My short bio: I used my camera to investigate criminal gangs, deadly hate groups and desperate armies around the world. While traveling across five continents and covering war in eleven nations, I survived being shot at and even stepping on a land mine. Along the way, I proved that many ethical dilemmas that paralyze journalism can be readily solved or, even better, simply avoided. See some of my photos.

My Verification Photo.

I just finished my autobiography and it's available on Amazon now.

Here's a postscript for this afternoon's AMA: Many thanks for all the excellent, thoughtful questions. I'll check in tomorrow and try to answer any comments that have come in late.

Comments: 114 • Responses: 51  • Date: 

karmanaut17 karma

What was the greatest moment that you tried to or wanted to capture, but you missed the shot? What happened that caused you to miss it?

JRossBaughman26 karma

I was trying to secretly photograph a black nationalist politician being tortured by white cavalry troops when the soldier next to me noticed what I was doing. He whispered into my ear, "If you take that picture, you'll be next." Many years later, an artist helped me to recreate the scene, almost the way one would work with a police sketch artist.
this is a drawing of the scene

Phrostbite8 karma

Oh man. That is rough.

JRossBaughman13 karma

I nearly decided to give up on the life of a photojournalist after that happened. But I couldn't. I used up quite a few more of my nine cat lives.

Beythoven10 karma

What is the most terrifying situation you have been in while trying to photograph something?

JRossBaughman19 karma

Several times the people I have been hanging out with (and trying to photograph) are themselves pretty dangerous people. In the only story where I went totally undercover, I infiltrated the American Nazi movement, but one of the less stable members decided to steal all of the weapons stored at the party headquarters in Cleveland on the night when I was the only member in uniform on duty with a revolver on my hip. He had me on my knees, ready to put a bullet in my head, and I thought it was all over for sure.

Then there was a night in Lebanon when an Israeli pilot dropped a cluster bomb on top of the Palestinians I was accompanying. It failed to go off, but we did get all of those little metal bomblets raining down on our position.

Beythoven7 karma

Holy hell! How'd you get out of the situation with the Nazi?

And is it crazy thinking that if the cluster bomb was working you wouldn't be here right now?

JRossBaughman25 karma

Back in 1976, I found the Nazi headquarters purely by coincidence. I have made it my life's work since then to find such things on purpose. As for escaping that night I thought was my last? Pure begging.

And yes, if that cluster bomb had worked, this AMA would have never happened. I've kept one of the unexploded bomblets as a paperweight at my desk, along with a number of other wartime keepsakes.

jumpup7 karma

how do you feel about the increase in camera prevalence under the normal population?

JRossBaughman11 karma

Many of the most important photos in the last half century were taken by non-professional photographers who were not on assignment. Think of My Lai massacre photos in Vietnam, or Abu Ghraeb in Iraq. That might be why everyone should be ready with their phone cameras every minute of the day. I wish that more expert photographers (whether still or video) would concentrate on knowing where they ought to be ahead of time.

mikesmith2546 karma

when you were blown up and almost lost your leg, what exactly happened? what did your employer Newsweek do to help you? did they give you workers compensation or disability? have they ever checked on you to see how you or doing? did they ever offer counseling or support in years since the injury? did they violate any labor laws? do you feel they let you go because they were nervous about the liability associated with your injury?

JRossBaughman9 karma

Newsweek treated me quite differently than TIME treated Tim Page. They took on every bit of the economic expense at the moment. Photo editor Jim Kenney evacuated all three of the photojournalists out of need for a time-out and reassessment of what they wanted us to be doing. I had been on duty for the previous four weeks, and was really hankering for some time off. They sent down a brand new guy who had never been out in combat before, and I basically got us all into trouble on my last day in country trying to introduce him to my guerrilla contacts. That photographer? Jim Nachtwey, who also took a couple of small pieces of shrapnel in his legs when the mine blew up next to me. The long account of it takes up most of Chapter XXII in ANGLE. You're right, though, that the whole experience seemed to mark me as a problem. Never have heard from them since about how I'm doing, but then Newsweek doesn't really still exist the way it used to.

truth78176 karma

Looking at your photographs it seems you've seen some crazy things, and been in some pretty dangerous situations. Is there any one place in the world that you would NOT want to go to? The sort of place where if your boss told you that you were going there for a story, you would have to seriously reconsider?

