Changing the world isn’t what the US-based photographer Ron Haviv thought of when he took up his first international assignment in 1989. But — as he explained while in the city for the Indian Photography Festival — the medium’s ability to affect people on a personal level is what drew him to the art.
Picking photography at the age of 21, Ron began his career doing small-time jobs as a bike messenger and driving an ice cream truck. “To be honest, I wanted a career that allowed me to travel. I didn’t understand in the beginning what photojournalism meant, until I really started doing it,” he says.
After he graduated from the New York University, his first foreign photojournalism assignment was covering the Panama conflict in ’89, when his photos were used to justify the US’ invasion of the area.
“It was at that time I understood the power of photography. Not that I agreed with the invasion, but it was more of an understanding that the work I was doing was part of a conversation that could play a role in impact,” Ron says, adding, “That’s essentially what I’ve been trying to do with my career — the stories that I’ve chosen to do over 25 years is to get people to understand what’s going on in the world.”
Ever since, Ron has covered conflicts more than anything else across the world, but what really made him appreciate the work him and thousands of other photojournalists do, was in 1992 when he covered the Yugoslav conflict. Even though he captured war crimes on film, there was no international reaction.
“It helped me understand the other role of my photography which was this idea of creating a body of evidence, to hold people accountable for their actions and inactions,” Ron says, adding that his photos have been used to indict a number of people involved in the crimes.
Ron published his work in galleries and three books so far, and teaches photography. Appreciating the talent in the country, he says, “The generation that I’m seeing at IPF plus the students I was teaching — the work is remarkable.”
And to those hoping to “change the world” with photography, Ron says, “I think the question is what the definition of ‘change’ is. Can photography stop or start a war? Absolutely not. But if I have the ability to affect even one person, that’s a lot for me. While it’s great to have this ‘change the world’ result, I’m okay with step-by-step, person-by-person change. And I think that’s a worthwhile way to do it.”