This photograph shows the reality of professional war reporters.
Miller, a multiple Polish diving champion, regularly documented armed conflicts around the world in the 1990s. The above photograph was taken in Johannesburg, South Africa, several days before the first free elections. At that time, supporters of Nelson Mandela were fighting with Zulus. Miller took a photo of his colleagues as they leaned in to train their cameras on a victim of those clashes. Later, he said:
Being a war photographer isn’t a romantic job, but a tragic one. There have been suicides […] We don’t get thrills out of taking photos of violence and tragedies. It’s awfully difficult, arduous work that seriously affects your head.
In another interview, he admitted that this photograph was important to him, and mentioned that it had drawn mixed reactions worldwide. For some people, it depicted media vultures, while others agreed it showed the realities of the profession. We can but wonder whether the photograph let him look at his job with detachment. The very fact that he was not standing over the dead body (or, as he put it, the ‘subject’) shows how he followed his own path as a photographer, which allowed him to bring his editors exclusive materials. After Miller’s death, Jarosław Kurski of Gazeta Wyborcza wrote that this picture had become a metaphor for the present-day media; a kind of occupational self-accusation.
Miller was aware that he was photographing ‘indecisive moments’ – the title of his photo exhibition at Warsaw’s Old Gallery ZPAF in 2015. During the last years of his life, he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2013, he said:
Photography, even war photography, seemed to be no more difficult than diving, but that wasn’t true. My head reset itself without my consent or knowledge.
Quotes from Gazeta Pomorska and Logo24 magazine.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.