” admonished the legendary war photojournalist, Robert Capa, and I return to this bit of tough advice repeatedly in this book because, of all the different kinds of journalists who cover war and conflict, none get closer to the action than the stills photographer.

Proximity, however, ratchets up the risk. Capa died in Indochina in 1954 after stepping on a landmine. Sixty years later in Afghanistan, Joao Silva stood on a landmine too. Silva survived, albeit disabled, Capa did not. Advances in battlefield medicine made the difference, but what remains unchanged, are the risks.

Conflict journalists are quick to point out that what they confront pales compared to what the victims of war or disaster endure. This is indisputable and there are no comparisons implied here. And yet, when photojournalist, Santiago Lyon, who was wounded in Bosnia, mentions in passing that he has personally known at least a dozen colleagues killed in their line of work, it reinforces what a hazardous profession this is.

How many war correspondents experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? How can they manage PTSD?

The rates are elevated compared to the general population. If one looks at journalists who have spent decades covering war then the cumulative, lifetime risk approaches that of combat veterans.

Treatment follows the same techniques used in the general population. Cognitive behaviour therapy, prolonged exposure therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) have all been used depending on the therapists’ experience and journalists’ preferences.

What do you hope people take away from the profiles and stories in Shooting War?

“He who would live off war must eventually yield something in return,” observed Bertolt Brecht, a playwright and poet. Conflict photographers know this all too well. Their remarkable images speak to remarkable lives lived. So when you next come across photographs of war or conflict and marvel at the content, or recoil from it, or perhaps even look away, depending on your sensitivities, pause for a moment and reflect on the men and women behind the lens and what it has taken to get the images before you.