JRossBaughman5 karma

We should certainly have photos from inside the Islamic State, and not the obscene accounts they have allowed so far. I can't think of a more difficult negotiation to manage.

Certainly the Ebola story should be shown in greater depth, although Frontline recently did an admirable job. What is still missing, however, is a story that vividly shows the interpersonal dramas of risk, self-delusion, ostracism, helplessness, bodily degradation. And those could be shown in a muddy village and just as meaningfully, in an improvised airport holding room.

nosynarwhal5 karma

Any tips for a wannabe photographer / photojournalist?

MoistCashew2 karma

I don't have to be a pulitzer-prize journalist to give you the answer:


JRossBaughman18 karma

I don't worry about the latest equipment so much, so that kind of practice isn't necessary. What's most important is refining the question that your photos will answer.

PettyPantz5 karma

Journalists have to gain the trust of people, so you can get more photo opportunities and information from them. How do you do that?

And how do you keep your objectivity?

JRossBaughman9 karma

You've put your finger on the most crucial part of my success. I identify whole-heartedly with the people whose story I want to share, and I want them to disclose everything. Even the things which may not show them in the best possible light. Gaining that access is crucial. It's becoming more and more difficult (often impossible) and we can only go on to find other people who may be more willing. Objectivity is not the goal, because I'm not there to judge them.

nosynarwhal4 karma

So do you feel there's an element of betrayal in every such undercover assignment that you do? Does that bug you at all over time? Or does the larger good of the whole venture assuage any such guilt? Were all the foot-soldiers in the neo-Nazis or Rhodesian militias that you infiltrated loathsome creatures or did you in hindsight have any pangs of guilt about winning their confidence, and being pally, all the while planning on exposing them?

JRossBaughman11 karma

An assignment that is purely undercover does amount to a betrayal. That Nazi story was the only time I misrepresented myself, and ever since, I've decided that it is a much more moral position to take that at least one point of view (one group of people) become the camera's viewpoint simultaneously. The other groups, such as the Rhodesian cavalry, chose to believe that I agreed with them, simply because I was so sincerely, genuinely interested in getting them to offer me full disclosure. "Show me how difficult your position is." Then they show me. That does not spring from any betrayal.

leafpress2 karma

If objectivity isn't the goal, what is?

JRossBaughman7 karma

Helping to share difficult sides of a question. Sometimes that can be terribly unpopular, even gruesome to witness, but those points of view should be available. Society may be able to figure out how and when to deal with them, but they must not simply erase them.

PettyPantz2 karma

Well, that's why I like your work. The access and time you put into it gives it a lot of dept.

But nowadays I read many comments on pieces I think are good, calling it gonzo journalism or even propaganda. Mostly because the journalist spent time with a group, and not the other. Even if there is no storytelling technic used to show the subject in a positive or negative light. How can journalists avoid those labels? Or should they do nothing differently and just wait and see what happens?

JRossBaughman3 karma

If a journalist picks a compelling question, makes sure that one point of view does the best job of illuminating it, I think the complaints will fall away. If you want to tell the story of domestic violence, you can't just make it all about the aftermath. You have to gain access to the person who is calling the shots, and if that's the perpetrator, there's not choice but to do it the way Donna Ferrato or Sara Naomi Lewkowicz were able to pull it off. Don't choose a lame question or take on a tough question if you fail to get to the heart of it. (By the way, Donna is a recurring character in my book, since we have been friends since 1976, both got started in Lorain, Ohio, and had the same attitude about what photography can do.

jlew24asu5 karma

how do you actually make money?

the reason I ask is because I've been a semi pro photographer for a long time and as the years have gone on, I see more and more "photographers" chasing fewer and fewer dollars.

JRossBaughman12 karma

You're absolutely right. The secret is to avoid the pack. Choose subjects that the rest of the world isn't already over-covering. The best ideas don't have to be in some expensive, exotic corner of the world. They might be in your own backyard. I would love to see a strong picture story, full of intimacy and emotion, about a family that chooses to bury their own loved one, without the help from some funeral home.

There is also a great story to be done on bullies. A few attempts have been made, but seeing the world through a bully's eyes could be powerful.

