Don’t Look Away: Photojournalists Are Documenting the Brutality of Russia’s War in Ukraine

A man and woman grieve over the casket of Andrii Tanulin, a victim of the bombing in Ukraine. They are accompanied by several other mourners.

War photographers’ jobs are more than just dangerous; they require deep sensitivity to the traumas of war to all of the people immediately affected. They must act quickly and decisively to position themselves and choose their shots. Editors and publishers don’t face the immediate danger, of course, but their decisions about which photos to include for their audiences requires plenty of delicacy and judgment. In this April 2022 Nieman Labs essay, Chloe Coleman, photo editor for the Washington Post, explains how images for publication are chosen, what factors are considered in the decision, and what, ultimately, is the goal of presenting such images to the general public.

Read it here.


1. Chloe Coleman carefully explains her process of selecting photos for publication, but she is also asking something of her readers. What does she want readers to do? Why? Does her request seem reasonable to you? Why or why not?  

2. Coleman recounts LIFE magazine’s 1943 decision to publish an image of three dead soldiers, and she quotes the explanation they provided to readers for doing so. The quoted explanation argues that “words are never enough,” yet Coleman does not include the photograph along with the explanation. Why do you think Coleman made that decision? Would the point Coleman is making have been more emphatic with the photo? Why or why not?  

3. LET’S TALK. Is there an image you’ve seen in the last year from a notable event in the US or elsewhere that has impressed you particularly? An image from social or mainstream media that has caused you to think or feel differently about policy or politics? About your own opinions and positions? Share your responses to these questions with a few classmates. On the basis of Coleman’s essay, your experience with the image you chose, and the information you and your classmates have shared, do you think that news images could (or should) be more graphic? Less? In all news contexts and media or only certain ones? (Which ones?) Explain the reasoning for your responses.  

4. AND NOW WRITE. Coleman aims to reveal the complexities of deciding what images of war to publish in order to document the inhumane acts of murder and devastation and also to let readers know that war is real and to bear witness to it.  But where do professional journalists and their editors draw the line? When is publishing such photos disrespectful or exploitive of other people’s suffering—or worse? Look up some of Chloe Coleman’s photographs of the Ukraine war, or those of the photographers mentioned in paragraph 17—or other professional photographers whose work you find on the Web, eventually choosing at least one war photograph you find to be ethically acceptable and one you find to be exploitive or disrespectful or that crosses the line Coleman describes in some way. Then write detailed captions for each of the photos, explaining your reasons for finding one acceptable and the other one unacceptable.

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