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The Memphis Commercial Appeal dropped a bombshell last fall when it reported that the renowned civil rights photographer Ernest Withers worked secretly as an FBI informant, helping the agency “gain a front-row seat to the civil right and anti-war movements in Memphis.”
Now the newspaper says it is suing the FBI for the release of Withers’ complete FBI informant file, in an effort to learn the full extent of his activities as an informant. The questions the paper is trying to answer: When did Withers begin working as an informant? And what information and photographs did he provide to the FBI?
According to the paper, the FBI has refused a Freedom of Information Act request to release Withers’ confidential informant file. So the Commercial Appeal has sued in US District Court in Washington, DC to force the FBI to release the file.
“Holding to decades-old doctrine protecting confidential sources,” the newspaper reported on August 7, “the government argues that exposing any informant, even a dead one, would have a chilling effect when recruiting new informants needed to help battle crime and protect national security.”
Lawyers for the newspaper are arguing that the FBI “is hiding behind laws designed to protect living informants”
Withers died in 2007 at the age of 85. He photographed the civil rights movement from the Emmett Till murder trial in 1955 through the assassination Martin Luther King in 1968 and amassed one of the largest archives an on African-American society, music and culture.
The Commercial Appeal came across Withers’ informant ID number by chance in a document related to a public corruption probe from 1970s that involved the photographer. At the time, Withers was a state employee and had been accused of taking payoffs, the newspaper said.
The FBI blacked out informant ID numbers before releasing the document, but apparently overlooked one number–that belonging to Withers.
“That number, in turn, unlocked the secret of the photographer’s 1960s political spying when the newspaper located repeated references to the number in other FBI reports released…30 years ago,” the paper explained in a story last fall.
A decision on the paper’s lawsuit to compel the FBI to release Withers’ file is pending.
After a long silence, journalists are now talking about the inequality in care paid to photojournalists working in war zones, and the local fixers who help them in their work. The issue is now being addressed by the Poynter institute, the non-profit journalism education organization.
Reporting on the Poynter Web site, writer Steve Myers talks to photographers and editors about what protection, if any, they are authorized to offer local fixers if they are injured or threatened while on the job. Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists notes, “I’ve seen news organizations absolutely step up and support people—even people who have been contracted informally—and I’ve seen news orgs turn their back on people.”
One problem, Simon explains, is the variety of relationships between fixers and the organizations who hire them, “from the one-time assignment to the everyday job, from the driver hired by a full-time employee to one picked up by a freelancer.”
Photographer Lynsey Addario, who worked with two drivers who met bad ends—one, a driver in Afghanistan’s Swat valley who was killed when he fell asleep at the wheel, another who was very likely murdered when Addario and three New York Times colleagues were captured in Libya—argues that the Times has compensated locals when appropriate, but points out that not all hires are alike. “A blanket rule would presume that all situations abroad with local hires are black and white, and anyone who has worked overseas knows that that just isn’t the case.”
The New York Times has been criticized for its treatment of the three media assistants who have died while working for the Times since 2003. Bill Keller, executive editor of the Times, tells Myers that the paper has spent hundreds of thousand of dollars to repatriate media assistants who have been in danger in Iraq and elsewhere. “We have relocated local hires when their work put them at risk, paying all of their costs.” Keller adds that freelancers on assignment for the Times are placed on the newspaper’s insurance plan when they enter conflict zones; for locals, however, “we assume responsibility for death, disability and medical at our own expense.”
One interesting note: the Committee to Protect Journalists says that media companies can get specialized insurance for its fixers in conflict areas. The policies are expensive. Photojournalist Teru Kuwayama, who has been outspoken in his criticism of news organizations’ treatment of fixers, says taking out such policies on fixers would be a “massive step forward.”
The full article can be found at: Poynter.org.
An upcoming exhibition of photography from the uprisings in Tunisia, Cairo and Libya will not double as a fundraiser after all, organizers told PDN today.
We reported yesterday that Revolucion(es), a showcase of images shot in the last three months by independent photographers working in the Middle East had been turned into a fundraiser for photographers Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown. Both were seriously injured in Libya last week. But it seems neither photographer needs the fundraising assistance after all.
“The families told us their costs have been covered,” says Matt Craig, who organized the exhibition with fellow Wall Street Journal photo editor, Julien Jourdes.
The exhibition will still open as originally planned at the Instituto Cervantes in New York at 7 p.m. on Thursday.
Above is a trailer for “Koothu, Paper and Kerosene,” a series of short videos created by Sri Lankan journalist Kannan Arunasalam, which document how people in Jaffna, Sri Lanka survive when the resources they need are depleted. Made with the support of Sri Lankan citizen journalism organization Groundviews.org, the videos depict the survival of an isolated leper community, a newspaper that presses on despite newsprint shortages, and a taxi driver coping without normal fuel.
