Category At Work

Seattle County Court Orders Media to Turn Over Raw Material

A King County judge Washington state has ordered that the Seattle Times and several television stations turn over all photos and videos f a May 30 protest. Local officials have said the material is necessary for the identification of individuals who committed crimes after breaking off from the main protest.

The National Press Photographers Association has issued a statement that says, in part:

It is dangerous enough for visual journalists to be covering the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests over the death of George Floyd. The last thing visual journalists want is to be seen as an arm of law enforcement, aiding attempts to gather evidence. In an era where there are cameras on nearly every corner and in every pocket in America, it strains belief that police cannot get the evidence that they need elsewhere. This is exactly what state shield laws are meant to protect against.

Detroit Officer Charged for Firing at Photojournalists

Corporal Daniel Debono has been charged with felony assault after firing rubber pellets at three photojournalists covering protests in late May, according to The New York Times.

All three were leaving the scene of a protest and had identified themselves as journalists when the incident happened.

Covering Protests

Current and former students are now covering protests across the country. We spent some time in classes on spot news coverage, but nothing we did prepared them for the events of our times.

Some thoughts on what to do before, during and after covering major protests, regardless of where they occur.

BEFORE YOUR COVERAGE

Assess your technology. How much gear do you have to have? You want to be nimble, so lugging every lens you own is probably not ideal. You also need to ask what happens if you lose equipment, to damage, seizure or theft. Can you get back to work the next day?

Pull out your phone and make a few changes. Biometric logins are great, but are also a risk. Turn off the fingerprint sensor and face recognition for login. If you’re arrested and need to protect the information on that device, you cannot be compelled to give them a password. And, while you’re at it, upgrade to a more complex password.

On your phone, turn on location sharing with your editors or colleagues – if something goes wrong, that gives them a chance to figure out where you are.

Lastly, ask yourself why are you going – and this is especially relevant for students. If you do not have an audience, a platform ready to publish your images, you need to think very critically about putting yourself at risk. This is absolutely not a great opportunity to build your portfolio. There are significant risks in this coverage and if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to help you, you stand a great chance of becoming the news rather than covering it.

If you’re injured, who will cover your medical costs? If you are unable to work, who will cover your rent and utilities? If you are detained or arrested, who will bail you out? If you are arraigned, who will represent you?

DURING YOUR COVERAGE

Two words: Situational Awareness.

You have to be hyper-cognizant of everything going on around you. If you have to think about how to adjust your camera, this is not a place for you to be – your attention needs to be on all the fluidity around you. You have to instantly assess every person near you, where they are moving, why they are moving in that direction, what their body language is saying – your reporting tool, be it a camera or recorder, must not be something you have to consciously think about it.

Listen carefully to both what people are saying and how they are saying it. Not the chants and songs, but the conversations. You need to be reading the crowd. Simultaneously, you need to be reading the activities of the law enforcement agencies – sometimes they will kneel or hug a protestor, sometimes they will charge their vehicles into the crowds. You have to be ready – work the edges and think about your escape routes, don’t get yourself boxed in.

Balance your coverage as you’re doing it. Crowds, smoke and conflict are the standard images here, but is that what this story, this particular protest, is about? What makes the scene in front of you unique? There is a place for broad-based coverage, but there is a need to help your audience connect with those involved in these events. A protest is a large collection of individuals who share a common grievance – ensure that some of those individual stories are being told.

One of the best pieces I’ve seen is this two minute video by Ryon Horne and Ben Gray of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – look how it changes at the 24 second mark. Stunning.

AFTER YOUR COVERAGE

Take a few minutes to calm and center yourself. Adrenaline is going to be racing through your body, you need to let that subside so you can take a critical look at what you have just witnessed.

Dive into your workflow. You have a procedure for processing images, videos and notes – now is not the time to skip it. Back up your data, get your metadata in order. You are covering historic moments, you don’t want to risk losing this work.

You are going to have a strong desire to edit for the most dramatic moments, but is that the story you need to tell right now? Live video and social media have already saturated the internet from whatever event you were at, now you need to piece together what you heard, saw and felt into a cohesive body of work.

You, as a journalist, don’t need to do a highlight reel – you need to unpack the narrative, you need to give your audience an intellectual understanding of what happened, not just provide an emotional response. Avoid the temptation of a card dump, where everything that’s reasonable sharp ends up in a 100+ image gallery – that’s not journalism.

