Where to travel to as a photo-journalist?
January 21, 2006 8:33 AM   Subscribe

I want to be a photo-journalist. Where should I travel to?

I won't have huge amounts of money but I'm looking for interesting projects in developing nations. Dangerous conflict areas are a possibility as long as they're not reckless. Hopefully, the world media will be interested in buying photos from this region.
I'm currently a music photographer but want to shoot something more 'meaningful'. I have freelanced for The Guardian so I know I have the photographic ability... I need to build up a good journalistic portfolio now. I'll be leaving in about a year's time... suggestions appreciated.
Self-link... you can see some of my work so far here: EyesOpenMusic.blogspot.com
posted by BobsterLobster to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Palestine. Good infrastructure for journalists, English speaking wide, reasonably safe (kidnapped people are rare and get released). Email's in the profile if you'd like some specific contacts to get started.
posted by By The Grace of God at 8:52 AM on January 21, 2006

Liking your closeups, by the way.
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:01 AM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: Great idea, I hadn't thought of that. Interesting to me personally, as I come from a Jewish background. What kind of contacts do you have? Thanks.
posted by BobsterLobster at 9:16 AM on January 21, 2006

Your best opportunity is definitely at the next New York Mefi meetup.

Really nice stuff!
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:32 AM on January 21, 2006

BobsterLobster, I have sent an email response to the contact email listed on your professional site.
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:36 AM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, keep them coming! (BTW, you can't link to an image from Blogger directly, you need to link to the post. The image you linked to can be found here though)
posted by BobsterLobster at 9:48 AM on January 21, 2006

Chiapas, Mexico. The Zapatistas are still doing stuff, and it's an inexpensive trip.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:16 PM on January 21, 2006

i'd second chiapas.

also, the favalas of rio might also make an interesting project (there's a guy who often blogs about the rio squatter communities here). how you'd go about making contact with people living there though is another matter.
posted by tnai at 1:51 PM on January 21, 2006

The US-Mexico border?
posted by phrontist at 3:53 PM on January 21, 2006

Best answer: As with all things journalism, unfortunately, you'll only be able to sell a project if you can convince someone that:

1) It's timely. Must have a news peg.
2) It's original. Hasn't been done before by anyone, or as well, or been widely disseminated, or in the way you plan to shoot it.
3) It's worthwhile. There's a compelling reason for it to be shown (unless your photographs are just so delicious as to stand on their own).
4) It's interesting. People will not just skip over it when they see it, regardless of how compelling.
5) You can deliver what you promise. That is, you've already formulated your story, angle (don't just go to an editor and say, I want to take pictures in Palestine), estimated time, whether you can get the access you need, how you're going to shoot (digital or no, color or b/w, 35mm or medium format or etc.), and so on.

Remember that it's not enough to know all these things when pitching a piece; you have to be able to demonstrate clearly to a that all the above are true. When photo editors get portfolios and pitches in the mail, it's common for them to thumb through almost as fast as you'd look at a flip-book.

So the most important thing is to put together a solid pitch before you talk to anyone more than informally, like at a party over drinks. Figure out your story, with all the above considerations. Make it clear that you've done your homework.

The suggestions above are not bad ones. I'm a little anxious about Palestine and Chiapas, though, as it seems to me I've seen a lot of photo work coming out of these regions. While they're certainly important (I think Palestine more than Chiapas these days), if you're going to pitch one you have to find some part of it that's entirely yours. A Web search should turn up what has been done already; whatever you do must be fresh. U.S.-Mexico border has lots out there too, you'd have to look for something new. It's not the safest place either, at least on the southern side, for a journalist. Drug gangs are dominant, and journalists do die there, although much of the violence stays within the conflict (mafia, police, politicians, judges, lawyers, etc.). One approach might be to look at the disappearances of women in Ciudad Juarez, one of the areas in which the violence is decidedly outside the drug- and human-smuggling wars.

Rio squatter communities and slums might work; I'm not sure I've seen anything about that. As for making contact with people there (or anywhere), it's not a problem. Search beforehand for nonprofits (both international and local) that serve the community; these organizations not only have contacts but are also dying for someone to give their cause publicity. Another option is to find a "fixer," a local person who will speaks the language (as well as yours), has contacts already, and knows the lay of the land well. Especially if you're going somewhere dangerous, a fixer will be essential.

I need to build up a good journalistic portfolio now.

This is true, although you have a good start. (By the way, Im operating on the assumption that you want to do a documentary photography project, not spot news.) I'd recommend that you spend the next year not only planning your overseas trip but also building up a portfolio of projects from your own back yard. This is harder than it seems at first blush, but easier than it seems once you sit down and actually struggle. When you walk around your city try to pretend you've never been there before. What's unique about it -- maybe it's something so obvious to you because you've been there forever, but the outsider would find it truly astonishing.

