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November 16th, 2015

The Do’s and Don’ts of Collaborating with NGOs

Jane Huber, creative director of Oxfam America, says she’s inundated with requests from photographers wanting to work for the non-governmental organization. The photographers she rehires understand its mission and values—which includes respecting the individuals and communities it serves. “When you work in the field with an NGO, for all distinct purposes, you are the NGO,” says Huber. “You’re representing us and you want to embrace our values: human first.”

Huber was a participant on two panels during a one-day workshop titled “Photography: Agent for Change,”  hosted by the Alexia Foundation at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York City on November 8. It was designed for documentary photographers and filmmakers who go beyond raising awareness and move into advocacy. Many photographers seek work from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the hopes that their images will be used in awareness campaigns, fund-raising and advocacy; some seek the access to communities or areas where the NGOs work, and want help with production and translation.

Huber spoke with PDN following the event to offer practical advice for photographers taking the initial steps to work with NGOs and how to behave in the field once they’ve been hired.

First of all, “do your homework,” Huber says. “As a prospective photographer you want to understand the objectives of Oxfam and what I’m seeking.” Huber continues, “I get a lot of emails that say, ‘I’d love to work for Oxfam because I love to travel and I’m interested in other cultures and I’m a photographer…’ And I think you haven’t done your homework. Photographers interested in doing work for international NGOs are a dime a dozen.”

To distinguish yourself, show that you know the organization and its programs well, Huber says; she recommends referencing specific campaigns that the NGO is conducting. Continue the email along the lines of “I’m particularly interested in labor issues and am always available for domestic work.” says Huber.  “Everybody likes to feel their time is valuable,” says Huber, “so you could say, ‘Dear X, I’m going to be in your area on Tuesday and I would love to take you out for coffee. It could be as short at 30 minutes.’” She adds, “Anyone who has a good portfolio, I’ll always try to give them a shot.”

Second, Huber expects photographers to put the people Oxfam serves before pictures. “You’d be surprised by what some people do in the field,” she says. “If you’re going to be a photographer working with people living in communities that are suffering because of poverty or violence and it’s for an organization that has a rights-based approach to development, then you have to mirror those values.” The photographers she rehires consider how they interact with the population they’re photographing. For example, she says: “If someone is weeping, it might be a really beautiful shot, but you may have to lose the great shot for the greater human interaction.”

Reciprocity with subjects is crucial, she says. At times that means missing the best light of the day to meet a contact person, an elder or local dignitary. It could also mean sitting down for tea. “I had a photographer who Oxfam worked with some years ago who I don’t choose to work with anymore,” Huber recalls. “It was reported back to me that when the family invited him to sit down for a cup of tea, he chose to sit in the corner and look at his camera. He may have thought he was using his time effectively, but when the team said it was important he sit with the family, he said, ‘I’m beat.’”

Huber sums it up by saying, “You may not be able to drink the tea because the water isn’t boiled, but you damn well sit there and show respect, because that’s reciprocity.”

Related Articles

How To Work Profitably with NGOs

Can Photography Affect Change?

October 7th, 2015

Victor Blue Documents Survivors of Kunduz Hospital Bombing

Front page of October 4 New York Times, with photo by Victor J. Blue. © The New York Times

Front page of October 4 New York Times, with photo by Victor J. Blue. © The New York Times

Victor J. Blue‘s image of a young patient who survived the US airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, appeared on the front page of The New York Times on October 4. Blue’s  interview with a man who survived the bombing was also reported in a follow-up story.

Blue happened to be working in Kabul, Afghanistan, on a story about the hospital run by Emergency, an Italian NGO, when patients started arriving from the Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz. In addition to his front-page image of an eight-year-old patient  being comforted by a nurse, he photographed her being carried into the hospital and being treated.