Set the scene, give your audience a sense of scale, give them a sense of the emotions at play, show the passions, show the fears, show the interactions, show the aftermath. Show the why.

Once you’ve published, assess your data and gear. Double-check that your workflow worked, that you have multiple copies of your data and that the metadata is in place. Was anything damaged? Clean your lenses, wipe down your mics and cameras, charge your batteries, repack your bag,

Lastly, remember you are the professional. That means that you act accordingly all the way through. You prepare appropriately, you act appropriately and you publish appropriately. As hard as it is, you don’t chant, you don’t hold a sign, you don’t wear a slogan-inscribed t-shirt, you remain as impartial as you possibly can – your coverage of the event is your way of signifying its importance.

The Court House Press Corps

Ever wonder who is covering a major news event? The Associated Press’ Mary Altaffer turned her cameras on her colleagues who have been working inside the Manhattan court house where Harvey Weinstein was tried.

It not very glamorous but it is very important.

Dorothea Lange and Her Role Developing Modern Photojournalism

Well worth reading: Alice Gregory at The New York Times’ Style Magazine takes a look at the role of Dorothea Lange in the growth of photojournalism as the Museum of Modern Art opens their second retrospective on her.

Sigh … I may have to go to New York again …

Her contemporary Ansel Adams called her pictures “both records of actuality and exquisitely sensitive emotional documents.” She was an artist under the guise of a journalist and an activist under the guise of a dispassionate civil servant, and it would be impossible to think of any of these roles today without her influence.

And this section, written about her final months:

Lange was only eating soft foods by this point and rarely ventured outside. She kept a camera around her neck, though, “for health,” and continued to take photographs — of her house, of her family.

A Sense of Interiority

There are many great quotes in this interview with Dawoud Bey, but this resonated deeply with me:

African-Americans in photographs have very often been viewed through a lens of social pathology. So, I wanted to respond to that kind of representation by making photographs that conveyed a deep, complex humanity.

I want there to be real sense of interiority, to go beneath the surface.

We talk about making images with intentionality quite a bit, now I’ll add interiority to the conversation.

More Photographs of Notes

This is becoming a trend … Getty Images photojournalist Mark Wilson walks through his image of the president’s notes.

Pay attention to his thinking behind the gear he was carrying – being prepared is key.

“Take as many pictures as you want. We need this to be known.”

How we deal with families after they have been through a traumatic event is a constant conversation for us. Finding the balance between the needs of individuals and the needs of a community can be brutally hard.

We never want to intrude, we never want to add to the grief a family is experiencing but, at the same time, their story can have a powerful impact on a community. That story can both explain what has happened and help a community move forward, through healing or actions of change.

Cesar Rodriguez walks us through his coverage of the slain family in Mexico over at Time.

They were telling me that we want people to know what happened because if they don’t know, if things don’t change, their deaths will have been for nothing. So something good has to come out of this. Something powerful.

Worth a read.

She Learned to Hear by Seeing

I love this quote from The New York Times story on the late Ida Wyman:

Taking pictures enabled me to hear the stories of the people I photographed.

Listening is such an integral part of journalism – if we cannot listen it is incredibly difficult to see the stories unfolding in front of us. And listening is a very different act than hearing. Listening is an active state, it involves attention and intention. We listen when we are immersed in conversation, we hear without that sense of purpose.

In studying her work, that sense of purpose is there – her street photography/feature photos are nuanced and layered, they are not casual observations. They reveal something about a place. Look at the image of the men studying the newspaper in Hebrew, or the man looking into the garbage can on the pier. Those are not one-dimensional frames, they required her to actively see those scenes, to watch them evolve.

I’m pondering what the parallel phrases are for seeing now. Watching vs. seeing? Open to suggestions here.

Building a Sense of Place at Woodstock

The New York Times takes a look at the (ahem) three rolls of film Roger Ballen exposed at Woodstock, 50 years ago.

This exchange alone makes it worh a read:

You’ve said that so much of photography is actually rooted in having experiences and not just sitting behind a camera or computer.

Yeah, this is the truth of the matter. When I grew up in photography, it was about getting on the street, experiencing events, getting in the middle of things, coming back with the goods and the experience to talk about.

It is very easy to think so much about where photographs go, so much so that we can lose sight of the magic needed during the process. If we are not immersed in the moment, we can’t fully understand and appreciate the event and that will lessen our understanding.