Once you make a story that nobody else has ever seen, you may even have to publish it yourself. After you do several such stories, I believe, the world will notice.

nathansooy4 karma

Info for you, Ross, on your funeral project. My wife and I have a cabin near Crestone, Colorado and they do open air funeral pyres in Crestone.

JRossBaughman3 karma

When we catch ourselves thinking, "Now that's something I want to see...," then we've found a story worth doing. Thanks, Nathan!

jlew24asu1 karma

thanks great advice. I've actually found my niche as a chicago photographer. thankfully its just a side hobby.

and whats pretty funny is that soon after writing my question, I was told I SOLD a 40x60 MetalPrint in a gallery I'm in! (those are my chicago shots in the window). Sometimes this photography thing aint so bad!

JRossBaughman3 karma

Glad to hear that you're in pursuit of something purely for the love of it. No matter what happens then, the satisfaction will remain.

ragingtonberry4 karma

Do you, personally, pronounce it "Pull-itzer" or "Pew-litzer" ?

JRossBaughman9 karma

I never knew the right way until the big 75th anniversary celebrations were held at Columbia University. One of the descendants of Joseph Pulitzer told us he always corrected people who said it wrong. He preferred it to sound just like "Pull It Sir." That was an Americanization, however, because he was an immigrant, and was born to hear it pronounced more as "Poo-li-tzer."

onefinelookingtuna4 karma

Hello from another former Lorain County resident and former Kent State student. You matriculated at Kent state less than 18 months after the events of May 4th 1970. What role, if any, did that tragedy have on your decision to attend Kent and your career?

JRossBaughman9 karma

The influence of May 4th has been huge on my career. If it had been more fashionable at the time, we probably would have all gotten a tattoo that read "The whole world is watching." That chant actually came from the Democratic National Convention in Chicago during 1968, but at Kent we believed in it totally. My main reason for taking up a camera in the first place was to show proof of injustice, especially to those who pretended that nothing wrong was happening.

nathansooy3 karma

May 4th, 1970 provided a point of departure or inspiration for many people. Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale credit the shootings inspiring the creation of their De-evolution project and their band, Devo. I became a professional organizer and agitator as the result of my experiences at Kent. And I have heard many more stories of how that series of events changed lives. The imprint of events affects us all it seems.

JRossBaughman6 karma

My older brother Tom was an art major at Kent during those same years, as well as the unofficial art director and costume picker for DEVO. We all approached the revolution according to our talents and dispositions.


How has the digitization of photography changed the way you approach your artistic process?

JRossBaughman8 karma

The greatest improvement has been in the relative light sensitivity that cameras have. When I accompanied Palestinian commandos behind Israeli lines in Lebanon, we had nothing else for light than a full moon. I pushed the ASA of TriX to 5000 and used a boulder for my tripod. I had to shoot this photo with a ridiculously long exposure. Nowadays, it would be so much easier and more spontaneous with a high-end digital camera.

TheBeardedGM3 karma

What is the most intriguing story that you would like to cover but haven't yet?

JRossBaughman7 karma

I proposed a story on pedophile priests where my editors could have seen the point of view of a young girl who no one believed. I believed her, as did a couple of pro-bono children's rights activist lawyers. We would have planted a camera inside the teddy bear in her bedroom, and she could have helped us to tell her side of the story. That's the kind of investigative story telling with a camera that is sorely lacking in today's hyper-flooded channels of communication.

ChrimsonFox3 karma

What got you into photography and/or photojournalism in the first place?

JRossBaughman7 karma

My first camera was a Minox B, and since I was often being the new kid in school, it was useful as an ice-breaker. Joining the yearbook and school newspaper staff became a natural next step. But I got myself into trouble straight away. The December issue of our school paper featured stories about student drug use and our slipping academic rating in the state. That got us immediately censored. The paper was confiscated and burned.

Chronox2 karma

If you could have photographed any event in history, what would it have been?

JRossBaughman5 karma

Bobby Kennedy's assassination. The work we saw from Bill Eppridge has been burned into my mind ever since, and I've dreamed of what that scene would actually have been like, and what I might have added to it.

Shaeos2 karma

What do you see a photojournalist's job as in the current political environment? What sort of things would you expect to see or feel that you should focus on to "bring the truth to light" or do you not pick jobs that way? How do you find what to report on?

JRossBaughman3 karma

I don't believe journalists can be equipped to know Truth on first sight. At best, we can help people in the thick of it to tell what they are experiencing. It's probably best that we stick to one good story at a time. Choosing the best subject is the toughest part, requiring insight, a good analytical head, enormous patience and the help of those who say, "You don't want me, but you ought to go see that guy." I keep lists of questions that intrigue me, points of view I've rarely or never seen, ones where I think it might be possible to get a foot in the door. You have to be ready for lots of searches that don't pan out.

levilarrington2 karma

When was the last time you ate a corndog?

JRossBaughman3 karma

Unless you have a photo of me doing it, I'm not sure I ever did.

chardd2 karma

Wow this is a coincidence. I'm a journalism student in San Diego and I am currently tasked with a project to conduct a page long interview with a member of the media about their personal ethics. Could I perhaps email you a few questions for my project? I'm focused on becoming a photojournalist myself, and your work is absolutely fascinating.

JRossBaughman2 karma

I'll be glad to help. Send me an introductory message via Facebook, and then we can get in better touch via email.

chardd1 karma

Thanks so much! I'll get in touch tomorrow for sure.

JRossBaughman3 karma

Chardd - Just noticed that the Message button on my Facebook page isn't working. Instead, why don't you post a message at the top of my regular FB timeline? I'll keep an eye out for it.

pyroaxis2 karma

Firstly, thank you Mr. Baughman for taking the time to do this AMA.

In your travels, what country and location did you have the best food. Since you traveled across 5 continents I don't expect you to have only one place, so if you can't pick one what pops up in your mind first?

JRossBaughman3 karma

Egypt. I loved their fatir (which is a kind of crepe filled with savory or sweet extras) and the pastries and strong tea for breakfast.

nathansooy2 karma

Your photography has a distinct point of view. How would you characterize that point of view (perhaps your worldview) and how does that lend itself to understanding where you need to be to take your photos?

JRossBaughman3 karma

I have a personal and deeply held belief in the need for social justice. That often leads me to people who are misunderstood and on the short end of the stick. Society is not always pleased to consider that point of view, but I believe that it should be offered.

peacesreese1 karma

What is your go-to camera these days? What is your favorite camera that you've used at any point in your career (or did it not matter as much)?

JRossBaughman3 karma

It doesn't much matter. Lately, I have used inexpensive digital cameras, but for most of my career, I was a loyal Leica enthusiast.

GreazyPube1 karma

What is one event you captured, that you will remember for the rest of your life?

JRossBaughman5 karma

How about another one that I failed to capture? Long before the movie Twister ever happened, I was out with a bunch of scientists chasing a tornado. We were right in the middle of one, placing the instruments meant to be sucked right up into the funnel, and we were so close and in the middle of things there was view of it. That frustration has stayed with me for 40 years, and is still the stuff of my worst dreams.

chickendie1 karma

Hello mister, I admired your great works on bringing truth to light. Have danger ever stopped you? Like "okay I don't wanna die here bettet go back"?

Also, I wonder how photographers approach their subjects. Like you just stand there and take photos with their acknowledgement or you sneak up from far away?

Thank you.

JRossBaughman2 karma

I much prefer to work with the awareness and consent of my subjects. There have been plenty of times when I felt I was just about to step into big trouble, but I usually go ahead and do it anyway.

Frank_motumbo1 karma

Hello, thank you for your work. I have always likened journalists who cover difficult situations to military members in war Zones. What motivates you to go into incredibly difficult situations and stay there knowing you could die a horrible death. What is going through your mind when the shit is hitting the fan?

JRossBaughman3 karma

The things that soldiers want to do, or are ordered to do, can often place them at the far edge of human behavior. That interests me because of the injustices that might be taking place, but just as much for what's happening inside those soldiers. The price of admission is to take the same risks they do.

RicDan1 karma

How many pictures on average do you think you take of the event before deciding you've captured the right moment?

JRossBaughman3 karma

I'm very sparing with the use of the camera. That's why I'm so often thought of as invisible by my subjects. It only points and clicks at the things which advance the meaning of the question, and answer the central premise of the story. In the most complex, narrative story lines, this can be distilled even on the scene into a dozen cornerstone images. Of course I take a few variations on any given theme, and I'm glad to have them later on while constructing the story, but it is nothing like the blanket coverage and unblinking eye that so many rely upon.

nosynarwhal2 karma

Perhaps that parsimony arises from the legacy effort needed to develop actual film?

