War photographer and prize laureate Harald Henden: “Credibility is journalism's most important capital asset”

May 7 2024

“Credibility is the media’s most important capital asset. That is precisely why the importance of having the media’s own photographers on site has not diminished. In point of fact, it is more important than ever before.
“This is because credibility is also an individual photographer’s most important asset. “When I put my name under a photo, readers should be able to trust that the content is correct, so that no further verification is needed. This brand of credibility takes many years to build up, and it can be descimated by a single mistake,” commented Harald Henden (63) upon being awarded the Fritt Ord Prize on Tuesday evening.

Henden is the first still photographer to receive the prize.

Photography as a weapon

Henden talked about how photography can readily be weaponised, not only for documentation and information purposes, but for the parties involved. He referred to specific examples from his own work as well as from famous wars in the course of history.

“We are well aware of the danger of being used for propaganda purposes in any and all armed conflicts. Sometimes it feels like the only right thing to do would be to put the camera down in silent protest,” remakred the veteran war photographer.


War photographer since 1991

“First and foremost, Harald Henden is receiving this prize because he is an eminently talented photographer of wars and disasters. With perseverance and at the risk of his own life, he has travelled to front lines and conflicts all over the world to take photos of important news events, always while keeping the civilian population in mind,” said Grete Brochmann, chair of the Fritt Ord Foundation.

“The ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza are highlighting the importance of photo documentation, not least to reveal the effects of war on the ground and violations of international law,” continued Brochmann.

Henden has been covering global events since 1989, including the first Gulf War, the Balkan wars, Kosovo, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Gaza and Ukraine. Henden took a bullet to the head on the West Bank in 2001.

Harald Henden during his speech.

The infrastructure of freedom of expression

Chair of the Board Grete Brochmann also talked about the impact of an image.

“A photograph has the power not simply to document, but to define a situation. Documentary photography and photojournalism are integral parts of the infrastructure of freedom of expression,” she emphasised.

On behalf of Fritt Ord, Brochmann thanked Henden for his outstanding work, despite the personal costs of covering wars, e.g., the burden of always having to be prepared to leave on five minutes’ notice, thus living life in a constant state of readiness.

“One of the most important roles of the press in war and disasters is to arrive early to ensure the best possible access to uncensored documentation of what happens as conflicts evolve,” she pointed out.

Turning to Henden, who has been open about having a terminal cancer diagnosis, she concluded by saying:

“Today, you are being awarded the Fritt Ord Prize for your long, impressive life in the service of freedom of expression and communication. Your images will live on.”

Grete Brochmann.