Also, think ahead to important dates for where you live. As an example, you have about six months before the one-year anniversary of the London Tube bombings. Is there a sizeable Muslim community in your city? What are their lives like, both for immigrants and first- or second-generation children? Do many of them live in a neighborhood that most folks in Yorkshire don't go to -- maybe are afraid to? What does it look like in their stores, mosques, restaurants, and homes? How do they dress, where do they work, what do they eat, how do they play, when do they worship, how do they interact with each other and with mainstream society? An essay like this, timed to run in a newspaper or magazine at the one-year anniversary, would be very sellable. Start now and build up a tight piece with 10 to 20 outstanding images. Pitch it after you have 10 that are good and varied enough to show that there's depth to the story.

And what about building another piece having to do with music? I'm not sure what this would entail, knowing nothing about the Yorkshire music scene, but obviously it's an area in which you have experience and (perhaps equally important) contacts. Approach this familiar subject matter from a wholly new documentary angle. Instead of the one-off shots of performers, find some thread that runs throughout. What is the scene about? Who goes to shows -- are they similar or wildly different? Find new angles from which to make photographs: get up high, crouch down low, hold the camera over your head even and shoot blindly downward. Look at things other than the emotive performer with guitars and microphones (although you shoot these well): the cigarette butts crushed out in ash trays; the above-the-ass tattoos peeking out above hip huggers on dancing 17-year-old lasses; the hulking bouncers outside; the roadies setting up and doing sound-check before the show; the cocktail waitresses and the candy stripers. (By the way, you've already done some like this outdoors in your Womad photos. But this time think long-term, documentary; go out every weekend and in between, force yourself to think about what you have, and more important, what you don't.)
posted by donpedro at 4:50 PM on January 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

(Sorry about that everyone.)
posted by donpedro at 4:51 PM on January 21, 2006

This kind of thing is a step toward what I'm talking about.
posted by donpedro at 5:02 PM on January 21, 2006

Piggybacking on donpedro's thoughts, why wait until you're abroad to begin your training? To me, photojournalism involves illuminating what's around us that doesn't necessarily penetrate the majority's consciousness. So seek out interesting subjects around London: immigrant communities, street people, abandoned sites. You might also try to get in the habit of chatting people up, both to put them at ease with your camera and to ferret out potential guides.

Also, it never hurts to study the greats — for example, him and her.
posted by rob511 at 7:44 PM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks Don, I've already been thinking along your lines but it's good for someone else to sum it up clearly. I am looking for the unique angle, and I was hoping this thread might throw me some interesting options.
I am developing some projects in the UK before I leave, but they won't show up on my music blog! Many of them aren't too far from some of your suggestions.
Mexico may be interesting, but I suspect that the suggestions are coming from US citizens... it's a bit further for me. I may tie it in with South America though.
posted by BobsterLobster at 7:53 PM on January 21, 2006

rob511, thanks for those two links, especially the Mark stuff. It's been a while since I looked at her stuff. This has always haunted me; it's the kind of photo I admire and aspire to even more than Salgado's impeccable images.

BobsterLobster, while I'm not an expert I do have some experience putting together documentary photography essays and pitches. Feel free to email me (not in profile; it's my username plus sf@ and then yahoo).
posted by donpedro at 8:45 PM on January 21, 2006

Best answer: If I had the time, talent, and financial backing (and didn't have my current full-time job, which I love), I'd be interested in doing an essay on this:

The Kilinailau Islands—also known as the Tulun Islands, or the Carteret Atoll—which lie four hundred miles from the coast of Papua New Guinea, are tiny, low, and impoverished. Their fate, thanks to global warming, has long been a foregone conclusion. In 1995, most of the shoreline of Piul and Huene washed away, and the island of Iolasa was cut in half by the sea. Saltwater intrusion has now reached the point where islanders can no longer grow breadfruit, and have to rely on emergency food aid. Last month, Reuters reported that the decision had finally been made to give up. The islands’ two thousand residents are being relocated, at the expense of the Papua New Guinean government, to the slightly higher ground of Bougainville Island, some sixty miles to the southwest.

It has everything: A poor people whose land, livelihood, culture, their very way of life is facing extinction because of environmental changes brought about by the consumption habits and resultant pollution of people in the developed world. Not sure if this ship has already sailed (sorry, bad pun), if they're already moved and it's too late to capture their old way of life before it's gone. But if so, maybe you could follow them to the new island and watch as they try to set up a new community, plus a few pics of the vanishing home island. I'm never going to do it, so go ahead. Just give me an acknowledgment in your forward, OK? :)
posted by donpedro at 8:59 PM on January 21, 2006

Response by poster: Nice idea!
posted by BobsterLobster at 5:51 AM on January 22, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the links rob511, I have always been a fan of Salgado.
posted by BobsterLobster at 5:53 AM on January 22, 2006

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