JRossBaughman3 karma

I hope we get over the love affair with gizmos. The best story telling can be very simple. I'll admit that I loved the drone's-eye-view of fireworks last summer.

nosynarwhal1 karma

All the photos in the link you posted seem B&W. Is that coincidence or intentional? Do you simply prefer B&W for your sort of photojournalism?

JRossBaughman1 karma

I learned how to shoot with Tri-X film (B&W) and eventually learned how to expose it instinctively. When I started getting assignments from glossy magazines, I had no choice but to switch to Kodachrome. Anyone who studies my new photobook/memoir ANGLE will see the dramatic changeover from the first half of the book to the second. You can see the transition evolve slowly in my book.

ancroidubh1 karma

Do you miss chemical photography and the quality it has?

JRossBaughman3 karma

Yes, often. (But I don't miss the smell of fixer on my hands.)

There are dozens of huge boxes of old archival prints. I just gave hundreds of signed prints to the Smithsonian. I'm glad that era in my photography will be saved.

simpletonsavant1 karma

I've always dreamed about doing what you do but too chicken and have very little stomach for atrocity and horror. Do you ever flash back to things past and clench or panic?

JRossBaughman2 karma

Yes, I have flashed back on terrible times once in a while. Gladly that's happening very rarely now. The value of bearing witness, however, far outweighs my own discomfort.

simpletonsavant1 karma

Absolutely. The work you do is insanely important. If you want to capture beautiful moments, you must also embrace those terrible moments. Does the juxtaposition of the two play a role in how you approach the shot? Or are you snapping pictures as quickly as you can?

JRossBaughman3 karma

I spend a great deal of time thinking about the story in advance, and all the possible turns it might take. When in the midst of it, I work with deliberation and shoot quite sparingly. My life-long study of art history provides a nearly subconscious sense of design. That allows me to concentrate on the chess game of access and the gathering of symbols and story elements.

simpletonsavant1 karma

Was that something that you just feel you were born with, or did that come over time? I should probably just read the rest of the questions instead of continually asking.

JRossBaughman2 karma

By all means, read more of the questions. You can also read the opening 55 pages of my memoir for free. They are full of good detail and show several more photos from the very start of my career. Just look up my name and the title of the memoir, which is ANGLE.

Flavius_Josephus1 karma

What motivated the Grey's Scouts to allow you to take any of your photos? Did you have to ingratiate yourself to the scouts or was the fact that the Rhodesian government gave you access sufficient motivation?

JRossBaughman1 karma

Vanity on the part of the commander, Major Mike Williams, a Vietnam War veteran who was in love with the image of being the most senior American officer and someone who wanted to be as heroic as John Wayne. I actually gained access directly through the major. Based on his invitation to me, the Rhodesian government just went along with it.

TheGoodDaze1 karma

Thank you for this AMA! I'm a sophomore university student with a love for social injustice issues and I'm currently portraying them through a course designated to creating a short documentary about a social injustice in the state I go to school in. I'm having trouble refining a story- how do you go about finding an aspect or question to portray your injustices through?

JRossBaughman2 karma

I don't have much interest in a story when all we see are sad faces far too long after the fact. Yes, they are the victims, and deserve to be seen, but what we really need to see are the social and psychic crimes as they are being committed. Is it possible to photograph disrespect or contempt while it is happening? I believe it can be, and with perhaps more impact than if we concentrate too much on pure physical violence.

That said, however, there are some dimensions in many stories that are not photogenic. We must be very tough about discarding the parts that a camera cannot reveal.

wheelers1 karma

What's your camera of choice?

JRossBaughman4 karma

I've used Leicas for over 40 years. Great cameras.

What's more important though is you find any camera that will become second-nature in your hands. Forgetting the camera completely is the state of mind you want to achieve.

blitzballer1 karma

Apart from your own excellent photos, which iconic ones of other photographers stay etched in your mind?

JRossBaughman2 karma

My all-time favorite photo story is known as Yankee Papa 13 by Larry Burrows, showing the baptism by fire for a young helicopter door gunner in Vietnam. My favorite longer work is Minamata by W. Eugene Smith, documenting the industrial poisoning of a small fishing village in Japan.

pigpotjr1 karma

Any advice for a 17 year old?

JRossBaughman2 karma

Don't let your youth be any obstacle or excuse, either for yourself or others. I suspect your taste in stories, and your appetite, is already full grown.

KCfan61 karma

Can you do a piece on why I lose all my socks and where they go?

JRossBaughman7 karma

If we take the question seriously, I can imagine a documentary piece about some crazed home inventor who pulls apart appliances while trying to improve them. And if we're lucky, or search in the right way, one such person might be trying to solve the missing sock mystery. There's nothing wrong with trying to scratch a very popular (or funny) itch with our stories. The story may not turn out to be about you and your socks, but that same inspiration is a completely valid starting place.

luckiesdoublecold1 karma

You've obviously seen scenes of atrocities and harsh realisations, how did you deal with these instances?

Also as I'm in the middle of writing my dissertation on the ethicality of documentary and war photography. I was wondering as to what your stance on that is; do you feel that photographers should be morally obliged to photograph these scenes? or do you feel that the ethicality of photographing individuals in either compromising situations or scenes of violence is correct?

Thanks, I love your work btw!

JRossBaughman4 karma

It is unethical to launder away the terrible results of violence. Many boys who went off to fight in Vietnam had been raised on Hollywood's version of gun play. During the 1950s and 60s, death was always depicted as bloodless and dreamy. It turned out much differently than that. When I worked as a photo editor during the early days of the war in Iraq, my bosses hated to show any red wounds on an American, and certainly never death.

So to answer your question directly: By all means, there is an obligation to take those photos. The only temperance would be tactical, that is to feel complete empathy with your subjects and be sure not to forfeit your welcome.

(By the way, I would be willing to contribute more to your dissertation if you leave a message for me on Facebook.)

luckiesdoublecold1 karma

Thank you very much!

I'll definitely get in contact with you over the next week in regards to my dissertation; thanks for taking your time out to help!

JRossBaughman2 karma

Luckiesdoublecold - Just noticed that the Message button on my Facebook page isn't working. Instead, why don't you post a message at the top of my regular FB timeline? I'll keep an eye out for it.

luckiesdoublecold1 karma

To post on your timeline I need to add you as a friend? Would this be okay as your privacy settings prevent me from posting. Thanks again

JRossBaughman1 karma

If you are Jack, I just took care of it. Otherwise, go ahead with your suggestion and I'll keep my eye peeled.

WistfulFrog1 karma

In your introduction, you mentioned you recently finished your autobiography. Are there any events that you are pleased to tell the public for the first time? Or stories that you felt needed more detail than they were originally given?

JRossBaughman2 karma

The book is full of them. Often, the opening paragraphs and journalistic thrust for many of my bigger stories have been watered down or even betrayed completely. That happened with the Nazis and again in Rhodesia, and there were quite a few others. For the first time in my book, I'm showing both versions and explaining all of the factors that broke my heart. Some of these were my fault, but often it was a case of having too many cooks in the kitchen, or having bosses with totally different agendas.

maximuszen1 karma


JRossBaughman2 karma

For me, the far greatest effort happens before I even touch the camera.

maximuszen1 karma


JRossBaughman8 karma

Step 1.) Know thyself (carefully examine your own personal history, accepting and working off of the bias that we all bring to world views.) Step 2.) Study art history (memorize as many of the iconic symbols and gestures that you can and be ready to visually quote them. This will help most viewers to recognize what you're trying to say in your own photos.) Step 3.) Check out your contemporaries (make sure not to repeat the same things that have been well-shown by others.) Step 4.) Search for the experts (learn what they think is new and remarkable about the more general topic that interests you.) Step 5.) Assess repeating patterns (improve your odds to be in the right place at the right time by asking first how often these kinds of things happen.) Step 6.) Identify the best possible subject (patiently search for a truly remarkable person or entry point to the topic.) Step 7.) Confirm sponsorship (if you can't do the story as an independent, find a backer or publisher who agrees with your approach.) Step 8.) Gain trust & access (promise yourself and your subjects to center the story on their viewpoint, and then craft it into a concise and compelling form.) Step 9.) Now pick up the camera (watching the natural course of events unfold.)