Category Thoughts & Theory

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.

Photographer Caricatures

Something a little lighter … PetaPixel has the story of Pixelcrush’s caricatures of photographers and they’re worth a little time.

And, yes, I’ve met most of these folks.

What You Photograph Is a Reflection of Who You Are

A sarcastic Tweet reply set off Dan Ginn at The Phoblographer this week.

As it should have.

I’m forever thankful I work with students who care about their communities and want to use photographic tools to explore and explain issues within those communities. As a general rule, the see photography as a means, not an end – our classes, workshops, discussions and goals are not based on making a photo, they’re based on making a difference.

Because I am a camera geek (I know, you’re shocked), I do spend some time on sites focused on photography. There is a significant level of, “I love how this lens made this woman beautiful” types of posts and, well, every one of those gets me a little closer to leaving that group.

I’ll grant that my reason for carrying a camera is not the same reason as everyone else’s. I use photography to record, process and comprehend my world – and, once I’ve made some sense of it, to share that information with others. It is a documentary tool, an investigative tool, an exploratory tool. If I’m going to freeze a moment in time, there needs to be some societal value to that moment that adds to our understanding without minimizing or objectifying others.

If your photos don’t educate and illuminate, I’m just not that interested.

But, hey, that’s just me and sometimes I like to photograph my dogs, too. I don’t think they feel objectified by this.

Start Your Holiday Shopping with Photojournalist Barbie

On the one hand, I think the partnership between the Barbie brand and National Geographic is great – giving kids, especially girls, more role models and career views is fantastic. The growth of the Barbie line in my lifetime has been fun to watch (even if our own kid never played with one).

That said, the video released as part of the promo is … well … not what photojournalists actually do. The first half is what we call “spray and pray” – point the camera everywhere without any thought.

After that doesn’t work, NatGeo Barbie sulks off with Forest Conservationist Barbie until – Oh LOOK HOW LUCKY WE ARE – the mythical monkey appears and plays happily in front of them.

As the commercial says, that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works.

I suppose a video with NatGeo Barbie reading academic journals that explain the movements of monkeys through the forest is not going to be as exciting, but this is setting kids up with the (overly common) mistaken belief that great photos come from luck.

They don’t. They come from preparation.

Visualizing Change

A good behind the scenes look into how The Guardian is changing the way they use images in stories about climate change.

I think this is an incredibly important discussion to have for many of the reasons they denote – we all feel bad about the polar bear, but it doesn’t impact most of our daily lives and so, after a few moments of sadness, we move on. The emotional connection may be there but it doesn’t persist, we aren’t reminded of it as we go about our daily lives.

Images need to educate us about what is happening and resonate with us – that persistence idea is so critical. And the same applies to images in other stories – wars, man made disasters, natural disasters and even images of poverty. If the images don’t look like the things we deal with on a daily basis, then we are, effectively, othering the story which disconnects us from it.

This may be why I’m attracted to images of the vernacular, images of the everyday things in our lives. The work of photographers like Walker Evans and Fred Herzog intrigues me because it shows me the common things in life, the things I feel I may have or might still experience. It connects me, it shows something that is not other than what I am used to.

But this is incredibly hard to do. The impacts of climate change are both enormous and subtle. Massive storms are easy to visualize yet difficult to contextualize. The smaller, daily impacts can be easier to explain but harder to show. What does a 1.5 degree shift in average temperature look like? It is far too easy to get drawn into the extremist traps, leaving us with polar bears alone. We must do better.

Land is cleared in Athens, Georgia, to build a new gas station. Even as fuel economy increases, fueling locations are becoming more common. (Photo/Mark E. Johnson)

NPPF Scholarships

The National Press Photographers Foundation has opened applications for their annual scholarship programs. Deadline is on December 2, but why wait that long?

We Can’t Even Trust the Canadians Anymore

The Canadian Green Party has been caught editing a photo of the party’s leader, Elizabeth May – they added in a logo and a reusable straw.

All the technology at our disposal and this is what we do with it …

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.

New Photojournalism Assignments

It looks like I need to add a Translucent Document assignment to my Advanced Photojournalism course this fall. This will go with the Spelling Document and Empathy Document assignments.

The learning objective: Pay attention to details.