Blue, who has traveled to and photographed in Afghanistan many times in the last six years, had spent two weeks in Kabul documenting work at the Emergency hospital. Admissions at that hospital have increased dramatically since the Taliban has regained ground. Blue says, “The month before I arrived, [Emergency] set a new record for admissions. Every day between 10 and 20 new patients are admitted. The hospital is so busy, they have to set strict admission criteria, only treating penetrating trauma—war wounds from bullets, shells, or mines and IED’s. They take some stabbings too.”

We reached Blue while he was awaiting transport to Kunduz, and asked him about his images and reporting on the MSF hospital casualties.

PDN: Why were you in Kabul, and working at the hospital there?
VB: I came to produce a piece on the flood of civilian casualties this year, and on the hospital in Kabul, Emergency, run by the Italian NGO of the same name, that works to save folks hurt in the fighting here. I made pictures in the hospital on both of my last two trips to Afghanistan. It’s an incredible place. The staff there are really open and dedicated, they work extremely hard to save a lot of lives.

The hospital in Kabul actually draws in patients from a pretty wide catchment area, 7 provinces. Emergency runs a network of First Aid Posts around Afghanistan, 46 in all, which are situated in the districts and usually stabilize the wounded before transfer to Kabul, although plenty of folks come in by private taxi. The majority were from Ghazni province, where the fighting between the Taliban and the government has been really fierce.

PDN: When did you—and the staff of the hospital—learn they’d be seeing patients moved from the MSF hospital in Kunduz?
VB: About four days or so after the Taliban overran Kunduz, a few patients started to trickle in. Then, after the bombing [of the hospital in Kunduz], it was a lot—around 20 came in one day. You could tell they had been treated in the hospital in Kunduz, but were not healed enough to be sent home, and came [to Kabul] to continue treatment. On Saturday afternoon, the day of the US airstrike, the two families I photographed arrived in Kabul via Afghan helicopter from Kunduz. When they came in, I had a nurse ask [for me] if it was OK if I made some pictures, and the parents of both of the children agreed. The Emergency nurses worked to remove their soiled bandages and assess the wounds. The kids were pretty scared and upset, and the nurses were amazing with them—not just calming them, but asking them to be brave while they helped them.

PDN: How did you get in touch with The New York Times, and what did you send?
VB: I talked with the father of one of the children [evacuated from Kunduz], Najibullah, and then asked a staff member at Emergency to translate for me. I interviewed him and realized that his personal account was really powerful, he had survived the bombing with his son in a bunker. The same blast that put his son in the hospital killed two other sons of his.
I am in touch with friends that work as New York Times reporters when I am in Afghanistan, and my friend Joe Goldstein… is currently here reporting. We had already hung out, and were in regular contact about the situation in Kunduz and about another story of his I had been assigned to [cover]. I called him up and told him what I had and he sent a car over to pick me up. I hung out at the Times bureau while the Afghan reporters called Najibullah and asked him some follow-up questions to the interview I brought. Then I filed the pictures. It was a Saturday and International Picture Editor David Furst was off, so my friend Metro Editor Niko Koppel received them and passed them on to International Picture Editor Thom McGuire, who worked hard to get them in the paper. Najibullah’s account of surviving the airstrike ran the next day. It felt good to get his voice into such an important story.

PDN: Did MSF workers from Kunduz go to Kabul, too and what did they tell you?  
VB: The next day at the hospital, more patients from the MSF hospital as well as MSF staff arrived at Emergency. They were still grieving and in shock and made it clear they did not want to take questions from journalists. I continued to do my work, shooting patients and surgeries and following the nurses on their rounds, but gave the MSF folks a wide berth. Of course I wanted to talk to them and hear their stories, but I had to respect their wishes. It was a big moment of solidarity between them and Emergency, two organizations with similar missions but that work very differently, and I wasn’t going to get in the way of that.

March 3rd, 2015

Controversial World Press Photo Winner Under New Scrutiny Today (Update)

After questions over whether Giovanni Troilo staged this image, new questions arise about his "Dark Heart of Europe" project.

© Giovanni Troilo. After questions over whether Troilo staged this image, new questions arise about the integrity of his “Dark Heart of Europe” project.