To see the Paper and Kerosene videos visit Arunasalam’s Vimeo page here.
PDN’s “Who’s Shooting What” column lists the photographers and creatives behind recent ad campaigns. To be considered for a mention in the column, please e-mail executive editor David Walker at email@example.com. Put “WSW” in the subject line. PLEASE INCLUDE ALL applicable information in the format shown here:
Client: (full name)
Brief description: (what was the assignment, and how will the images be used?)
Agency: (full name and location, eg “BBDO Atlanta” or “Agent16 New York”)
In addition, Please attach one or two small image files (at least 140 pixels wide) in JPG or PDF format.
Photographer Matt Johnson and designer Wayne Ford, who operate the Web site Photo Book Club, have been hitting the social media channels asking for recommendations for great photo book stores around the world. They’re plugging the recommendations into a Google map, which they aim to turn into a comprehensive resource. They are up to 50 78 stores in several countries.
Check out the map to make suggestions or to find out where to look for books on your next trip:
Best-selling biographer Kitty Kelley appeared on the NPR program called “On the Media” on Sunday to defend the art of unauthorized biographies. Host Bob Garfield asked her why people she interviews (those close to Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Onassis, and Frank Sinatra, among Kelley’s other subjects) deny afterwards that they ever talked to her. Garfield also asked, “And what happens when you present them with the smoking gun of their participation?”
Kelley answered with a long anecdote about taking photographer Stanley Tretick along on an interview with Frank Sinatra, Jr. He later denied ever having granted the interview to Kelley. “And Stanley produced a photograph,” Kelley told Garfield triumphantly.
But oh, the price of Tretick’s help! He interrupted the interview, ruined everything and changed the course of history, according to Kelley. As she explained to Garfield:
“Everything is going wonderfully well for the first 45 minutes. [Frank Jr. is] talking about what it’s like to be the son of a famous singer, a man connected to organized crime…
“And then he turned to me and he said, you know, hon, I know a lot of people. Do you know what I mean? And I said, you mean mobsters? And he said, yes. I can tell you what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. And right at that point, I thought, oh, the one great unsolved mystery of the 20th century! I thought, maybe I’ll get the Pulitzer Prize. I even thought for, you know, just a second, what’ll I wear when I get the prize?
“And just at that point, there was this clattering noise. The photographer threw down his cameras and said, well, what the hell happened to Jimmy Hoffa? And at that point, Frank Sinatra [Jr.] ran out of the room into the bedroom. And I tried. He said, no, I have said too much, I have said too much. The interview ended.”
Of course, Frank Jr. may know squat about what happened to Jimmy Hoffa. And Tretick, who died in 1999, is no longer around to defend himself. But the moral of the story is: When a famous writer hires you to take pictures, don’t interrupt when the subject is about to solve the mystery of the century.
Splashed across the front pages of today’s British newspapers is a picture of Prince Charles and Camilla, looking panic-stricken inside their car, as it came under attack by student protesters last night. AP’s Matt Dunham, who shot the image, told The Guardian newspaper how he got the shot.
He explained that he had been in Parliament Square much of the day covering protests of proposed college tuition hikes. Later in the day he noticed a breakaway group of about 200 protesters “who were out to cause damage,” he said. He started to follow them, taking pictures as they first tried to set fire to the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, then broke some shop windows, and finally boxed in a vehicle that Dunham recognized as a royal car. He approached the car, saw the Prince of Wales and his wife inside and quickly fired off five shots with a flash through the windows, paparazzi style. Dunham then rushed back to the AP office and uploaded the images to newspapers, ahead of bystanders who shot the scene with their cell phones. (The British papers ran a tightly cropped version of the image shown here.)
Fifteen months after he lost his foot to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, award-winning photojournalist Emilio Morenatti is again covering breaking news in a disaster zone. This time, the New York Times Lens Blog reports, he’s covering the cholera outbreak in Haiti.
After Morenatti’s foot was amputated in August 2009, he underwent extensive rehabilitation and was fitted with a prosthetic at a facility in Maryland. He began shooting for AP in March of this year, covering the World Cup and shooting events in Spain, where he lives. But Santiago Lyon, director of photography at AP, told the Times that Morenatti asked two weeks ago to be put on the Haiti story. It’s his first disaster coverage since his accident. “Emilio was very keen to get back to work,” Lyon told the Times. “It’s a very important part of his reintegration into the work he’s so good at.” Lyon told PDN, “He’s a remarkably talented photographer. It’s particularly inspiring to see him out there now, after just 15 months.”
Morenatti’s photos from Haiti are featured in a slide show on The New York Times Lens blog today.
Morenatti’s recovery has been on the minds of many in the photo community since New York Times contract photographer Joao Silva lost the lower part of both his legs in October after he stepped on a landmine in southern Afghanistan. He is currently being treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC.