Photojournalists are critical witnesses to historical events, say speakers at ST's Through The Lens exhibition

Photographer Louie Palu documented events in Washington DC from 2019 to 2021, compiling the photographs into a project titled Political Year Zero. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Having travelled the globe covering conflict and social unrest for three decades, Washington DC-based photojournalist Louie Palu came home to find protests against systemic racism, allegations of a rigged election, and polarisation that culminated in the Jan 6, 2021, insurrection at the United States Capitol.

From 2019 till 2021, Mr Palu, a first generation Canadian of Italian descent, documented events in the US capital, compiling his photographs into a project titled Political Year Zero.

Mr Palu, who won the World Press Photo Long-Term Project Award for North and Central America in 2022, said: "Photographs are a big part of how we think about ourselves and what our beliefs are, what our history is.

"Very often with politics, it's a little bit like theatre, and politicians will try to make things unfold the way that they want."

Mr Palu was speaking to a crowd of more than 100 people at the National Museum of Singapore on Saturday.

His talk - Politics And Photography In A Post-Truth World - is part of the Through The Lens exhibition organised by The Straits Times from Oct 7 to 29.

The exhibition features talks and guided tours, and displays showcasing the work of ST photojournalists as well as the winning entries from the World Press Photo 2022 contest.

On photographing the Capitol attack, Mr Palu said that while he had his initial worries about catching Covid-19 from a largely unmasked crowd at a time before vaccinations were made widely available, he entered the fray after thinking to himself. 

Pro-Trump supporters invading a Capitol hallway, after the building was breached during a protest to overturn Joe Biden’s electoral victory, in Washington DC, on Jan 6, 2021. PHOTO: LOUIE PALU

He added: "This is a big moment, they're attacking the Capitol."

Earlier on Saturday, Singapore-born photojournalist Mathias Heng presented his work covering the war in Ukraine from February till May during a talk titled Witnessing The Invasion Of The Ukraine War.

Mr Heng, who is based in Paris, presented his photographs which traced his first steps into the country after crossing the border from Poland and his route from the city of Lviv to capital Kyiv and to the frontline near Kharkiv.

There, Mr Heng said that he witnessed the unity of the Ukrainian people.

Photojournalist Mathias Heng presenting his work, covering the war in Ukraine from February till May, at the National Library on Oct 15, 2022. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

"Everybody was helping each other, whether you were rich or poor, everyone was equal (during that time)," he added, attributing the resilience and fighting spirit of the people to the refusal of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to flee the country when offered a route to safety by US President Joe Biden.

Photojournalist Mathias Heng's photographs traced his first steps into Ukraine and his route from Lviv to the capital Kyiv and to the frontline near Kharkiv. PHOTO: MATHIAS HENG

Mr Ansgar Graw, director of German think-tank Konrad Adenauer Stiftung's Media Programme Asia, said of the exhibition: "If the saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is correct, then an entire photo exhibition equals a complete library - not to mention two exhibitions at the same place.

"We advocate for eye-opening journalism around the world. The images of the World Press Photo award are part of that kind of journalism. It's wonderful that The Straits Times is presenting them here in Singapore."

The talks will be capped off next Saturday with a presentation by ST photojournalists Benjamin Seetoh, Mark Cheong and Ong Weejin called On Drone Photography and Juxtaposition Techniques.

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