Photographer Giovanni Troilo’s controversial prize-winning entry to the World Press Photo competition is under new scrutiny today because of reports that Troilo did not shoot one of the images where he said he shot it, according to Lars Boering, Managing Director of World Press Photo.

Troilo had said his project, “The Dark Heart of Europe,” winner of 1st prize stories in the Contemporary Issues category, was shot in Charleroi, a town near Brussels.

But a journalist investigating the project in the wake of controversy it has generated has reported that one of the images was shot in Brussels, which is 50 km from Carhleroi.

“There’s new information out now that one photo was shot 50 kilometers away from Charleroi,” Boering says. Bruno Stevens, a Belgian photojournalist,  announced the finding on his Facebook page.

“Of course this is going to be looked at again,” says Boering, who has been on the hot seat for several days over the controversy surrounding the Troilo project and prize. (more…)

February 18th, 2015

Should Photogs Disqualified from World Press Be Banned? Org Says No, For Now

In the days since World Press Photo announced that 20 percent of the photographs they considered in the final rounds of the competition were disqualified for manipulation, many in the industry have called for WPP to release the offending images and make their standards more clear. In comments by jurors, WPP administrators and photographers published on the New York Times Lens Blog, 2015 competition jury chair and New York Times director of photography Michelle McNally noted that the manipulations led “many in the jury to feel we were being cheated, that they were being lied to.” World Press Photo jury secretary David Campbell notes that newspaper and wire service photographers get fired when they are caught manipulating news photos: “Narciso Contreras and Miguel Tova have lost their jobs because of manipulations that crossed the one line we can draw.”

These reactions beg the question: If World Press Photo is a reflection of the photojournalism industry, should photographers who attempted to deceive jurors—and the public—be banned from the competition? After all, newspaper and wire services have fired photographers who manipulated images.

According to World Press Photo managing director Lars Boering, the organization is not currently planning to ban any photographers who submitted manipulated images to the competition. “I might discuss that with the board and the team that is organizing the competition,” he told PDN, adding that “a lot” of the disqualified photos were cases of “clumsy” Photoshop use rather than blatant attempts to deceive competition judges.

World Press Photo rules state: “The content of an image must not be altered. Only retouching that conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed.” In her statement on Lens, McNally clarified that the manipulation the jurors disqualified included “removing or adding information to the image, for example, like toning that rendered some parts so black that entire objects disappeared from the frame. The jury—which was flexible about toning, given industry standards — could not accept processing that blatantly added or removed elements of the picture.”

The organization is very aware that manipulation accusations can deal huge blows to the careers of photojournalists, Boering says, which is why they are keeping confidential the names of photographers who were disqualified—despite calls for more transparency. “If people get caught by agencies, then they are thrown out, and I know it’s difficult for these people to get back to work or find other agencies, so that’s a serious thing,” Boering explains. “If an agency makes that decision it’s up to them because that’s their rules. We organize a competition; we care a lot about photojournalism and visual journalism, but…I don’t think we should be the ones that decide on the careers of photographers, and whether they should be ruled out of competitions with others or whether they should lose their job with their agency.”

“We’re not going to put their names out unless we think it’s really severe what they’ve done,” Boering adds. “It might be that we think about talking to them about the way they go about it.”

Boering said WPP had today sent notices to the disqualified photographers presenting their evidence and explaining their decisions. He says the organizations has received one or two responses from photographers accepting the decision.

It’s more important to WPP that this controversy sends a message to photojournalists and the industry, sparks discussion and, hopefully, a resolution, Boering says. “Technology makes a lot of things possible, but it makes it possible to find things…. The technicians that do our research, they’ve showed me several examples of things that you can do and I think it’s amazing.”

Boering says he’s heard from people at agencies and news organizations, and others in the photo industry in the past few days. World Press Photo is planning “several debates” starting on the day of the awards presentation, that he hopes will help the “find common ground with the industry to get it right.”

Related: Mads Nissen Wins World Press Photo of the Year 2014 Prize
AP Cuts Ties with Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image
Photographer Fired by AP Says Decision Was Fair, But Process Wasn’t

August 28th, 2014

Want to Buy a Drink for the Photographer Who Delivered James Foley’s Last Letter?

After the murder of journalist James Foley by his captors in Syria, his parents released to the public their last communication from him. Because all of Foley’s letters were confiscated by his captors, he asked a fellow captive to commit to memory a letter for his family.

Photojournalist Daniel Rye Ottosen (known professionally as Daniel Rye) had been kidnapped in May 2013 by members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and was held with Foley for 13 months. When he was released in June, he called Foley’s parents and dictated the letter from memory. Foleys thanked him “from the bottom of our hearts” on the Free James Foley Facebook page where they shared the letter.

When photojournalist David Brabyn, a friend of Foley’s, heard about Rye’s message, he recalls, “I thought, what a thing to do! I wish I could buy him a drink.” Brabyn figured out a way to do that, and he’s offering others a way to thank Rye, too.

Brabyn has set up the Buy Daniel Rye a Beer web page, with a Pay Pal account where people can chip in beer money. (In addition to being a photographer, Brabyn is also a website consultant at digitaltechparis, and has experience at charity fundraising:  He and Foley worked together organizing the Friends of Anton benefit photo auction, which raised over $135,000 for the children of photojournalist Anton Hammerl, who was killed in Libya when Foley was captured and detained the first time, in 2011, along with two other journalists.)

Brabyn got in touch with a friend of Rye’s who will make sure someone picks up the photographer’s bar tabs while the funds last; friends who treat Rye will be reimbursed from the money collected through the website. Brabyn acknowledges that Rye may have need for more than beer, but says the Buy Daniel Rye a Beer effort is simply a way to say thanks. “This isn’t about turning his life around. It’s just a friendly gesture from people who think he did something great,” Brabyn says. “If he wants to order wine or anything other than beer, that’s fine.”

Given the number of people around the world who have been touched by the letter Rye delivered, there might be a lot of people thanking him. “I think what he did is an astonishing achievement: to be locked up in terrible conditions, in a war zone, for so long and yet manage to memorize this long text,” Brabyn notes. “On top of that feat of the mind, he delivered this moving letter that is obviously so hugely meaningful to Jim’s family.”

Related articles

Danish Photojournalist Released After 13 Months in Captivity

Print Sales, Web Site to Benefit Anton Hammerl’s Children

August 14th, 2014

Philly Paper Swaps Ferguson Riot Photo: Did It Do the Right Thing?

Reading a Philadelphia Magazine report about the decision by editors at the Philadelphia Daily News to change a cover photo in response to some outrage on social media left us wondering:  Did photo editors at the Philadelphia Daily News change their minds because they thought they’d made a mistake? Or did they change their minds to avoid controversy and public outcry?

philly DN covers_555

The Philadelphia Daily News cover in question (above, left) featured a photo from Ferguson, Missouri that showed a protestor about to hurl a burning Molotov cocktail gas canister at police. Protests began in Ferguson over the weekend, after police shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown. The protests began peacefully, and have remained mostly peaceful, but some violence and looting have erupted, and police have been widely criticized for their iron-fisted and highly militarized response to all protestors.

Against that backdrop, the Daily News published a cover photo of a protestor with the Molotov cocktail burning canister over the headline, “Hell Breaks Loose.” The photo drew immediate and harsh criticism on Twitter: Readers said the image could be taken to suggest that the (mostly white) police response was justified because the (mostly black) protestors were being so violent. In response the Daily News put out another edition of the paper with a different photo.

The second cover photo shows a distraught-looking female protestor, holding up a sign demanding answers from police about the shooting of Michael Brown. Police in riot gear can be seen lined up behind the protestor. The Daily News did not change the headline.

And that leads to some larger questions about photo editing in the social media age: Should editors show deference to the instant opinions on Twittering readers, on the theory that input from the public leads to more informed picture choices? Or does deference to the instant opinions on social media undermine photo editors by encouraging readers to constantly demand changes and retractions on coverage of controversial or sensitive topics?

