Photojournalists: our eyes in hard to reach places

By MPC intern Celine Saban-Friend

When we picture victims of war, the lives affected by bushfires, or the tension in the change rooms before an AFL grand final, the images we conjure are rarely our own.

These moments are instead captured by skilled photojournalists who give us eyes into places we would not otherwise have access to.

While playing an important role in recording events and storytelling, photography departments in major news organisations are often the target of job cuts.

The continued work of photojournalists shows the valuable insight they offer when entering these restricted spaces.

Readers are advised this story contains images of war and disaster some may find distressing.


Eyes on: War and disaster zones 

Images in this section kindly provided by Kate Geraghty

Kate Geraghty is a Nine photojournalist who has shown Australia the realities faced by people living in countries experiencing war and disaster.

In documenting the impact of ISIS in Iraq, Geraghty photographed 18-year-old Abdulrahman Abdulaaly. Abdulaaly had been hospitalised for burns after an explosion and later died from his injuries.

Image: Sana Abdul Amir with her son Abdulrahman Abdulaaly at Athba Field Hospital.

Geraghty said her team went to the Middle East “to try and explain who [ISIS] were, what it was like to live under their regime and what enticed Australians to join them or fight against them,” she said.

“It’s important for Australians to know that just because something happens in another country, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect us whether that be militarily, politically, economically or socially”.

Image: Taken at al Hawl camp in North East Syria in October 2019.

Given the on-going debate around asylum seekers and refugee issues, Geraghty added that photojournalists capturing images of affected people helps connect viewers to the humans behind the story.

“[Photojournalists] put a face to those people,” she said.

“How can you talk about them when you never understood or never lived through a day of what those people have gone through?”


Eyes on: Remote communities

As the rest of Australia prepared for New Year’s Eve celebrations, freelance photojournalist Rachel Mounsey was capturing the ruthless fires that swept her small town of Mallacoota. 

The only photographer in Victoria’s most isolated town, Mounsey captured the devastation as it unfolded under blood-red skies caused by the summer bushfire crisis of 2019-2020.

Image: The pub pool in Mallacoota. Images in this section kindly provided by Rachel Mounsey

Mounsey said while her position on the ground was not a choice, her objective when taking photographs was to shine a light on the effect the fires had on regional communities.

“It was happening in front of my eyes, so of course I was always going to capture it,” she said.

“I noticed in my work there was a lot of sky and, using a wide-angle lens, I made the people appear small because that’s exactly how we felt.

Image: Jan Kernahan, 95, returning home after evacuating.

“I knew that once those images got out, people would start turning going ‘oh, look what’s going on! Look what’s happening in Mallacoota’ because sometimes you need to see it to believe it”.

Mounsey felt the bushfires were a reminder of the important role photojournalism has in news coverage. 

“I think the fires are a good example of how photojournalism is needed because if you look at the amazing images taken, they were the front page everywhere and people are still talking about the impact of that imagery,” she said.

Image: Musician Justin Brady plays his mandolin atop the ruins of his fire-ravaged home.


Eyes on: Our sporting idols

Since 2005, AFL chief photographer Michael Willson has captured players not only out on the field, but also behind closed doors.

Image: Crows players Erin Phillips and Sarah Perkins celebrate a win. Images in this section kindly provided by Michael Willson

Willson said while being good at your craft is important, having a relationship with the clubs and an understanding of the environment is what makes the shot.

“Once you prove yourself with the club and players, they know you aren’t there to exploit them, but you’re really just there to be that fly on the wall capturing these great images,” he said.

Image: Jarryd Roughead and Josh Gibson at a 2015 team meeting.

“Photography skills do come into it, but a big part of those behind the scenes pictures is having the skill to read a room, know what areas are off limits, what players to focus on, and to stay in the background and not be noticed.”

Willson said capturing these otherwise unseen moments helps humanise players and clubs for fans.

Image: Hawks player Sam Mitchell leaves the MCG with his family after his 300th match.

“Some of them look like superman … in their skin-tight jumpers, all oiled up with their hair slicked,” he said.

“To strip that all back and see that they’re just humans behind this facade is what makes those pictures.

Image: Magpies player Luke Ball after his final AFL game in 2014.

“At the end of the day the players and clubs are filled with normal people, they have families, their own battles and to be able to capture that story photographically… it is a very powerful way for clubs to communicate that with their fans.”


As the media industry evolves and COVID-19 continues to distance us, it is a time to reflect on the elements of society that serve to keep us connected to the world outside our door.

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