The Tao of War Photography

Or: Never ride an Asian elephant while you’re wearing shorts

| July-August 2009

Veteran photojournalist Bruce Haley has seen the worst of us. He’s covered conflicts stretching back to the Afghan battle against the Soviet Union. For his work on Burma’s bloody ethnic civil war, he received the Robert Capa Gold Medal, which honors photographic reporting that requires exceptional courage.

Ten years ago, Haley wrote this timeless essay, arguably more relevant today than when it was originally drafted. (It appears here excerpted and renumbered, but is available intact online at It’s part training manual and part memoir, mostly tragic and a little bit hilarious. You can also read an interview with Haley about his work. —The Editors


1 To begin, practice this sentence: “If I get out of here alive, I’ll never do this again.” You’ll say this to yourself every time an already dangerous situation really turns to shit.

2 As a general rule, people don’t catapult 10 feet into the air when an artillery round explodes near them, despite what Hollywood war movies depict.

3 The editors of major magazines don’t give a rat’s ass about the latest war and famine in the hinterlands of East BurkinaTimorLanka. You’ll never get an assignment to cover this unless Leo­nardo DiCaprio becomes a rebel commander and Tommy Hilfiger designs his battle fatigues.

Ted Engelmann_2
1/1/2010 5:11:38 AM

Sitting here in the Hotel California on New Years Day, I couldn't agree more with Bruce's 26+ points. For those who don't know, Hotel California is where journalists stay at Bagram Air Field (BAF), Afghanistan. I'm embedding with US soldiers to compare-contrast the lives of soldiers in Afghanistan with Iraq (2008), and my 1968-69 experience in Viet Nam (the correct spelling). A few minutes ago, before I read Bruce's article, I talked to the girl (woman) next door. She's a blogger and doesn't want to be photographed because it can cost the lives of those she works with. Perhaps Bruce would be willing to include in his list: technology makes it easier to kill an enemy, and, sometimes you're the enemy.