The Conference held yesterday evening at 6.30 at the Wood Quay Venue, Dublin 8, was part of a series of talks named “From the Frontline” organized by the UCD Clinton Institute in association with the Irish Times.
John D McHugh has been covering the conflict in Afghanistan for over eight years. He started in April 2006 spending time with the British Army then he went to Kadhar where he spent a month with the Canadian soldiers from the 1st Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry.
Soon he realized that what was called a “peacekeeping” mission was a proper war and he got evidence of that on his own skin when he got shot during a gunfire by Taliban fighters.
After 6 months of rehabilitation and the resignation from a safe job at Agence France-Press in London, he chose the insecurity of freelancing and he went back to Afghanistan. However, this time, he was embedded with the US Army.
The Wood Quay Venue was a perfect location for such a conference: it is a unique building in the heart of the city, near Christchurch, Dublin 8. The room with its high ceiling looks really spacious so even if all the seats were taken the place did not look crowded. Despite the high attendance at the event, the Venue was still able to create a sort of warm and intimate atmosphere.
This was ideal for the audience in order to ask as many questions they could to John; although there is never enough time when a topic is so interesting that you would like to ask thousand questions.
After the first very successful event which welcomed international reporters Rania Abouzeid and Martin Chulov to speak on November 2013, yesterday the Wood Quay Venue welcomed John D McHugh to give another enlightening talk on conflict reporting; a profession that has always been glamorized in the collective imaginary of people but that disguises way more danger behind the adrenaline appearance.
Yesterday at the event, John D looked very confident and at ease with public speaking even if he usually stands behind the camera. In 30 minutes he managed to narrate, by showing on a big screen the photos he shot, what he had experienced in eight years of war in Afghanistan.
The pictures showed his closeness to the army and they convey the feeling that he was more than a photographer but he was one of them, he experienced what they lived everyday without the duty to shoot; as a matter of facts, in his talk, he admitted that he has never carried a gun, neither he would know how to use one. He also added, ironically:
if I had a gun I would probably end up shooting at my own foot
He carried on talking really clearly about the misconceptions that people have about war and what is the reality which usually media does not completely reveal: the army settlements in the middle of nowhere , the 18 dead Afghani soldiers that were not “newsworthy”, the shocking reaction of the US Army to the announcement of the death of Osama BinLaden.
He talked about soldiers as humans and not as war machines, and about himself as not only a photojournalist but a man with his ups and downs. It is very rare to hear a war reporter talking at a conference about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because they usually want to look though and unshakable.
The audience could perceive the difference not only through his words but also through John’s eyes which could tell the cruelty of the world he captured in his shots. John D did not talk about what people wanted to hear, he decided to tell the truth from his point of view and most of all, which is something very underrated in today’s society: he was being real.
The full public talk of John D McHugh will be soon available on : http://www.ucdclinton.ie
After the conference John D agreed to release an interview with The Circular this saturday which will be available the following day.