The first time I worked in South Sudan was in January 2012. The next day, I was almost deported.
The country was reeling after a wave of violent cattle-raids that had killed hundreds of people and injured many more. I was working with a faith-based organisation that was helping some of the injured and we visited a hospital to record the stories of children who were being treated for machete wounds
The Daily Beast recently published a story about Jordan's slam poetry scene.
Poetry as a form of activism is nothing new. In fact, it has been alive and well for hundreds of years, if not longer in the Arab world. It is fair to say that poets are to Arabs as rockstars are to Westeners - they perform on prime time television to provoke and shock.
One of my favourite poet activists (yes, there is more than one) is the legendary Mahmoud Darwish. A Palestinian, his live readings were as electrifying as a Madonna concert. His words are as relevant to Palestinians sequestered in Gaza as they are for Syrian refugees.
During the siege, time becomes a space
That has hardened in its eternity
During the siege, space becomes a time
That is late for its yesterday and tomorrow
(A State of Siege)
I had a thrilling experience earlier this week. Well, maybe not thrilling for everyone, but for information junkies like myself, it was a blast.
Anyone who has worked as a first responder during an emergency will know that, no matter how hard we try to be organised, we battle a wave of chaos in the wake of major disasters. The United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) makes every effort to coordinate the efforts of numerous different organisations, often without a reliable communication network and separated by significant distances. Dispersed over an archipelago, the Philippines presented a significant logistical and communication challenge. I will leave the logistics to the logisticians, but I was up for a communication challenge.
Are games the most under-utilised channel of communication?
A few years ago, when I worked for Oxfam, I was part of a refugee advocacy campaign. Our target was youth.
A group called Games for Change created a computer game to use. It was a two-dimensional game where the player navigated a woman and her child through a series of perils such as landmines to safety. On the journey, she would collect food and water (points) to sustain her.
India puts my faith back into humanity.
Overnight, as Cyclone Phailin hit the areas surrounding the Bay of Bengal, more than 800,000 were evacuated from coastal villages and farms. The Cyclone hit the states of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa - some of the poorest parts of India. As the BBC notes 'In 1999 a cyclone killed more than 10,000 people in Orissa. At the same time that the Cyclone was pummeling the Bay of Bengal, 89 people were killed in a temple stampede in Central India. 18 were killed by Cyclone Phailin.
The story published by the BBC is not the same story that we are used to seeing in the wake of disasters. The story, instead, is about how we have learnt to protect people and galvanise ourselves against natural disasters.
There is a lot of discussion at the moment about the power of photographs. They must be important, because I am often asked how to take better photographs. The reason most photographers hesitate when asked this question is not because they don't want to tell you, but because there is so much to tell and it's hard to sum up to 25 words of less. However, I have given it a go and have found that the steps below have helped some of the field staff I have trained to take better photograph.
NB - This advice is specifically for people working for NGOs who want decent photographs of their work that they can use in publicity material.
Essentially, every time you go out to cover a project, you should include three types of photographs:
Earlier this year I took some photos of a water project in the Turkana district of Kenya for a donor. Some of the images (right and below) are examples of these types of photographs.
Everytime I take a photo or interview someone, the issue of permission raises its ugly head.
On the rare occasions that someone has requested I take their photo it's easy to address. I just shoot away and take their (verbal) word for the fact that I can use the image when and how I want to. But, most of the time I take photographs, I need to obtain formal permission to use the photograph across a range of media and in a number of ways.
Seeking permission (or a model release) is a volatile issue for most photographers. The level of interaction required for seeking permission inevitably changes the image; sometimes for the better. However, some of the best street photography is taken with a powerful zoom without the subjects knowledge, let alone consent. Many of Henri Cartier-Bresson's timeless images would have been impossible had he been required to seek permission before making the image.
The cycle of life is such that everything must grow or die – professions like photography are no different.
Photojournalism is at an interesting cross-roads right now. Demand for traditional media is decreasing yet the number of photographers is multiplying. This has been catalysed by digital cameras which mean that the cost of learning to photograph has plummeted making the craft accessible to many, rather than an elite few.
Most photojournalists have yet to completely embrace the infinite nature of new media. The web gives us the space within which to publish our photos and bloggers in other realms such as fashion (think The Sartorialist) and interiors (think The Selby) have helped us move beyond the limitations of pages or columns.
These trailblazers have led us to demand more from media - demands that online multi-media can meet. Some media outlets, like the BBC World, are moving with the times. They include space for submissions from amateur photographers. Others, like Intelligent Life, don’t have photographers on staff but only publish commissions or submissions.
Who we are shapes our experience and what we see. In many developing countries, the spaces that men and women inhabit are segregated so, to get a holistic view of a story, you need the perspective of both men and women. I was excited to see a project by the Global Press Institute that aims to train female photojournalists in developing countries to cover news. As the founder of GPI, Cristi Hegranes, states in her blog, "In the developing world, where few women are photographers, our new photojournalism training program is ... yielding some extraordinary images and elevating the quality of our news coverage." Over the last 7 years GPI has employed 133 women in 26 developing countries to be journalists and they want to train another 30.
Introducing more women into the field, especially in developing countries will give readers everywhere a more co. Who knows, maybe we will start to see more stories about education, healthcare and gender-based violence.
No doubt it will take many more than 163 journalists to reshape the news and pictures that we see but it's a start.
On the front page of this site, I state that communication is no longer linear, but lateral.
What I mean by that is that people no longer consume one or two sources of information but numerous. What hasn't changed, perhaps, is the number or preferences for different types of information. While some people are moved by images, other trust statistics or need the issue demonstrated by a stories. Of course, we need images, statistics, stories and other kinds of information to illustrate and demonstrate an issue and new media has the potential to combine all of these.
Save the Children's recent report on the State of the World's Mothers took a step towards realising this potential when it was launched last month. The electonic booklet has a short film embedded inside the front page. It captures the key information in the report in the story of a Ugandan mother. This was available on a webpage that included an interactive map which graphically depicted the best and the worst places in the world to be a mother.
The Knight Foundation, which is based in the US is funding a project called Geomancer that will allow journalists to easily access and combine geographical information datasets to improve their stories. Geographic information is a whole other field, but one that is used extensively throughout the aid sector. The beauty of the Geomancer project is that it is open source which means that, theoretically, anyone can use it. AP is at the forefront of utilising geographic information having already developed Overview, an online tool that helps journalists mine and visually document data, such as Save the Children did with their interactive map. It's a simple but powerful tool so I am looking forward to when Geomancer is launched.
These AP tools and the Save the Children Report move beyond the mentality that media and communication are bound by the pages of a publication, the length of a broadcast or even the characters of a tweet. New media not only gives us multi-dimensional space, but also infinite space.