We are delighted to share the following post, created by Jacklynne Hobbs from Market Photo Workshop.
It has been a season of strikes and protests in South Africa, with demonstrators spilling into the streets of Johannesburg and other cities to voice their discontent about wage levels and inadequate provision of social services. The resulting scenes of barricades, clashes with police and general mayhem have enabled students from the Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Programme (PDP)*, run by the Johannesburg-based Market Photo Workshop, to grapple with the difficulties of producing spot news images. But, they also highlighted a recurrent dilemma for PDP administrators: How do we train young photojournalists to cope in hostile environments without exposing them to unacceptable risks?
The answer, in part, was to develop a course on conflict reporting that put students in the line of fire – or, rather, paint.
During this fortnight-long initiative, learners were sent off to a paintball range in eastern Johannesburg alternately to take part in and photograph matches between opposing PDP teams (with digital SLRs being prudently discarded in favour of disposable cameras). Our hope was that these rapid, adrenaline-fuelled games would give the designated photographers an immediate sense of how easily journalists can be caught in the cross-fire of a conflict situation – the presence of cameras notwithstanding. Agonised shouts of “I’m media! I’m media!” from photographers who had been hit by paintballs suggested that this lesson was learnt with a vengeance.
The course also included lectures that gave students the opportunity to pick some of the best minds in the business of documenting hazardous environments.
Photojournalists who visited the Photo Workshop to share their experiences with learners included Joao Silva, on contract with The New York Times – and a veteran of war zones on several continents. During a slide show of his work, Joao took students into the thick of battle by giving them a moment-to-moment account of the events behind a series of images from 2006 showing a wounded US soldier being hauled to safety by a fellow officer – this after their platoon came under sniper fire in the central Iraqi town of Karma.
Alon Skuy of The Times, a local newspaper, gave insights into how he managed to capture scenes from last year’s outbreak of xenophobia-related violence in South Africa. At the time of the course, Alon’s photographs of this violence were on exhibition in Johannesburg.
In the course of the protest, several workers trashed the streets of Johannesburg. A SAMWU official was quoted as saying that the union did not condone these actions, but did try to understand what had prompted them. (Photo courtesy of Lucky Mofokeng/PDP student/Johannesburg)
And, in the Photo Workshop’s first experiment with Skype video-conferencing, students chatted to Philadelphia-based freelancer Lori Waselchuk about her experiences in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Rising tensions in the waterlogged city presented journalists who were covering the natural disaster with a number of challenges.
Striking employees pictured before Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg. Fifteen years after South Africa’s first democratically-elected president took power, the country continues to face huge difficulties in raising living standards: reports indicate that about a million families still reside in shacks, and lack basic services. (Photo courtesy of Madoda Mkhobeni/PDP student/Johannesburg)
Presentations on the state of press freedom in Southern Africa and about the history of conflict photography rounded out the course, along with several screenings of films that showed journalists operating under pressure (The Year of Living Dangerously proved of great interest to students).
The protests resulted in several injuries. Although many workers had demanded a 15 percent wage increase, they ultimately settled for an offer of 13 percent. (Photo courtesy of Bethule Nkiwane/PDP student/Johannesburg)
As a result of the course a toolkit has been developed for the Photo Workshop that gives students pointers on how to prepare for work in a dangerous area, what to do once there and on steps to be taken afterward for safeguarding images and staying in good mental shape. With unhappiness about the pace at which lives in South Africa are being improved unlikely to abate soon, this kit is essential to serving the needs of both present and future learners who aspire to a life in photojournalism.
As the South African Broadcasting Corporation planned sweeping budget cuts to help it emerge from a financial quagmire, producers and others in the local media industry staged a protest against the effects this would have on homegrown programme production. The demonstration took place in August.(Photo courtesy of Mandisa Ledwaba/PDP student/Johannesburg)
* The Photojournalism and Documentary Photography Programme is run by the Johannesburg-based Market Photo Workshop with the kind support of Getty Images.