Sunday, August 21, 2011

The art of photojournalism during the London Riots within a social network age. Don Omope interviewed by David Dunkley Gyimah

London's Burning - Riots 2011

The London riots will stand as one of those epochal events in British history.

[this post will be enormously useful for practitioners, academics and anyone interested in photojournalism and videojournalism.]

Much has been trawled through and spoken about with interviews from the police, politicians and rioters, but rarely have we heard from those on the front-line documenting these events, which have provided us with iconic images and reportage.

Don Omope, a photojournalist, is special because he embodies qualities that have come to define the new worker, the new photojournalist  - a freelancer who is also many media savvy.

He's special because, I have had the pleasure of seeing his career crystallised from BA student, MA grad, working for Sir David Frost and now producing network programmes, and he demonstrates what hard work can yield.

You'll be animated by what he says because he reflects the views of many, who work on their own terms eschewing the establishment route of media, creating their own niches.

You'll want to listen to him because, as he puts it, he was one of the first journalists on the scene, before Tottenham exploded. He made that point known broadcasting live on BBC News 24.

A bit about me:  I have been in the media since 1987, first presenting on radio for the BBC, to working across many of its acclaimed outputs e.g. Newsnight, and ABC News/ BBC WS in South Africa from 92-94 where I first came across some of the best photojos e.g. The Bang Bang Club [read here]. Then becoming an active videojournalist in 1994 training and working alongside many photojournalists.  In 2001 I wrote on my other site how videojournalism used a photojournalistic methodology [read here]. In 2005 that led to one international award describing my videojournalism work as "photojournalistic and cinematic".  I have worked with an extraordinary number of internationally acclaimed photojos e.g.Yannis Kontos, a world press award winner,  and more recently my PhD work I'm completing explores an alterity narrative. What Don has here is relevant to the craft of photojournalists - practitioners and academics. Its very special.
Charge of the parade - Don puts himself between rioters and police for this shot

1. How it started
I started off by asking Don how he got down to Tottenham. He lives close by. He had no interest going, but friends and neighbours constantly called him that something unusual was brewing. Then when he got down there, a usual state of play, the police were being uncooperative.

The art of photojournalism - London Riots 2011 by david dg

2. Eye witness account trumps all
Don describes his interview with BBC News 24. What the BBC was saying came no where near to what was really happening, I told them. Meanwhile several photojournalists were being attacked, their gear stolen and smashed in front of them - equipment worth almost $30,000.

London's Burning 2011 Riots - a photojournalists account by david dg

3. The Myth of Photojournalism.
Whilst undoubtedly photojournalism is a craft, it has also perpetuated or disguised a huge myth relating to the flawed geniuses of many practitioners.This is not uncommon of many other disciplines. But as Don so eloquently explains here out of his 2000 shots many turned out to be unusable from a professional display point of view. In Art, that could be a different matter.

The point I want to make here is that for every set of pictures taken a photojo like Don unconsciously and consciously swiftly evaluates their work with references to the matrix of technical data on the camera to the outcome of the photos, the storytelling aspect of quality ( proximity, shape etc) of the story image and whether they are after a narrative or not.

Get the shot before it decomposes. Photojournalists therefore take a series of shots. Each frame is different from the other. Within the shot duration small changes - the man blinking, sighing, head turned a certain away affect the aesthetic quality of the image. What would have happened if Don got to the floor such as the image below by Yannis Kontos? What prevented him from doing so? Listen to the podcast.
Yannis Kontos, award winning photojournalist. This image was taken in Iraq. For more in Yannis go to his website

This section of the interview is lengthy, but deeply interesting for what academic Barbara Kennedy would call aesthetic impulse. Don's aesthetic impulse, like many others, is informed by many factors. But the one I'm drawn to is the lone ranger.

In photojournalism and videojournalism involving live events, there is a shared communion between even rivals to establish a near repertoire of story shots.  They inform each other within a constant looped paradigm.  How do you know what to shoot and when?

Heiddeger one of the west's celebrated philosophers created the word: "Dassein" - a complex understanding at how we think and work, which involves being in the zone. Don's Dassein involves working against the grain. He wants to see what others have not, capture the event before it decomposes and then swiftly move on. Heiddeger talks about moods and how things in this case, the scenes of the riots, articulate something the photojournalists absorbs. It's an unconscious thought and involves an intentionality - your mind directed to a task. Your doing informs how you will undertake future task - what others have called experiential learning.

The consciousness of the aesthetic. There are a limitless number of ways to capture an image. Here the fire burning provides a signification - there is a fire. Don has stooped to the eye level of the crouching policeman. There is a proximity. Forget everything you've learned as a technical exercise and concentrate on the composition. Don is only about 10 yards or less away. Part of the art of photojournalism is a fearless quality of getting the shot. Its what Cappa said and its the reason so many photojos get injured.

A Photojournalist in the thick of the London Riots reflects by david dg

4. The limitation of the 5D and social networking
Don reveals what would have been his favourite camera for the job, but also reflects on the use of social media at the time. It's become imperative thus, for the freelance mini media mogul to make a living, to understand all workflows in media.

The photojos becomes a narrative specialists understanding the mechanics of text. See Hayden White's Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (1989). The writer becomes a visualists. See Representation and Photography by Manuel Alvarado et al (2001)

Here too Don speaks about social networking to drive the story and pictures.

Photojournalists in a networked world by david dg

Oner last thing before I sign off. I'd like you to have a look at the two pictures below. One from an old friend which dates back to 1990 - London's poll tax riot - and the one after from a student demo and fees. There's a story in there - and one that Don and I discussed may involve police response to different sets of crowds. 

Student riots 2010

Poll Tax Riots - 1990

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