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  • Writer's pictureMadlén Hjelmroth

Critical thinking in photography

‘Are you a journalist?’ When leaving India, the official at the airport asked me in a tone that not only surprised me but threw me off my feet mentally. I consider myself calm in difficult situations, but at that moment, feelings I usually keep at bay flooded my mind.

And then, fearfully, I searched my mind to recollect if I had written something offensive about India on my social media channels. And to be honest, I am sure I haven’t. But that is also the case with every journalist reporting their fact-checked observations and conclusions.

Every day I take long walks, observe how life is lived here and take pictures. Then, one day, I found myself in front of these handsome young military men at a security checkpoint outside a big fenced lawn. I had reached President Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the resting place of Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese revolutionary leader, President and founder of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Then I saw the lines with groups of school classes and adults dressed in uniform-like clothes being escorted into the mausoleum. The flashback hit me hard.

I saw myself as a child in my school uniform. Standing in these well-choreographed lines, proceeded by flag bearers holding the communistic party flags, on our way to celebrate someone or something I couldn’t make sense of. The feeling of being restricted from having an opinion of my own in the country where I was born puzzled me from a very young age.

That’s when I realised that the question of whether I’m a journalist was a recollection of a society silencing anything that might resemble critical thinking.

The latest example we see is in Turkey, where journalists are restricted from reporting on the reason for the devastation following the earthquake. Another is the Indian tax authorities raiding the BBC’s offices weeks after the country banned a documentary from the British broadcaster that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s alleged role in deadly riots more than 20 years ago.

In the photographic narrative, there must be critical thinking to document the many aspects of life. Therefore, I bow in respect to all photojournalists and journalists putting themselves out there to tell us those silenced stories.


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