Kate Geraghty: Beyond words

If a picture tells a thousand words Kate Geraghty has enough photographs to fill a book – a very weighty book, in both size and sentiment.

Kate is a nine-times Walkley Award-wining photojournalist with many more awards and accolades attached to her eminent byline. But you wouldn’t know it to talk to her. She’s unassuming and open, with a warmth and respect for others that might explain why she’s so successful in gaining the trust of her subjects in the most difficult of circumstances.

The first female photographer sent into a combat zone by The Sydney Morning Herald, Kate has spent years travelling the world to document the devastation caused by war and natural disasters, and the rebuilding of regions and lives. The backdrop of her stunning, and often confronting, photographs include Iraq, Bangladesh, Ukraine (MH17), Banda Aceh (2004 Boxing Day tsunami) and Bali (2002 bombings).

Her most recent Walkley – the coveted Gold, shared with investigative reporter Michael Bachelard for their multimedia story Surviving IS: Stories of Mosul – put a face to the victims of war.

“In the absence of a justice system in places of war zones or humanitarian disasters, journalists become the recorders of history,” Kate told Macleay College journalism students this week.

“When you are talking and hearing their stories there’s a very real sense that you are recording testimonies that can possibly be used in the future for war crimes or crimes against humanity.”

Despite the first aid training, hostile environment training and even underwater helicopter training, Kate says nothing can prepare you for war: “The smell, the sound, lack of food, no electricity, the things that you’re going to see.”

And neither looking through a lens nor years in the field make the experience any easier.

“I think you become even more sensitised (over time),” says Kate.

“I think it’s all confronting. You never forget any assignment. You never forget the people.

“It’s difficult coming back sometimes; coming back to photographing traffic or court after you’ve photographed stuff like this. But that’s also part of my job; to learn how to deal with this. These days PTSD is a very open thing, so everyone is aware of it.”


Kate says her strength comes from the people she photographs: “If they can survive it and they have hope, who am I to not have hope?”

“What we do is we are going there to document and tell their stories but what they’re doing is they’re living it. It’s one thing to go and cover a war or cover a humanitarian disaster. It’s another thing to have it happen to you.” – Story by Fiona West, Interview by Keanu Villavicencio-Prado, Video by Tayla O’Brien.