Philadelphia Magazine published Tweets from Daily News readers, followed by a Tweet from a Daily News senior writer who wrote, “Based on reader reaction we’re changing our front page image — so we actually do listen.” That was followed by a Tweet from Daily News assistant city editor David Lee Preston that said: “Big takeaway from tonight should be that a bunch of pros with hearts & souls inhabit this newsroom.”

But it remains unclear why the Daily News changed the cover photo: Did they think they’d made a mistake? Or were they simply bowing to pressure from some angry readers?

Regardless of their motives, we throw open the floor to PDN readers: Did the Daily News make a mistake publishing the Molotov cocktail-throwing protestor? Should the paper have changed the cover photo? Should photo editors let social media reaction influence their decisions, and if so, to what extent?

Note: Earlier version of this story described the burning object in the protester’s hand as a “Molotov cocktail.” Readers noted it was a burning gas canister. We changed it.  In this case, we listened to readers on social media, too.

August 13th, 2014

AP Photographer Injured in Gaza Explosion that Killed Videojournalist, Translator

The Associated Press (AP) reports that video journalist Simone Camilli and translator Ali Shehda Abu Afash were killed this morning when an ordinance exploded in Gaza in the town of Beit Labiya. Hatem Moussa, an AP photographer was “badly injured” in the blast. AP spokesperson Paul Colford says, “Hatem is being treated for his injuries.”

The unexploded ordinance was believed to have been dropped during recent airstrikes by Israel in Gaza. Gaza police engineers were trying to deactivate the explosive when it blew up. Three police engineers were killed in the explosion, along with the journalists.

For more details, including information on the careers of Simone Camilli and Ali Shehda Abu Afash, see AP’s story.

Related articles
Photographer Killed in Israeli Airstrike in Gaza

August 12th, 2014

Photographer Reported Missing in Eastern Ukraine

© Rossiya Segodnya/images by Andrei Stenin

© Rossiya Segodnya/images by Andrei Stenin

Andrei Stenin, a photojournalist for the Russian state agency Rossiya Segodnya (also called RIA Novosti) has been missing since August 5, when he last reported to his agency while covering the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and military forces supporting the Ukraine government near the cities of Donetsk and Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine. According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other news organizations Rossiya Segodnya has reported, citing an anonymous source, that  Stenin is being held by the Ukrainian security service (SBU). SBU denies the allegation.

Rossiya Segodnya has launched a publicity campaign to lobby for his release. Dmitry Kiselev, the head of the agency, told the press that Stenin’s work has been “purely humanitarian in nature.”

Stenin’s photos are being displayed at the Rossiya Segodnya headquarters in Moscow, and the agency has posted a gallery of photos he’s taken in Ukraine since January.

The images Stenin last filed with his agency showed armed combat between separatist militia and Ukrainian government forces, and the capture of Ukrainian soldiers in Shakhtyorsk, outside Donetsk.

August 8th, 2014

Shark Peak: When Anti-Cliché Photos Turn Out To Be Clichés

Tristan-McConnell-FBMogadishu is to sharks carried on shoulders as Havana is to vintage sedans: No photographer who goes to that location can resist photographing the same photogenic subjects.

Tristan McConnell (@t_mcconnell), a Nairobi-based foreign correspondent for GlobalPost, Monocle and the London Times, posted a comment on his Facebook page the other day that pointed out the difficulty, in today’s image-saturated world, of finding a photo subject that hasn’t already been widely seen. He posted the comment, along with examples he’s collected, in an album titled “Mogadishu Fish on the Head Photographic Meme.”

McConnell, who has worked with many photographers and–when tight budgets require it– also shoots photos for his own stories, suggests that perhaps all these similar shots were the result of photographers struggling to avoid a different cliché: The African-capital-as-disaster cliché.

McConnell writes: “The image has to say ‘decades of conflict/failed state’ but in an oblique way, so you head to seaside Hamar Weyne, the old, war-damaged colonial neighborhood.”

