February 28th, 2014

Facebook’s Teru Kuwayama on How To Use Social Media for Documentary Storytelling

Long before he went to work for Facebook as the social media giant’s liaison to the photo community, photographer Teru Kuwuyama saw social media as a tool for photographers “to eliminate the gatekeepers and the editors, and to be our own operators,” he told a standing-room-only crowd at the Aperture Gallery in New York on Tuesday.  Old media models formed in “an analogue era” no longer exist, but he said many photographers who have been “adaptable” to social platforms are using them to reach and engage audiences.

Kuwayama spoke along with Lev Manovich of the Software Studies Initiative at “Documentary, Expanded: Interventions in Social Media,” a panel moderated by photographer Susan Meiselas, executive director and board member of the Magnum Foundation, which organized the talk as part of its Photography, Expanded program. Photography, Expanded held its first conference, in collaboration with the Open Society Foundations Documentary Photography Project, in April 2013, Meiselas said, to encourage photographers to expand their storytelling beyond the still image at a time when “we all felt the ground shifting beneath our feet” due to a shortage of assignments and production budgets from traditional media. Kuwayama shared work by photographers who are using Instagram to connect with audiences — though not, in most cases, to make money with their images.

He began by showing his own social-media-based project, Basetrack. After having worked in Afghanistan as an embedded photojournalist, Kuwayama won a James S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford, where he came up with a plan to gather a small group of embedded photographers who would post images and information about a Marine battalion in Afghanistan for their families back home. Launched in 2010, Basetrack was “basically a tricked out blog,” he said, with a map and a countdown clock to the end of the Marines’ deployment, but equally important was the Basetrack Facebook page, which “became a rallying point for the community.” Basetrack was never intended to reach more than about 1,000 viewers. “Who cares about this 20-year-old Marine who was 8 when this war started? It was clear it was his mom, his sister,” Kuwayama explained.
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December 13th, 2013

Photog Teru Kuwayama Goes to Work at Facebook as Photo Community Liaison

Photographer Teru Kuwayama has been hired by Facebook to work as “lead photographer” and liaison between the social media site and the photo community, “advising both sides,” he says. He will also be working closely with Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

“For me, the most important aspect of my role is that I’m the internal advocate for photographers,” he told PDN.  “I’m here to make sure that the interests of photographers are represented in everything from feature development on the technical side to the terms of service on the legal side.  So, my job is to make Facebook work for photographers, and to help photographers make the best use of the Facebook.”

The social media platform has been criticized by photo trade groups for its terms of service, which allow companies to re-use users’ content without permission or compensation.

Kuwayama, a PDN‘s 30 photographer in 2000, is the co-founder of Lightstalkers.org, the online forum for photojournalists. In 2010 he launched Basetrack, a project that used social media sites, including Facebook, to share information about a battalion of Marines deployed to Afghanistan with whom Kuwayama and other photographers were embedded. Basetrack was funded with a Knight Foundation News Challenge grant.

Kuwayama told PDN, “I’m inventing the position as we speak.”

Related articles

Facebook Makes Alarming Changes to Terms, ASMP Breaks Down the Changes

Experiment in Multimedia: Q&A with Teru Kuwayama on Basetrack (for PDN subscribers)

August 14th, 2013

Newsweek: An Autopsy (And an Ex-Photo Editor’s Lament)

Newsweek-Autopsy-CoverA new exhibition co-curated by Marion Durand, a Newsweek photo editor and James Wellford, former senior photo editor who left Newsweek last year, celebrates some of the magazine’s achievements in visual storytelling, and also features images that were never published.  On display through September at Cortona on the Move, the photo festival in Tuscany, Italy, “Newsweek: An Autopsy” mixes magazine covers, framed prints and layouts from both the US and international editions of Newsweek from the past 12 years, and offers a window into editorial decision making. In a very candid interview, published in www.emahomagazine.com, Wellford talks about the exhibition and the “painful experience” of being unable to rally interest in serious photo essays. He says he was frustrated by the lack of support even before Newsweek became what he calls a “pamphlet” that covered more personality journalism than hard news. “There’s a lot of compromise,” he says.

Wellford says the problem was partly due to the downturn in print advertising, and Newsweek’s lack of subscription revenue, which meant  “the ability of the magazine to produce pages…and support writers and photographers went down the drain.” But he also talks about much earlier incidents when, according to Wellford, Newsweek failed to support photographers in the field.

In 1994, when Wellford was freelancing for the magazine, for example, he says the magazine supported several photographers who were covering the genocide in Rwanda, including Gilles Peress. “But the fact that you support it doesn’t mean that the magazine is going to run it, because remember the appetite for showing harshness constantly compromises the conversation in the newsroom.” He notes that at certain moments of history-making news, “It’s embarrassing what they were putting on the covers.”

He says, “The biggest regret was not being able to support people in perilous situations.” When photographer Laurent Van der Stockt, who was then a contract photographer with Newsweek, traveled on his own to Fallujah, Iraq, the site of two bloody battles of the Iraq war, Wellford wanted to “make sure he was secure.” However, he says, “someone came up to me at Newsweek” and asked first if Van der Stockt was there on an assignment from Newsweek, and was then “relieved” to learn he wasn’t – so Newsweek didn’t act to ensure his safety. When Teru Kuwayama, working in Pakistan on assignment for the magazine, was injured in a car accident in which the driver was killed instantly, Wellford says only people he knew in Pakistan and “friends of mine at The New York Times and CNN…kept an eye on him.” Wellford still doesn’t know what money Newsweek gave to the driver’s family. “I have never forgiven them for that,” he says.

Wellford connects the lack of concern for the welfare of magazine contributors to a lack of regard for journalism in general. “It was about morality and ethics,” he says.

“That to me has been lost, narcissism and the self seemed to take over. Of course you can’t generalize, but there seems to be no cumulative sense of making statements that in time, historically, will reflect on genuine concern for the world.”

The interview on emahomagazine.com includes a slide show of images by Alex Majoli, Paolo Pellegrin, Charles Omanney and other photographers in the show, as well as Wellford’s explanation of how he chooses to edit and assign photojournalists.

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