Photojournalist Kate Geraghty
”I dedicated much of my career to documenting the impact of conflicts on humanity”
Interview: Nezih Tavlas / September 8, 2021
(Courtesy of Kate Geraghty)
Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?
Kate Geraghty: Growing up in rural Australia my memories are dominated by meals with my family talking about current affairs and listening to my grandparents who emigrated from Germany after WW2 talking about their experiences of war and the impact of starting a new life in a foreign country. It made me aware that everyone has a unique and powerful story and from this young age I wanted to tell these stories. When I found photography I knew this was the medium in which I could do this.
Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?
Kate Geraghty: I use the Nikon D6, 50mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm. I mainly use available light but when needed I use LED lights and speedlite for portraits. I use an iPad for quick filing on the road. I always have PPE and medical kits in the car.
Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?
Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment?
Kate Geraghty: As it is for many photojournalists preparing for assignments is ongoing. On many occasions we are returning to conflicts or areas where we have worked for years so maintaining strong relationships with our colleagues, contacts and friends is incredibly important to me so I have an understanding of what is happening in that area and how people are coping with any given situation. I try to learn as much as I can about the people, politics, traditions & history of an area I am working in. If I am going into an area where I have not worked before I will research as much as possible, talk with colleagues, local photojournalists and journalists and talk with NGO’s operating in the area. I work very closely with the reporter building up what and how we will cover an assignment, it is very collaborative.
Photojournalism News: What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?
Kate Geraghty: When on assignment overseas I take a smaller kit which includes Nikon D6’s, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, small LED, kevlar, medical kit, sat phones, iPad & MacBook Pro.
Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?
Kate Geraghty: I don’t really think I have a particular style. Being a staff photographer for The Sydney Morning Herald our assignments are varied, domestic and international news and current affairs, features and politics so we have to be versatile. I am very lucky at the SMH to have been able to dedicate much of my career to documenting issues focusing on the impact of conflict on humanity. I just try to tell someone’s story, show people the reality of what is happening before me and what someone is experiencing. I am always conscious of what someone is going through and not to traumatise anyone further by being photographed or having their image published.
Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?
Kate Geraghty: It can vary. It depends on the type of assignment or story. Any given story will be published in The Sydney Morning Herald & Age in print, online as a news story or as a multimedia feature and gallery.
(All images © Courtesy of Kate Geraghty)
Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?
Kate Geraghty: Internationally my last assignment was in North East Syria. I was covering the Turkish offensive into North East Syria called Operation Peace Spring. The impact on civilans, many of whom had been internally displaced several times, first from Islamic State violence and now from the Turkish offensive. We also did stories on the Australian Islamic State families being held in Al-Hol camp at the time and who the Australian government is reluctant to repatriate.
On returning to Australia from North East Syria I went straight into covering months of unusually intense bushfires, colloquially referred to as the Black Summer where dozens of lives were lost, over 9000 buildings destroyed and millions of hectares burnt. From bushfires I have then been covering the response to COVID-19 in Australia and one trip up to the Torres Strait Islands (QLD) covering climate change issues.
Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?
Kate Geraghty: At the moment due to COVID-19 in Australia we need permission from the Australian government to leave the country so I won’t be able to travel overseas till our International border is re-opened. Having said that I want to return to Afghanistan as soon as possible. We always have several projects in Australia and overseas that we are researching for future coverage.
Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?
Kate Geraghty: The photos most important to me are ones that has the potential to effect change or tells a story not reported before. On occasion in the absence of a justice system we record testimonies of war crimes and human rights violations that demand the worlds attention. One of these times was in the Kasai Region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2018. One by one, brave women like Vero, many who were pregnant, came forward to tell us what they have endured after they were taken by the Bana Mura militia and forced into sex slavery. After witnessing the horrific slaying of their loved ones, the women where forced into sex slavery, some had escaped and re-taken several times. This is an ongoing situation. They came forward to tell the world that 94 women and children, residual victims of war, were still being in captivity and needed help. For other media to further investigate and reach more audiences is always welcome. In sharing their stories no one, no government, no institution can say they didn’t know what was happening.
Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?
Kate Geraghty: I want people to feel immediately what the person in the photo is feeling. To make people stop and find out more what is happening, to have empathy and understanding of what others are going through.
Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?
Kate Geraghty: A great photo for me is one that stops me in my tracks and I need to know more.
Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?
Kate Geraghty: When people consume billions of images every day a great and memorable photo for me is as mentioned before, one that stops me in my tracks and I need to know more. That cuts through and demands attention.
(All images © Courtesy of Kate Geraghty)
Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?
Kate Geraghty: People and their stories keep me motivated be it exposing injustices or documenting triumphs.
Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?
Kate Geraghty: Like all photojournalists and journalists we take risks covering crisis’s be it conflict, civil unrest, COVID-19 or humanitarian or environmental disasters, but it is nothing compared to what the civilians are enduring.
Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?
Kate Geraghty: I have been incredibly lucky to work a newspaper that continues to invest in International journalism and has allowed me to cover the issues I am passionate about. In 2018 I was based in Bangkok for our paper, using it as a base to cover the region. My dream assignment would be based in the Middle East and immerse myself in the culture and issues.
Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?
Kate Geraghty: In my experience the essential skills and qualities a photojournalist needs to be able to listen to people, be patient, be passionate and empathetic and be prepared to adapt to any given situation.
Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?
Kate Geraghty: There is no place for digital manipulation of images in photojournalism. Changing an image is like changing a persons quote, it is unethical.
Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?
Kate Geraghty: To document what is happening before us. To always explain who we are and how their image will be used, to be conscious of the impact on people, we cannot knowingly put anyone in danger or traumatise them. That they can change their mind at any time and stop. Not to portray them as victims of war but to show their personality and dignity.
Sometimes we have to photograph people to protect their identity whilst still conveying their experiencefor example a child soldier as we adhere to the UN convention of child rights. Our images are capturing a moment in history and it is critical that the captions are factually correct and the image is not used out of context.
All the photojournalists I know are bound by and practice strict ethics. It is a vocation not a job.
Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?
Kate Geraghty: I believe photojournalism and documentary photography has never been more important. In a world where people consume so many images every day the reader or viewer can trust the continuity of ethics practiced by a photojournalist and their images. Our images report what is happening without bias.
Photojournalism News: What is it like to be a female photojournalist in a male-dominated field?
Kate Geraghty: The photographic department at The Sydney Morning Herald is over 100 years old so when I joined 19 years ago the female photojournalists before me had paved the way, due to the challenges they overcame and rights they fought for, I work in a newsroom where gender has not been an issue. Managers & editors (of which half have been females) assign stories based on the best person for the job not on gender. When I covered the 2003 Iraq invasion I was the first female photographer sent to cover conflict for the SMH. We have an equal number of female photographers in our department and in Australia I am seeing more and more female photographers which is really important to continue.
Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?
Kate Geraghty: My advice to aspiring photojournalists is to follow your passion, be respectful, and don’t give up.
Kate Geraghty is an Australian photojournalist with The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper since 2002. Covering daily news and news feature projects both in Australia and overseas. Her career focus has been on the aftermath of conflicts and the plight of those societies caught in the violence.
She has covered the Bali Bombings, the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, war in Lebanon, East Ukraine War including the downing of MH17, the aftermath of conflict in DRC’s North Kivu and Kasai regions, the liberation of Mosul from ISIS, the fall of ISIS in Syria and the Turkish military attacks in North East Syria, documented Syrian refugees in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan; the independence of South Sudan and the civil war, the aftermath of the tsunami in Aceh, the 2015 Refugee Crisis in Europe, the Gaza Flotilla, the drug wars in the Philippines, the plight of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the Thai cave rescue, and most recently the bushfires in NSW and the impact of coronavirus COVID-19 in Sydney.
She is the proud recipient of eight Walkley awards (Australian national journalism awards), most recently the 2017 Gold Walkley Award as well as the 2017 Nikon Walkley Press Photographer of the Year.