He continues, “And then you see it. The perfect shot: A fisherman strides towards you with the catch of the day, a fish so big it’s draped across his head and shoulders. Behind him is the wreckage of the city. It’s perfect!

“You press the shutter. Done. Trouble is every other photographer has done it, too.”

Among the dozen examples McConnell shows are Feisal Omar’s photo which won 1st prize in the 2011 World Press Photo competition’s Daily Life/singles category,

© Feisal Omar

© Feisal Omar

and Michelle Shephard’s 2011 photo published in the Toronto Star:

© Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star

© Michelle Shephard/Toronto Star

He could also have included this photo by an AFP/Getty photographer, published last year in the Daily Mail .

© AFP/Getty Images

© AFP/Getty Images

Or Jan Grarup’s famous image, published as part of a story in the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin (as well as in PDN.)

© Jan Grarup

© Jan Grarup

This put us in mind of a familiar dilemma: Is it better for  photographers to ignore other photographers’ work — to insure they’re never imitating anyone, and remain happily unaware that the what they’ve just photographed has been photographed before? Or, as many clients suggest, should they try to see as much work as they can, either to avoid duplicating what’s been done, or to know the standards they need to meet if they want to find a new view of a subject that others have already discovered?

December 16th, 2013

We Know Africa Is Not a Single Country, Newsweek Says

© Newsweek/photos © Tadej Znidarcic/Redux Pictures

© Newsweek/photos © Tadej Znidarcic/Redux Pictures

Today published a story about the increasing dangers that gays face in Ethiopia, where sexual activity among gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people has been criminalized. The only problem: The story is illustrated with photos taken not in Ethiopia, but in Uganda. The portraits of LGBT individuals were taken by Tadej Znidarcic in 2009 as part of his project about anti-gay legislation that had been proposed in the Ugandan parliament. The photos appear in the Newsweek story about Ethiopia’s anti-gay laws without a caption or clarification about their subject  or location.

When we reached Newsweek for comment, we were told that, yes, the editors there do know that Ethiopia and Uganda are two different countries. Yes, there was concern at the magazine about using photos taken in one country three years ago to illustrate what’s happening in a different country today. But no, a caption won’t be added.

It wasn’t a simple error. It sounds like a tale involving limited photographic options, bad website design, a few bad choices and some embarrassment on Newsweek’s part.

The LGBT Ethiopians quoted in the story by writer Katie J.M. Baker had asked that their faces not be shown in the story, so options for portraits were limited. Baker  provided photos she had shot on a cellphone at a gathering of gay friends in Addis Adaba, Ethiopia, with their faces cut out of the frame, but her photos were small and pixelated. Wanting something more photographic, Newsweek photo editor remembered Znidarcic’s photos, which were exhibited in the Open Society’s Moving Walls exhibition in 2011 and shown on several blogs.

Znidarcic had photographed gay activists in Uganda facing a wall, their faces hidden, because at the time, the Ugandan parliament was debating a bill that would have imposed the death penalty for anyone convicted of “aggravated homosexuality.” Newsweek contacted Redux Pictures to license the photos, and informed Znidarcic about the subject of the story.

Though an editor at Newsweek was concerned that the images might be confusing or misleading, since they weren’t shot in Ethiopia, Newsweek ended up running them with the story anyway, above the words: “In many countries, it’s getting better for the LGBT community. In Ethiopia, it’s getting worse.”

That’s not the caption to the photo, a Newsweek staffer explained; that’s the deck to the story. The web page is designed with no caption. And for some reason, the writer or editors chose not to insert a photo caption into the text (for example, where comparisons were made to the 75 other countries in the world where same-sex sex has been criminalized). The lack of clarity about the photos mars a rare international story about topic under-reported in mainstream media.

Yes, we know that there are deadlines, and contingencies, and that web templates can be rigid and aren’t often designed with journalistic concerns in mind. But we have to wonder: Would the editors have illustrated a story about news in Germany with an image taken in Denmark?