Damir Sagolj

Damir Sagolj

Beijing, China
Sarajevo, Bosnia
“Photojournalism is there to trigger interest, to make people learn more. And in the long term, to be a visual reminder of how great, brutal, happy, sad and unfair the world once was.”


What I enjoy the most and what I'm probably best at are the stories involving ordinary people in big news. It doesn't have to be a huge war or natural disaster or a front-page story — it could just be a small man's struggle with something bigger, something imposed on him, something he cannot even explain. That struggle is what excites me most about my job.

One Shot

. Svrake, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Reuters/Damir Sagolj
Bosnian Muslims carry a coffin with the body of the 40-day-old daughter of a local priest in the village of Svrake. Hasib Ramic, the Muslim priest of Semizovac, was killed with his wife and four children in May 1993. Their corpses were exhumed from a mass grave a week earlier.
“My favourite image changes. On one day it would be a baby's coffin being taken to a funeral in the early days of peace in Bosnia, on another day, it would be something else. Maybe a Kosovar refugee woman carrying her baby through the woods to escape fighting. Maybe a blurred one of an Iranian boy lost among a sea of black chadors.”


I shoot for ordinary people who will see the picture in the paper or on the web. If I can move them, if I can make them stop for a second and read the news from a distant place, I'm a happy man.

When I was a child we had a big family gathering for my great-grandmother Zarifa's 100th birthday. Uncle Ferid, one of those people who knew everything about everything, had a pocket camera and he was directing the scene for a good 30 minutes – a bit like a Fellini movie. The picture triggered all the memories and emotions from that meeting. We never all met again and we lost that photograph in the war.

Taking many pictures, showing them to people and listening to their comments and reactions was how I learnt photography. That feedback, from my best friends to complete strangers, was the best school.

My very first assignment came while accompanying a famous photojournalist to the front lines as an army minder/escort. I got a tip from a friend: just watch him and do the same. The journalist offered to send my pictures to his old agent. We both had pictures from that assignment printed in the same issue of Newsweek.

The Bosnian war left by far the biggest mark on me. I took almost no pictures: that's how big a mark it was. I shot all my "Bosnia" pictures in other conflicts that followed.

A very important lesson came from my father, a veteran journalist: be careful with big expectations, because big disappointments may follow.

Another veteran journalist taught me: Cover the event—no matter what it is—as if the world has never seen such a thing before.

I shoot less now, but I spend more time dancing around the subject before lifting my camera. My approach has become more and more simple.

I script my assignments even before I take the first frame. Then I react to what is happening. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

A single picture has unlimited potential if it touches a nerve. The limitation of a single shot is that it can be taken out of context and misinterpreted.

I spend lots of time and energy building a team with my Reuters text and TV colleagues, instead of being three people who only share a logo and an office. We all benefit from working together. When we are on the same wavelength, which is very often, the final product is great.

Photojournalism is there to trigger interest, to make people learn more. And in the long term, to be a visual reminder of how great, brutal, happy, sad and unfair the world once was.

You tell me how the world is going to be in ten years and I will tell you where I see myself in ten years. For now, I just want to report, report and report…

Behind the Scenes

. KESENNUMA, Japan. Reuters
Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj stands amongst debris left by a devastating tsunami.
. OTSUCHI, Japan. REUTERS/Aly Song
Sagolj walks through the residential area of Otsuchi, days after it was devastated by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.